Circa March 2007. India had just been tossed out of the ICC World Cup by the youthful Bangladesh and the experienced Sri Lankans. A massive backlash by the fans and the general public greeted the players after their Caribbean sojourn ended in heartbreak.
There had even been reports of vandalism; Jharkhand wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s half-constructed house was damaged by infuriated activists, who held the long-haired cricketer’s poor showing with the bat responsible, in part, for the international debacle.
Greg Chappell, the controversial coach of the side, also came in for heavy criticism from all quarters; he eventually opted not to renew his contract with the BCCI.
Chappell’s constant tinkering with the batting line up, forced Sachin Tendulkar to play in the middle-order. Previous rows with former captain Sourav Ganguly were also considered to be important factors for India’s unceremonious exit from cricket’s quadrennial showpiece.
Months later, the International Cricket Council (ICC) mooted another world championship for promoting the Twenty20 format. India’s veteran triumvirate of Tendulkar, Ganguly and Rahul Dravid decided to opt out, contending that the shortest version was meant for the younger lot. A new captain was chosen, fresh legs were drafted into the squad and off they went to South Africa.
No one, not even the most ardent Indian fan, believed that this bunch stood a chance. The humiliation suffered in the West Indies hung heavily over the side; the likes of Yuvraj Singh, Robin Uthappa, Virender Sehwag and skipper Dhoni had more than a point to prove.
The entire contingent was looking for redemption.
Gautam Gambhir, the left-handed Delhi opener, revived his cricket career with blistering performances through the tournament. He, along with state-mate Sehwag, gave his side the starts they needed.
Rohit Sharma, in his first outing for the senior team, came good with a couple of fine innings, while Uthappa, under-fire for blowing hot and cold since his ODI debut a year ago, also came good with the bat.
Yuvraj, on his own redemption trail, scorched the stands with an incredible display of power hitting – the six sixes he struck off Stuart Broad still bring smiles to Indian faces. RP Singh and Irfan Pathan too re-discovered their form, while Harbhajan Singh got the zing back in his bag of tricks. Riding on their performances, India stormed into the final against arch-rivals Pakistan.
Over to September 24, 2007. The Bull Ring, as the Wanderers Stadium is known as, was chock-a-bloc with supporters of both teams waving their respective flags and shouting themselves hoarse. The Men in Blue stepped out to make first use of the wicket in conditions tailor-made for batting.
Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul, however, had different plans. The all-too-familiar collapse that India had worked so hard to get rid of returned with a vengeance, as the two Pakistani seamers made the ball talk.
Uthappa, Yuvraj and Dhoni fell early without troubling the scorers too much, and the Indian supporters began to fear that their side might once again fall at the final hurdle. Gambhir produced the only innings of note by utilizing his ‘walking down the track’ approach, while Rohit’s quick cameo enabled the team to make a decent score.