Former Indian batsman Mohammad Kaif has opened up on a new aspect surrounding the 2002 Natwest Series final against England. The come-from-behind victory for India is considered as one of the most iconic wins in the history of Indian cricket. And Mohammad Kaif, who played a chief role in that match delineated how Harbhajan Singh helped him while chasing the daunting total.
England set India 326 in 50 overs to chase down after captain Nasser Hussain and Marcus Trescothick hit centuries. While India began the innings well, they lost five wickets at almost the halfway stage. Mohammad Kaif joined hands with Yuvraj Singh, adding 121 runs for the sixth wicket. Kaif remained unbeaten at 87, winning the clash for the tourists by two wickets.
Mohammad Kaif recalled the time when India lost Yuvraj Singh and he had to do it all alone with the tailenders and score 60 runs. He further said that he slammed a six off Ronnie Irani, who bowled at a reasonable speed but possessed the attitude of a fast bowler.
“Then, suddenly, Yuvraj fell. I was in shock, now I had to do it with the tail-enders but had no experience in dealing with them. I remember I pulled a six off Ronnie Irani – again not really the length for it but I just reacted. Irani was someone who would bowl around 120 kmph but had the attitude of a fast bowler. We two had a bit going in that game, I think,” Mohammad Kaif wrote in his column for the Indian Express.
Kaif recollected telling Harbhajan Singh to play his own game; however, looking at the batsman’s gameplay, the off-spinner advised him to go for run-a-ball. The 39-year old then realized that he needs to be calm and only watch and play the ball.
“I told Harbhajan to play his game as I didn’t want to confuse anyone. But it was Bhajji who helped me at an important moment. I had slogged Paul Collingwood and the ball went off the inside edge to fine leg for two runs. Bhaji told me, “Kya kar raha hai, what are you doing? Run-a-ball now, look at the scorecard.” I thought, yes, he is right. I just needed to watch the ball, play the ball,”
“There was a fear of losing the game till the end” : Mohammad Kaif
The retired batsman went on to narrate that Darren Gough, who was one of England’s most trusted bowlers, was dealt with well when India needed 25 runs off the final four overs. Kaif collected another boundary off the last delivery in the third man area as the equation came down to two needing off the 50th over.
“With 25 needed from the last four, Darren Gough, who Nasser trusted a lot, came on. I hit two fours in that over – over covers and to midwicket – but even then, I knew it wasn’t over. Then in one over Flintoff got Harbhajan and Anil Kumble, who fell to a wrong decision by Steve Bucknor. Off the last ball of the 48th, with six runs needed, Hussain had the long-on and long-off in the circle. I went for a big leg-side shot against Gough but it flew off the edge to the third man boundary. Even then, I wasn’t sure of the win,”
Mohammad Kaif said that the second-last batsman, who was Zaheer Khan, played out two dot balls. He said that there was still fear of losing the game; however, there was a single off third delivery and an overthrow enabled to complete the winning run. After the victory, the Indian dressing room erupted in celebration with the skipper Sourav Ganguly taking off his jersey and waving it at the Lord’s balcony.
“You never know. Because if Zak got out, we had Nehraji. I can visualise him sitting in the dressing room, scratching his head. Zaheer played out two dot balls, they didn’t want me on strike. There was a fear of losing the game till the end. But off the third ball, we went for a single but there was an overthrow and a panic run. That was it,” he concluded.