Wednesday, February 9, 2011

T20 WORLD CUP – 2007

A conversation on board a flight to Durban, South Africa between an Indian and an Englishman:

Englishman: “Hey! You flying to South Africa for the T20 World cup?”
Indian: “T20? We Indians do not call that cricket. Its just for fun, that’s why our big 3 – Sachin,  Rahul and Dada have pulled out. We’re just giving our youngsters a chance to play in South Africa. I’m on a holiday with family, certainly not going to watch the T20 or whateva you call it.”
Englishman: “You’ll are boring and scared of losing!”

The BCCI was one of the last boards to approve the T20 World Cup. The T20 craze had begun in England, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and the West Indies. The sub-continental teams were not willing to accept it as a serious form of cricket, certainly not serious enough to have a World Cup. India never played any T20 Internationals on foreign tours at a time when all other tours consisted of atleast one T20 International. Indian cricket fans, known to be the most passionate in the world, did not care about the shortest format of the game. The 3 stalwarts of Indian cricket – Rahul Dravid (then Test and ODI captain), Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly made themselves unavailable for the inaugural T20 World Cup which further diminished the interest levels among Indians.

It was with this – lets have fun – attitude that a new look Team India under M.S. Dhoni headed to South Africa for the World Cup. (By now India had played only one T20 International against South Africa.) India’s first match against Scotland was washed out and it was now that the nation woke up, not because India could have suffered another first round exit after the disastrous 2007 ODI World Cup, but because India was up against Pakistan. And I do not have to mention the craze that is associated with an Indo-Pak encounter.

This India v Pakistan match was a dream come true for the organizers. A dramatic tie followed by a bowl-out which India won, meant that fans from these two nations acknowledged the World Cup. From then on, there was no looking back – packed stadiums with Indian flags fluttering all over gave one the feeling that the tournament was being played in India.

India was grouped with New Zealand, South Africa and England in the Super 8’s. A tough group by any stretch of imagination and even the most ardent of fans did not expect Team India to qualify for the Semi-finals. However, we secretly hoped that the team gets there. And get there, they did! India lost a close game to New Zealand and then handed England a real mauling in their ‘own game’. The match will be remembered for Yuvraj Singh’s six sixes off a Stuart Broad over. The mighty South Africans were the next to be derailed by this young Indian team and a billion hearts were now beginning to believe that maybe India can win the World Cup. However, no one was saying it out loud and we all kept our expectations low. We never really came here expecting to win the Cup.

The image of Sreesanth squatting and hitting the pitch with both his hands after getting rid of an Aussie batsman is the craziest celebration I have seen. India beat Australia and Pakistan beat New Zealand in the 2 semi-finals.

So after a disastrous ODI World Cup a few months earlier, India and Pakistan had set-up a World Cup final that every Indian and Pakistani had dreamt of since 1975. The ICC couldn’t have asked for anything better after the criticism they received for the ‘never-ending’ 2007 ODI World Cup. The match itself lived upto its expectations. It probably exceeded everybody’s expectation and caused a few heart attacks. The moment Misbah scooped that ball in the air and Sreesanth got under it and took it, the Indian team and a billion Indians went ballistic.

I was watching the match with a few friends and we did not know what to do. We were hugging each other, hitting each other, waving the Indian flag and taking videos on our cell phones – videos we will be proud to show our grand children. We weren’t born when India won the 1983 World Cup but this made up for it.

What is the similarity between the 1983 World Cup triumph and the 2007 T20 World Cup triumph? On both occasions, Team India went into the tournament without the weight of expectation; no one really thought we would win the Cup.

The Englishman posted on a social networking site, “They did it to us in Lagaan and now in the T20 World Cup, they beat us in our own game! I salute the Indian spirit.”

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