India had reached a World Cup final for the first time since 1983. Quirky statisticians were quick to point out that India had never lost after making it this far. From the quirky to the ridiculous, there were others who put forth more compelling reasons for India to win the World Cup. For every tournament since 1979, the Cup has been held aloft alternatively by leftand right-handed captains, they proposed. In 1979, it was Clive Lloyd, a left-hander; in 1983 – Kapil Dev, the right-hander; in 1987 – Allan Border; in 1992 – Imran Khan; in 1996 – Arjuna Ranatunga; in 1999 – Steve Waugh. Hence it only followed that this was the year of Ganguly, they insisted.
There were others, even more scientific, who believed that India would win because Australia came into the final with a 16-match winning streak in one-dayers. When the all-conquering Aussies achieved the same landmark in Tests, India stopped them dead in their tracks in Kolkata and went on to win the series. On that occasion – and I was lucky enough to watch every ball amidst the booing and baying of Kolkata fans at Eden Gardens – VVS Laxman played a flawless 281, an innings of a lifetime, stealing the match and soon after the series away from the Australians
When Indian fans congregated at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, they were about to witness yet another once-in-a-lifetime innings. Amidst the flag-waving, emotion-swelling, partisan Indian crowd, Ricky Ponting played his very own version of the ‘innings-of-a-lifetime’ theme song. The man who once threatened to throw all his talent away being the lovable rogue; the drunkard who got into a brawl at the Bourbon and Beefsteak in Sydney’s King’s Cross, now reformed and re-invented, showed why Australia can afford to let go of Stephen Waugh.
An innings that will serve as a perfect illustration of one of cricket’s favourite terms – ‘a captain’s innings’ – saw Ponting bludgeon an unbeaten 140 off 121 balls, taking Australia to a mammoth 359/2 in 50 overs.
Out walked Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
Just 5′ 3″ in his socks, the little man would have been further weighed down by the burden of expectation that a country of more than a billion placed on its heroes.
There’s simply no way you can be expected to chase 360 against Australia in a World Cup final. Even with over 12,000 one-day runs and 34 centuries behind you, you’ll be hard pressed to live up to expectations.
All India clung on to hope.
“The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, “If only Casey could but get a whack at that
We’d put up even money now, with Casey at the bat.”
Forget McGrath, write off Lee, there’s always Tendulkar, thought the Indian fans.
India just need Sehwag to fire, Kaif to run, Dravid to steady and Ganguly to persevere. But first and foremost, Tendulkar, for he will deliver the knock out punch.
“Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It pounded on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.”
So goes the poem that will tell you that there was as much expected of men before as there is of Tendulkar now.
“There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile lit Casey’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Casey at the bat.”
Just as Sachin was forced to wait for the loose ball, the legendary Casey bided his time. Tendulkar managed an awkward pull off the fourth ball of the game. Not quite like Casey, though, who had haughtily watched two strikes go by, waiting for the right pitch to strike glory with.
“…And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.”
“Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville… mighty Casey has struck out.”
At the same time that Mumbai mourned, Kolkata cussed and Delhi despaired, you could be sure that the celebrations went over the top from the Darling Harbour in Sydney’s harbour foreshore and Southbank in Melbourne, from little Byron Bay in New South Wales to King’s Park in Perth.
A mere miscued pull was all it took, for Tendulkar’s World Cup final to land in McGrath’s waiting hands. While other batsmen may have tried hard, India’s dream ended then and there.
Spare a thought for the man himself. After scoring 673 runs in the tournament and fuelling India’s efforts, he might still be remembered for failing in the final. And cruelly enough, If India don’t reach a World Cup final for the rest of Tendulkar’s career, he will have to live with four runs in a major loss as his best effort in a World Cup final.
Spare a thought for Casey, spare two for Sachin.
by Anand Vasu