Most incredible matches in World Cup history: 9 - India v England (2011)
Before the 2011 World Cup happened, the iconic Eden Gardens in Kolkata had staged the final of the 1987 World Cup and the most unfortunate semi-final of the 1996 edition. So when 2011 came calling, all the talk was about a renovated Eden and how it would welcome the Men in Blue. The capacity might have been reduced, but the charm was still very much there. 27th February was the date that England would be made to face the raucous crowd. And the Bengali bhadralok made sure he had his ticket booked well in advance.
Naturally, it was a mighty blow to the hopes of millions of Kolkatans when the match was eventually taken away. The venue wasn’t ready, so said the ICC and just ahead of the all-important clash, the game was sent south. Kolkata’s loss would soon become Bangalore’s gain.
It was India’s second game after the tournament opener against Bangladesh in Mirpur. The first at home. So there was a lot riding on the outcome. Would the team be able to withstand the pressure of expectations? Would Sachin Tendulkar come a step closer to a hundred international hundreds? Would Virender Sehwag stay true to his promise of batting right through an innings?
Most knew, though, that this was a well-oiled machine being spoken of. A machine that had effortlessly scored 370 against Bangladesh – led by a Viru special and a World Cup debut hundred from a burgeoning Virat Kohli. England would be stiffer competition, but not one to be circumspect of.
England, on the other hand, had problems to deal with. Their bowlers gave away 292 runs against Netherlands in their campaign opener. The Dutch were a side with no reputation in the 50-over game. Stuart Broad and James Anderson were made to look toothless by Ryan ten Doeschate on his way to an imposing 119. The batting, however, looked relatively better, with captain Andrew Strauss in rich form, ably assisted by Kevin Pietersen in the top-order.
MS Dhoni won the toss and opted to bat first on a beautiful batting track at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. Sehwag and Tendulkar, opening the innings, took India off to a brilliant start with Sehwag scoring a boundary off the very first ball of the innings. Although Gautam Gambhir (51) and Yuvraj Singh (58) contributed handily to India’s first innings total, it was Tendulkar who ignited the stadium with his masterful strokeplay. The Mumbaikar, who displayed a cricketing masterclass on how to pace a one-day innings, put up a stand of 134 runs with Gambhir, which ended when the left-hander got out to Graeme Swann in the 30th over. Unfazed, Tendulkar carried on and ended up scoring 120, including ten fours and five sixes. It was his first One-Day International (ODI) hundred against England in nine years.
The vintage performance by India’s greatest ensured that England had to chase a mammoth 339 runs to win in front of an intimidating Bangalore crowd. Very few would have given England a chance, especially considering captain MS Dhoni’s mastery over the shorter formats in subcontinental conditions.
But it seemed that Dhoni’s counterpart, Strauss, had other plans. Nothing short of an inspiration, Strauss led the chase with a classical century, not letting his feet off the pedal even once. What seemed to be an imposing total at one stage looked like a feeble target as the scoreboard read 280 for 2 at the start of the 43rd over. England were on course to an incredible win.
It was Zaheer Khan and his reverse swing that brought the crowd back to life with two successive wickets in the 43rd over. Zaheer, who was devastating with the old ball, picked up the crucial wickets of Ian Bell and Strauss, with the latter being on 158 when he was given out LBW off the left-armer. India were saved from the ignominy of defeat, largely thanks to Zaheer’s final three over spell, where he picked up three wickets while giving away just eleven runs.
With the pressure proving too much to handle, the English batsmen pressed the panic button, as Paul Collingwood and Matt Prior fell in no time. From 280 for 2, England collapsed to 289 for 6 in the 46th over. It seemed to be India’s game then, much to the delight of the crowd that had once again found its voice.
However, fate had other things in store. With 14 required off the final over, the ball was given to India’s best bowler in the Mirpur opener, Munaf Patel. All Munaf was expected to do was not give boundaries. Two were taken off the first ball he bowled, as Swann made room to swing his bat. It was Swann’s single off the second ball that eventually made all the difference. Facing his first ball of the match, the little-known Ajmal Shahzad, then, tonked a Munaf delivery for six over long-off. Of the remaining five runs, four were picked from the final three deliveries and the game ended in an epic tie. No team had the better of each other that day, and rightly so.
India went on to win comfortably against Ireland in their next game before defeating Netherlands in Delhi. The only game that India lost in the group stages was a closely fought encounter against South Africa in Nagpur. The soon-to-be crowned world champions entered the knock-out stages after finishing at second place in Group B.
England made a mess of their World Cup campaign as a Kevin O’Brien blitz blew them apart in Bangalore three days later. Learning little from that loss against Ireland, England also ended up losing to Bangladesh by two wickets, but somehow managed to scamper their way to the quarter-finals before a heavy 10-wicket defeat to a rampant Sri Lankan unit saw them exit the tournament.