After 1983 and before 2011, it is the 2003 World Cup in South Africa which is etched in our memories. It was only the second time in the history of cricket that India qualified for a World Cup final. The result might not have been the one desired but still the World Cup was a joyous one for all Indian cricket fans for various reasons, barring that one heartbreak.
South Africa was hosting the World Cup for the first time. The tournament saw the participation of 14 teams. The host country continued to be jinxed as South Africa made a first-round exit. On the other hand, Kenya, by virtue of their luck, became the first non-test playing nation to qualify for a World Cup semi-final.
India, led by Sourav Ganguly, lost only two out of their 11 matches. Coincidentally, both losses came against Australia, the eventual champions. Apart from skipper Sourav, the team boasted the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virendra Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath and Yuvraj Singh. The glaring omission from the side was that of VVS Laxman.
After a disastrous tour to New Zealand, prior to the World Cup, India were off to a slow start in the tournament.
In their first match against Netherlands, India managed to crawl their way back into the match after an initial hiccup with the bat, which saw India bowled out for 204. In response, the Indian bowling attack comprising veterans Srinath (4/30) and Kumble (4/32), dismissed the minnows for 136 to get India off to a winning start.
India played defending champions Australia in their second match. All hell broke loose back in India as the side slumped to a nine-wicket loss. Electing to bat first after winning the toss, none of the Indian batsmen showed any resistance as India were dismissed at 125. Sachin Tendulkar was the top scorer. After a 52 against Netherlands, Sachin followed it up with a 36. Australia finished the formalities in 22.2 overs, reaching the target after losing only one wicket.
After the debacle against the Aussies, the Indian team management hired renowned psychologist Dr Sandy Gordon to boost the morale of Sourav Ganguly and Co. The team was bogged down by the protest and criticism faced back home due to the poor start to their World Cup campaign.
The Gordon-effect didn’t take long to reflect. With a slight tweak in the batting order and newly commissioned rule of a mandatory team huddle after every wicket, India’s World Cup campaign was right back on track.
India notched up an easy win against Zimbabwe, England and minnows Namibia. In all three matches, India shone both with the bat as well as with the bowl. Both Sachin (152) and Ganguly (112) notched up centuries against Namibia. Ashish Nehra stood out with the ball against England. The left-arm seamer picked up six wickets for 23 runs in his 10 overs to come up with one of the best bowling performances.
With four wins in five matches, India were already assured of a place in the next round – Super Sixes, but they were yet to play their biggest match of the tournament.
India vs Pakistan
India’s last group was against arch-rival Pakistan at the Centurion Park. After winning the toss, Pakistan’s captain Waqar Younis elected to bat. And his batsmen didn’t disappoint. Opener and senior pro Saeed Anwar brought up his century (101) as Pakistan finished with 273 for the loss of seven wickets.
It wasn’t going to be an easy task for India, especially with the Pakistani bowling line-up that had the likes of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar. But Indian openers Virendra Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar took the attack to Pakistan. They brought up the team to 50 in 32 balls, which included seven fours and two sixes. This included Sachin cutting the ball over third man for an iconic six, which has now become synonymous with the match.
Pakistan came back into the match through their skipper, who dismissed Sehwag and Ganguly off consecutive deliveries to reduce India to 53/2. In a weird move for the first time, Mohammed Kaif was pushed up the order to bat at number four. The move paid off as Kaif put up a 102-run stand with Sachin. By the time Sachin was dismissed for 98, India needed 97 runs from 134 balls.
In the end, vice captain Rahul Dravid (44*) and a young Yuvraj Singh saw India home comfortably with six wickets in hand and 26 balls to spare. Yuvraj scored a quick-fire 50 off 53 balls.
With the win, India maintained an unbeaten run against Pakistan in the 50-over World Cup, which remains intact till date. Prior to the match, India beat Pakistan in the 1996 World Cup as well as in the 1999 World Cup.
By the end of the group stage, India were comfortably placed at the number two spot in Group A with 20 points. They qualified for the next round along with Australia and Zimbabwe. Sachin Tendulkar, with four fifties and a hundred, was on his way for another successful tournament.
It was a cakewalk in the Super Sixes as India registered easy wins against Group B toppers Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Kenya, who had qualified for the second round in a World Cup for the first time.
In all the three matches, it were the Indian bowlers who did the job for the side.
India brushed aside Kenya with ease in their first match of the Super Sixes. After winning the toss, Kenya elected to bat and were off to a good start. Though they didn’t lose many wickets, the Indian bowlers did manage to dry up the runs as Kenya finished with 226/6 in their 50 overs. When India came into bat, they lost three quick wickets with only 24 runs on board. But skipper Ganguly along with his deputy Dravid managed to steady the ship for India. After Dravid’s dismissal, Ganguly and Yuvraj put up an unbeaten 118-run partnership to see India home. In the process, Ganguly (107*) brought up his second century of the tournament while Yuvraj (58*) scored his second fifty.
