Revisiting the India-England Durban Classic from 2003 Cricket World Cup
ICC Cricket World Cup that was previously referred to as the Prudential Cup has showered us with many stories over its prestigious eleven editions. Some of these have been team stories depicting memorable team performances while few others have revolved around individual brilliance that have captivated one and all.
Be it West Indian dominance in the first three World Cups or MS Dhoni’s date with the destiny at Mumbai in 2011 World Cup or epic South African choke against Australia in the 1999 World Cup Semi-final, all these and many other stories have already made a special place in the hearts of every cricket fan. Some of these stories have not only inspired us but also have enthralled and saddened us making us realize the fickle and unpredictable nature of the game, heightening our emotions to its peak levels.
One such story that finds a special place in the history of Indian Cricket team at the World Cup is the Durban classic against England in 2003 edition of the marquee event when a dodgy, half-fit Ashish Nehra, who also vomited during the course of the match, produced a magical spell of fast bowling at its serene best which perhaps very much went on to become his career-defining spell.
Not only the consequence of the match made it a remarkable story, but also the context under which Nehra and India produced such a memorable performance that made it look incredibly special.
The Indian team that travelled to the South African shores under the leadership of Sourav Ganguly, who by then had established himself as the able captain of the team, had optimum mix of experience and youth. For once, the Indian team gave an impression of being a formidable unit. However, after a nervous start against Netherlands, India suffered a disastrous and demoralizing defeat at the hands of then defending World Champions Australia which brought a huge outrage from the public back home. Following this road block, India sailed convincingly against Zimbabwe and Namibia and a formidable opponent in England stood in front of them as two teams were ready to lock horns at Kingsmead in Durban on February 26, 2003.
The match assumed crucial importance for both the teams as the outcome of the match was about to play a massive role in deciding either team’s chances to advance to the super six stage.
Ganguly won the toss and had no hesitation in electing to bat first and his call seemed to pay rich dividends as India got off to a blistering start. It was divine watching Sachin Tendulkar that day and few of his shots, especially the one where the little master hooked Andrew Caddick out of the park, was reminiscent of the Tendulkar of the desert storm of Sharjah that blew away every cricket fan's mind with awe and admiration five years ago. Exit of both the openers, especially that of Tendulkar brought stagnation in the middle for the men in blue as Andrew Flintoff appeared determined to hold India by the scruff. The likes of Ganguly and Mongia had a painful stay at the crease as they never really got going and India who raced to 90 within 15 overs crawled to 155 in 36 overs before Mongia departed leaving India in a bit of stranglehold. The arrival of exuberant Yuvraj Singh in the middle boosted the innings with much needed impetus and aggression, ably supporting his senior statesman Rahul Dravid who himself played a mature, patient innings of 62 as Indian innings at the end of allocated 50 overs, closed at decent 250/9. For England, in the bowling department, it was all about Flintoff who returned with sensational figures of 2-15 from his pool of 10 overs.
To be honest, England chasing 251 looked more than capable as they batted as deep as No.9 with all-rounders Flintoff, Craig White and Ronnie Irani occupying the No.7, No.8 and No.9 spots respectively. But, no one knew what was coming their way as their strong, experienced and formidable batting crumbled like house of cards to an outstanding spell of fast bowling which not only looked serene but also gave an impression of being aesthetically beautiful.
Ashish Nehra created magic and probably bowled the spell of his life-time to bamboozle the English batsman and returned with superlative figures of 6/23, second best only to Andy Bichel's 7/20 against England at the 2003 ICC Cricket World Cup. His left arm over delivery to dismiss English veteran Alec Stewart LBW for first ball duck was probably a classic example of left arm swing bowling at its serene best.
Nehra’s incredible spell not only helped India win the match, but also helped them advance an inch closer towards qualifying for the super six round. Nehra's brilliant spell of fast bowling, probably for the first time in the tournament brought about a sense of belief among the dressing room that the team as a unit is capable to win any match under any circumstances against any given opponent. After all, the win against England was India’s first triumph against a major opponent in the tournament.
Following an epic 82-run win over England, India handsomely and rather convincingly won against arch-rivals Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Kiwis but Nehra’s path-breaking performance and India’s memorable win against the English acted like a torch bearer for the men in blue for the rest of the tournament as the win instilled in them a sense of self-confidence and self-belief which helped India go a long way before finally succumbing to the eternal champions Australia in the finals.
While we can have many World Cup stories to cherish and remember, this story was all about the new look India that put fear into the minds of oppositions rather than being getting bogged down by its opponents. This was totally in contrast of India of old and monumental victory over England inspired by Nehra’s individual brilliance set a benchmark for Indians to follow for the rest of the World Cup!