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2003 – When India flattered to deceive
By Partab Ramchand
A semifinal spot with some luck was the prediction for the Indian team on the eve of the eighth World Cup in South Africa in 2003. The number of participating countries had swelled to 14 and there were two groups of seven each. India were placed in what seemed to be slightly tougher group ‘A’ along with Australia, England, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Holland. With only three qualifiers making to the Super Six India would have to win four of their six matches to be assured of a place in the next stage.

But the manner in which they commenced their campaign did not augur well for an extended stay in the competition. They huffed and puffed their way to a 68-run victory over Holland after being dismissed for 204 in 48.5 overs. The batting line up, the most lustrous in the tournament hardly did themselves any justice and it was left to the bowlers, Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble in particular, to come to the rescue. In their very next match, they ran into Australia and the holders proved to be a rampaging force. The Indian challenge was blasted away by a relentless Aussie bowling machine and the result was that India were all out for 125 in 41.4 overs – their lowest ever World Cup total. The inevitable quick denouement took place – an Australian victory by nine wickets with 27.4 overs to spare.Read moreread more

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The Indian team, a much-hyped up outfit back home, now became the subject of ridicule and abuse. The homes of skipper Sourav Ganguly and Md Kaif were attacked, mock funeral processions were taken out and effigies of Ganguly and Tendulkar were burnt. The mass hysteria was typically Indian given the almost religious following the game has in the country but it also sent out a clear message to the players who in the next match got their act together.

An emphatic 83-run victory over Zimbabwe got the campaign back on track and from here on the Indians could do little wrong. They coasted to a 181-run victory over Namibia with Tendulkar (152) and Ganguly (112 not out) figuring in a second wicket partnership of 244 runs. India posted a total of 311 for two in 50 overs before bowling out their hapless opponents for 130. Their confidence fully restored India notched up a surprisingly comfortable 82-run victory over England. The batsmen did well in running up a total of 250 for nine in 50 overs but the star was Ashish Nehra. The left arm seamer ripped through the England batting taking six for 23 and England were shot out for 168 in 45.3 overs.

Next up was Pakistan and it was predictably enough the most feverishly talked up match of the tournament. It was also the first clash between the arch rivals since June 2000 and the TV audience around the world was estimated to be a billion.

The stadium at Centurion was crammed and the match lived up to all the hype. Saeed Anwar scored 101 as Pakistan put up a challenging total of 273 for seven in 50 overs. India’s reply was spectacular. Tendulkar treated the testosterone-propelled pace attack that included Wasim Akram,Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar with contempt hitting a memorable 98 off 75 balls. By the 12th over India had reached 100 and the victory thereafter was never in doubt. India’s fourth successive victory over Pakistan in the World Cup was achieved with six wickets and 4.2 overs to spare with the finishing touches being provided by Rahul Dravid (44) and Yuvraj Singh (50) and their unbroken fifth wicket partnership of 99 runs. With a record of five wins and a loss India were second behind Australia and made it to the Super Six in style.

Continuing their unstoppable run, India had things their own way in the Super Six defeating Kenya (by six wickets), Sri Lanka (by 183 runs) and New Zealand (by seven wickets). They had won seven consecutive matches, the batsmen and bowlers were eminently successful and their path to the title clash was virtually assured when it was known that the semifinal opponents would be Kenya. The non Test playing nation had done remarkably well in making it this far but India were too strong winning by 91 runs. Ganguly emulated Mark Waugh’s 1996 feat of scoring three centuries in a single World Cup competition (he had scored his second against the same opponents in the Super Six) and against expectations India were clashing with Australia for the title.

It was a commendable showing after their indifferent start but they never really stood a chance against the awesome might of the holders. Put in to bat Australia rattled up 359 for two in 50 overs with skipper Ricky Ponting getting a masterly unbeaten 140 off 121 balls and sharing an unbroken 234-run stand for the third wicket with Damien Martyn (88). Srinath conceded 87 runs in his ten overs the most in a World Cup final and all that the Indians could do thereafter was to try and narrow down the margin of defeat as much as possible. They were finally dismissed for 234 in 39.2 overs with Virender Sehwag providing the crumb of comfort hitting a typically swashbuckling 82 off 81 balls.

The Indians again provided some of the best performances in the tournament. Tendulkar finished with 673 runs, a World Cup record, and was adjudged man of the tournament. Ganguly (465) and Dravid (318) too were among the runs. Zaheer Khan (18), Srinath (16) and Nehra (15) were among the prominent wicket takers while Nehra’s six for 23 was the third best figures in the tournament.

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