In comparison to their first match, India’s next two games were relatively easier encounters.
After being put into bat by Sri Lanka, India set a huge target of 293 runs, courtesy an opening stand of 153 by Sachin (97) and Sehwag (66). India’s fantastic batting display was followed by an outstanding opening spell by Indian seamers. The duo of Srinath and Zaheer Khan rocked the Sri Lankan top-order, dismissing half the side within the 8th over with only 40 runs on board. In fact, at one-point, Sri Lanka were three for the loss of three wickets in three overs. If Srinath and Zaheer cleaned the top half of the Sri Lankan batting order, Ashish Nehra swept off the tail as Sri Lanka were bundled out for 109 in 23 overs.
India were peaking at the right moment as they awaited New Zealand in their last Super Six clash. Coming into the match against the Kiwis, India were already assured of a place in the semis due to the carry forwarded 8 points from the group stage.
With their bowlers on fire, the Indian team management gave their bowlers another go as they chose to field against New Zealand. And as far as Indian bowlers were concerned, they just picked up from where they had left against the Lankans. The opposition lost two wickets before a single run was scored as Srinath and Zaheer again hunted in pairs. The blackcaps kept losing wickets at regular intervals and it was not too long before they were dismissed for 146 in 45.1 overs. Zaheer Khan was the pick among the bowlers with 4/42 in 8 overs. Despite a top-order failure, the Indian batters wrapped the proceedings in 40.4 overs with seven wickets in hand. Kaif and Dravid remained unbeaten on 68 and 53, respectively.
India qualified for the semi-finals behind Australia, along with Sri Lanka and Kenya, whose dream run continued.
Semi-Final: India vs Kenya
This was India’s fourth appearance in the semi-finals of a World Cup. Meanwhile, their opponent Kenya were scripting history with their maiden semi-final appearance. During the group stages, New Zealand decided against playing in Kenya because of security fears which ultimately cost the Kiwis a semi-final spot.
India won the toss and didn’t want to chase in a semi-final as they decided to bat against Kenya. Openers Sehwag and Sachin again gave India a perfect start. After Sehwag’s dismissal, Ganguly joined Sachin at the crease as the pair put on a partnership of 103 runs. Sachin brought up sixth fifty of the tournament before getting dismissed for 83. At the same time, Ganguly (111*) also reached his third century of the competition, as India wound up at 270/4 in their 50 overs. Coincidentally, all his three centuries came against non-test playing nations (Namibia and Kenya).
Kenya’s fairytale ended as early as in the 19th over of their batting. India’s pace battery was at it again. Srinath (1/11), Zaheer (3/14) and Nehra (2/11) reduced Kenya to 63/5. The trio took six wickets among themselves for 36 runs at a stingiest economy rate of 1.70. After shining with the bat all through the tournament, it was time for Sachin to play his part with the ball as he returned with figures of 2/28 from his 6 overs. Kenya were bundled out for 176 as Ganguly and his boys made it to the World Cup final.
Final: India vs Australia
The final was going to be a rematch of one of the group encounters. India were facing defending champions Australia, once again in the competition.
India were in their second World Cup final and they had a perfect record, thanks to Kapil Dev and Co, twenty summers back. On the other hand, Australia were playing their fourth World Cup final and had a fifty-fifty record.
The final started on a great note for India as they won the toss and Ganguly decided to field. And everything was going according to plan, at least that’s what the Indian team thought. But luck ran out as soon as India finished bowling their first over. The in-form Indian bowling line-up was off-target right from the start while Australian openers Gilchrist and Hayden were right on the money. Australia raced off to 105 runs in 14 overs when they lost Gilchrist. India thought they were right back in the game with Hayden’s dismissal twenty runs later. But little did they know that a storm was brewing nearby. After the dismissal of the openers, Ricky Ponting (140*) went onto beast mode as he hammered the Indian bowlers all around the park to bring up his century. He was ably partnered by Damien Martyn who remained unbeaten at 88. Australia finished with 359 in their 50 overs, a record score in the final, as India failed to take further wickets.
The World Cup dream for India was over early as McGrath sent Sachin back in the first over itself. From there on, it was only a downward slope for India as Indian batsmen once again surrendered in front of the Australian might. Only Sehwag showed some resistance with a well-made 84. After his dismissal, it was only formalities for the Ricky Ponting-led side as they picked up the World Cup trophy for a record-breaking third time. They became only the second team in the history to win the World Cup in two consecutive editions, after West Indies.
As Ricky Ponting and Co celebrated at the Bull Ring their successful defence of the World Cup, the Indian team did cut a sorry figure, but they had one consolation. Sachin Tendulkar was named ‘Man of the Tournament’ for his 673 runs.
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