Memories of another Champions Trophy

Year 2000 – October – Kenya.

India was recovering from the rude shock dealt earlier in the year in the form of the match-fixing scandal. It had eroded the system and taken away her favourite heroes – Azhar and the very likeable Jadeja.

Azhar –when I first started watching cricket he was going through a bad batting phase – and then I saw his 106 in Adelaide down under .There was no YouTube then to hunt down his debut centuries against England in 1984 – my uncle’s and papa’s vivid descriptions sufficed to imagine his silken wrist play. Jadeja – what a favourite among us girls in school – his ‘96 World Cup quarterfinal heroics Vs. Pakistan – who can forget? His catch in ‘92 WC Vs. Australia – it still stuns me and his lovely little cameo in 1996 Titan Cup final that I saw live. Azhar and Jadeja – two guys we adored and then that heartbreak in 2000.

Hope lost, faith broken, cynicism had set in – then Ganguly and his boys stepped in. A new look ODI team went to Kenya, Nairobi to battle it out in the 2nd ICC Knockout Trophy (as it was known then)

I remember that tournament very vividly. It was 13 years ago. I was a bit miserable – some of my seniors in college who were also my close friends had moved abroad to the USA to pursue further studies. I missed our cricket discussions and their constant teasing – chat and mail never really made up for those long insane debates while sitting in the quad in college or while going back home. College was no more as fun as it used to be with them around.

That 2000 tournament has a special place in my cricketing memories. I first took to writing on the game thanks to my friends moving abroad and leaving me with no option but to “write” and mail them about my excitement after seeing India’s unexpectedly good performance in the tournament as the matches went by.

India first played Kenya in a pre-quarterfinal to meet Australia in the quarters. I watched the match with zero hope – zilch. And then I saw this happen – Sachin Tendulkar, the ever so humble, the quintessential good boy of cricket actually told McGrath to FO. I was thrilled to bits. Tendulkar smashed McGrath for 3 sixes – one was a fantastic pull over square leg (sadly cannot find a video covering this shot ) and the next a six down the track at the sightscreen. He looked ominous for Australia but was out for only 38. And then one wicket later in walked 18 year old Yuvraj Singh and he stole our hearts forever. His 84 of 80 balls is a knock I can never forget. He was audacious and showed scant respect for the mighty Aussies. He was only 18 and playing his first match on the international scene and was not at all awed by the occasion. Such was the aura of his majestic stroke play that day that his innings stayed engraved in the mind forever. India reached 266 and it seemed like a fighting total. Most Australian batsman got starts but India’s bowlers kept getting regular wickets – Agarkar, Prasad and a Zaheer playing his first tournament like Yuvraj. The wicket that stood out was that of Steve Waugh – an in-swinging yorker to uproot his stumps – how often did we see Indian pace bowlers do that? India went on to win comfortably but not before Brett Lee had hit that humongous six that damaged a car’s front window. Remember?

India reached the semis Vs. South Africa and needless to say most of us had again no hope of a victory – that victory against Australia and us getting to semi-finals was good enough. The side was young, inexperienced and coming out of the match-fixing scandal. Would you have given us a chance Vs. Donald, Pollock and Klusner? But Ganguly and Co had other ideas – it was one of Saurav’s best centuries – he lead the team from the front and remained not out on 141. His 6s were such a delight to watch. He was ably supported first by Dravid and then by a quick cameo from Yuvraj. India set South Africa a target of 295 . Zaheer started the slide with that terrific in-swinging yorker again to get rid of Cullinan, then the comic gold Kirsten run-out and later that stunner of a catch at the boundary by Venkatesh Prasad to get rid of Rhodeshe pulled of a-la Adam Bacher (well almost)!

I had my hopes up for the final but it was not to be – Cairns made a fantastic 100 to see New Zealand off and I was not even upset. I always loved the NZ side and Chris Cairns, felt bad that my side had lost but the opposition was New Zealand – can’t even hate them if you want to!

It was a fantastic tournament and it probably gave us the first hint of the fight this new look team was capable of. Needless to say this team and its members went on to give us the most memorable decade of Indian cricket

Before this year’s Champions Trophy began – India had fairly average 2 years after their World Cup victory in 2011. We lost 3-0 to England in summer of 2011, we got our revenge at 5-0 later that year. Then we were miserable in CB Trophy down under and the Asia Cup – Kohli’s heroics against Sri Lanka and Pakistan fell short of getting us into the finals. Later in 2012 we lost to Pakistan at home , only managing to win against Sri Lanka and West Indies. Started the year with a win against England but the IPL was hit by the match-fixing scandal , Sachin called it quits before Pakistan tour, Sehwag, Gautam, Zaheer, Yuvraj were dropped and India brought in a young, inexperienced team to England.

No match practice, some obvious weakness playing the swinging delivery and short-pitched stuff and a pop-gun bowling attack. Worst team in 20 years some said. Zero hope. Well not really – had some hope, then warm-ups happened – then match one Vs South Africa happened.

India has now entered the final unbeaten, beating all teams in the tournament with superlative fielding, responsible batting and some restrained bowling. As Harsha Bhogle said in his interview –”It was great to see teams trying to avoid meeting India in the semi-finals”.

It feels like 2000 all over again – we friends are still miles apart – only now cricketing discussions happen over Whatsapp, Twitter and Facebook. I’m still a bit miserable cause I don’t get to see them often and have those long debates face-to-face. I would love to write about every match – but I can’t, cause work takes precedence and I don’t have the luxury to take leave every time to watch a match.

But thank god some things haven’t changed – like this young team under Dhoni inspiring us to keep our faith and believe again – like Ganguly’s lads did in 2000.

Then there was Zaheer, today there is Bhuvaneshwar, then there was Yuvraj today there is Dhawan. Kohli, Jadeja, Raina, Rohit, Ishant, Dhoni, Kartik, Yadav, Ashwin, all chipping in.

I do hope that the final result will change – in our favour; and then I can get ready to welcome another memorable decade in Indian cricket.

I hope you are still standing by this team then like you did in 2000, I know I will be!