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1999 – Dravid, Ganguly shine, but India falters
Partab Ramchand

When the World Cup returned to England in 1999, Indian cricket fans vividly remembered that on the previous occasion that the competition was held in the country, India had registered a gloriously unexpected triumph. Predictably enough there were expectations that India would repeat the feat. This optimism was based on the composition of the team. The batting by now was among the strongest in the world and the bowling too had a rather balanced look. But India were placed in the tougher group A along with holders Sri Lanka, South Africa, England, Zimbabwe and Kenya and it would need a modicum of luck to get through first to the Super Six stage for which only the top three would qualify.

India’s start was anything but auspicious. In their opening match, they lost to South Africa one of the favourites for the title by four wickets with 2.4 overs to spare. Sourav Ganguly playing his 100th ODI, but first World Cup match, top scored with 97 adding 130 runs for the second wicket with Rahul Dravid (54) but the bowlers were unable to defend a total of 253 for five in 50 overs.

Then on the eve of the next game against Zimbabwe Sachin Tendulkar’s father Ramesh passed away in Bombay. Taking the field without their best batsman who rushed home for the funeral, India went down to Zimbabwe by three runs. It was a defeat difficult to digest for India had the match well under control. At 246 for seven, they needed only seven runs to win in 1.5 overs. But in one Henry Olonga over, they lost three wickets and at this stage their passage to the Super Six was in serious doubt. Speculation was also rife as to when Tendulkar would return.

The master batsman was, however, back for the very next match and this led to a revival in India’s campaign. Against Kenya Tendulkar (140 off 101 balls with 16 fours and three sixes) and Rahul Dravid (104) were involved in a World Cup record stand of 237 runs (unbroken) for the third wicket as India put up an imposing total of 329 for two in 50 overs.Read moreread more

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After completing a 94-run victory, the rejuvenated Indians proceeded to demolish Sri Lanka in their next game. The association between Dravid and Tendulkar stood as a record for precisely one match, for against the holders, Sourav Ganguly (183 off 158 balls with 16 fours and seven sixes) and Dravid (145) strung together a partnership of 318 runs off 45 overs for the second wicket – the highest stand for any wicket in ODIs. A total of 373 for six in 50 overs – the second highest in the World Cup – was the springboard for a 157-run victory and India were firmly back on track. They did not look back and with a comfortable 63-run victory over England in their final league match the Indians qualified for the Super Six finishing second to South Africa in the group.

But the joy associated with the Indians’ entry was a bit diluted since they carried forward zero points. The six qualifiers carried forward points and net run rate gained against fellow Super Six qualifiers but not those gained against teams eliminated at the preliminary stage.

Having lost to both South Africa and Zimbabwe, the two other qualifiers from the group, India were at a distinct disadvantage and probably would have to win all their three Super Six matches against Australia, Pakistan and New Zealand to make it to the semifinals. This was going to be a tough task and India faltered at the very first step when they lost to Australia by 77 runs.

In pursuit of a target of 283, India lost four wickets for 17 and all that a fighting 100 not out by Ajay Jadeja and his fifth-wicket partnership of 141 runs with Robin Singh (75) could do was to delay the inevitable. A 47-run victory over Pakistan – their third successive success against their arch-rivals in the competition – provided hardly any comfort and their campaign ended limply with New Zealand winning by five wickets. India, in fact, finished at the bottom of the Super Six table with two points.

If it was any consolation, the Indians put up some of the best individual performances in the tournament, the batting being particularly spectacular. The high totals and the record partnerships underscored this. Among the run-getters Dravid with 461 runs finished top of the heap while Ganguly (379) was not far behind. Dravid got two hundreds (Saeed Anwar was the only other batsman to emulate this feat) while Ganguly’s 183 was the top score in the tournament and the second highest in the history of the competition.

Venkatesh Prasad (against Pakistan) and Robin Singh (against Sri Lanka) were among the few bowlers to notch up five-wicket hauls. Nayan Mongia had five dismissals behind the stumps against Zimbabwe to equal the ODI record. But as a team there is no doubt that India failed to live up to the usual high expectations.

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