Flashback to March 23, 2003: World Cup final, New Wanderers, Johannesburg, South Africa. India Vs Australia. Zaheer starts off with a wayward, 10-ball, 15-run first over. India never recover...Ricky Ponting scores 140 runs, and helps Australia post a formidable 359 runs. Indian innings, first over... Sachin hits but the ball goes up in the air and McGrath takes it off his own bowling... and a 125 run defeat buries the Indian World Cup dream.
Fast forward to 2011. It takes exactly 8 years and 1 day for India to take the great revenge. Yes, March 24, 2011 will go down in history books as the day when Australia were dethroned as the World Champions (though not in the final).
After the loss to Sri Lanka in the 1996 World Cup, Australia had established themselves as the Numero Uno of international cricket. But coming into the 2011 World Cup quarter-final, Australia didn’t start as favourites to beat India.
Ricky Ponting’s 104-run knock in the 260 total did
make the suspecting Indian fan think whether he was going to witness a repeat of the 2003 final. But this time, the first over was different. Ashwin the spinner bowled a tight first over and Zaheer made sure there was no repeat of 2003 in the second over. And the game was set.
Sachin, too, had different plans this time. No McGrath, so no first over exit for the Master. He also made sure the bad omen of ‘Sachin hitting a century and India going on to lose the match’ didn’t come into play.
So who came to the party... Yuvraj, who himself wasn’t sure of his form before the World Cup started, and Raina, who came in as a forced replacement for the out-of-form Yousuf Pathan, with many contesting Dhoni’s decision.
For once it looked like every Indian player was ready to gift his wicket today... Sachin sent some in the air, Yuvraj too miscued some, and Gambhir almost handed his wicket to Ponting once, before making sure thrice in a span of five minutes that he got run out. Gambhir did throw away his wicket, but also set up an exciting finish for everyone to relish, in the process robbing a few heart beats off thousands of fans.
In the end though, India won comfortably.
The win makes sure Raina and Ashwin stay in the team. To be honest, before Thursday’s match many would have been ignorant of Ashwin’s capabilities.
Now comes the big semi-final... the dream of a billion Indians has taken shape – India finally play arch-rival Pakistan in the penultimate match.
India are favourites, and Pakistan carry the tag of being the most unpredictable team... but remember one thing, Pakistan have never beaten India in the World Cup. So, are we going to see a repeat of the 1996 quarter-final at Bangalore? Only time will tell...
See you at Mohali on Wednesday...
(The views expressed by the author are personal)