MEMORIES OF ANOTHER INDIA-PAK LEAGUE GAME: I remember sitting on the second floor and looking at the flood-lit ground a few hours after that thrilling bowl-out game against Pakistan in the 2007 T20 tournament. Just soaking up the environment. MS Dhoni walked up to me to say, “kya, tu itna chup kyun hai?” (Why are you so quiet?). I was just rewinding that year. I wasn’t part of the team for the last six months. I was alone at the MRF Pace academy in Chennai, training with unknown kids. And worked very hard to make a comeback. And now as I sat there quietly after that game, I was reflecting on how all that hard work had paid off and how much I had missed being in the action.
In some ways, it was how the India story too had gone that year. We had come to the T20 World Cup in 2007 with so many bad memories. Earlier that year, we had lost the ODI World Cup in the West Indies, we didn’t even qualify. To make things worse, our first game against Scotland in the T20 tournament was washed out, so it meant that we had to win all our games from there on. The margin of error was too low. Nobody expected that a bowl out would happen. That win helped us qualify, so a big burden was off our shoulders. Everything went in our favour after that.
When I walked into the playing arena, I was just overwhelmed with the environment, and trying hard to control my emotions. I was very desperate to make a comeback. When we batted first, Mohammad Asif turned in a dangerous spell. It was the only game in that tournament where we didn’t get a good start. We lost four batsmen early and I remember the dugout was a bit tense.
But the way Robin (Uthappa) batted in that game was excellent. I still remember he walked down the crease and hit a six off Yasir (Arafat). It was one of the finest knocks by him. He and Dhoni had a partnership and later I had some stand with Dhoni.
I remember when Shahid Afridi came to bowl, I asked him (Dhoni) what he was thinking, is it time for one of us to charge now. He replied, “You go for it.” So I hit Shahid Afridi for two consecutive sixes and later got out to him. We managed to reach a respectable score. When the chase began, the match was going up and down, it was a see-saw game.
There were some 12 odd runs needed in the last over, bowled by Sreesanth. I remember two fours came and then he came round the wicket. It’s not easy to try that angle and bowl in such a high profile tense game. Sreesanth had a habit of changing his action while running in to confuse the batsman, I later told him not to do it. As this will hamper his rhythm. He bowled well that night to come back after those two fours. They needed just one from the last two; the first was a dot and the last ball resulted in a run out.
Before that last ball, when the scores were tied, there were too many thoughts going on in my mind. A loss against Pakistan and that too in a World Cup where we had never lost to them. Such thoughts flitted through but luckily, there was that run out. It was a huge relief because we came back into the game from nowhere.
When the bowl out began, we were ready. We could see from the faces of the Pakistan players, it seemed they didn’t have the idea that such a rule was there. Or so it seemed.
Thankfully, our bowling coach Venky (Venkatesh Prasad) had prepared us for this bowl-outs. He had made the training sessions fun. Before that Pakistan game we were given a ground to practice in Durban. I remember after the practice there we had a stump which was made of small bricks. Like we have in gully cricket. Everyone was asked to do target practice and we not only had to hit the brick stumps but also make it fall. All that hard work paid off.
After that win against Pakistan, the team was more united than before. It became a movement, almost with everyone enjoying each other’s company. We had just five minutes of meetings before every game, including the finals. The only long meeting we used to have was with Venky bhai. It worked well and we went on to win that tournament.
(Former India player spoke to Devendra Pandey)
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