For fans of Indian cricket, the 2002 Natwest Trophy final against England is, for the sheer quality of it, probably the greatest One-Day International ever. That victory at Lord’s – on the back of heroic knocks by Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh – remains special for more reasons than one and helped usher in a new era for the men in blue.
After edging Sri Lanka out, India and England faced each other in the final of the tri-series and the hosts were billed as the favourites to win the trophy. And batting first, they put in just the performance they would have hoped for.
Opener Marcus Trescothick got 109 and skipper Nasser Hussain scored 115 as England finished with 325/5 in 50 overs, a total that was considered mammoth in those days. Hussain was under pressure heading into the match and his celebration after he got to his century – where he tapped his name on the back of his jersey with his helmet – went on to become quite popular.
At the halfway stage of the match, it felt like India were heading for another defeat in a final. Sourav Ganguly, who was leading India that day, would admit years later that the morale in the dressing room was low during the innings break.
“I was very sad. I felt 260-270 was fine but there was a big difference between that and a score of 300-plus,” Ganguly told Star Sports. “I had gotten into a fight with our coach John Wright, who remains a dear friend of mine, a few days earlier and I told him then that I wasn’t interested in talking to him. We just so upset that we let them get past 300.”
Ganguly then told Virender Sehwag that they must try to score 100 runs in 15 overs without losing a wicket. And that’s exactly what the Indian openers did. Both Ganguly (60 off 43) and Sehwag (45 off 49) struck the ball wonderfully and gave India just the start they needed.
However, just as Indian fans were starting to entertain the thought of a sensational win, their team suffered a dramatic collapse. From 103/0 in 14 overs, India went to 147/5 at the end of the 24th. The visitors had lost five wickets in 10 overs for 47 runs. Sachin Tendulkar was the last of those wickets to fall, playing an inexplicable shot that haunts Indian fans to date, and at that point it felt like an England victory was inevitable.
But that’s when two young guns of Indian cricket got together to script one of the most famous turnarounds in ODI cricket history.
Kaif was 21 at that time and Singh was a year younger to him. Till that match, both players had done enough to showcase their talent on the biggest stage but neither had established himself as a match-winner. But the maturity they showed at the crease that day was far beyond their years. They added 121 runs for the sixth wicket in less than 18 overs, picking the right deliveries to attack and timing the chase to perfection. By the time Singh got out for a 63-ball 69, India had reached 267/6 in 41.4 overs.
India still needed 60 runs to win from 50 balls and Kaif only had the tail-enders to rely on. Recently, Kaif admitted in a chat with Singh that he thought India would lose the match once the southpaw departed.
“When you (Singh) got out, I thought the match is gone. I did not think we will win,” Kaif said. “I was set, you were there. So I believed if we played till the end India would will. But you got out and India lost hope and my heart broke.”
But Kaif didn’t let that heartbreak make him lose sight of the job at hand. The right-hander buckled down, switched to the aggressor’s role seamlessly and finished with 87 off 75 to take his team home with two wickets and three balls to spare. That image of Kaif and Zaheer Khan completing the final run with their hands in the air will be etched in the minds of Indian fans forever.
As if that moment wasn’t iconic enough, Ganguly’s shirt-wave at the Lord’s balcony took it up several notches. Singh and Tendulkar admitted later that the team didn’t realise when Ganguly pulled his shirt off but everyone had a good laugh about it later on. The Indian captain’s celebration was, of course, in response to something similar England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff had done after an ODI victory at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai earlier that year.
That unforgettable victory at Lord’s on July 13, 2002, had a deep impact on Indian cricket. India wasn’t used to pulling off such high-stake chases back then and the efforts of Kaif and Singh, along with the never-say-die attitude of captain Ganguly, helped instill a great amount of belief in the men in blue. It also marked the beginning of a new era for India’s ODI side, one in which young, aggressive youngsters took centre stage.
Watch extended highlights of the 2002 Natwest Trophy final here: