When underdogs created history

“It’s been 17 long years, but still feels like yesterday!” says the Kiwi player, who was a member of the victorious New Zealand team, that beat favourites India in the ICC Knockout Trophy in 2000.

Craig McMillan (left) celebrates with Scott Styris after scoring the winning runs for New Zealand in the semi-final of the ICC Knockout Trophy tournament in Nairobi in 2000.

That evening in Nairobi has to be special for all of us. It was the summer of 2000, and the New Zealand cricket team had just won its first ICC tournament, that too, by beating India in the final of the ICC Knockout Trophy!

Before that, we have had mixed success in the major events, but a title eluded us. As a part of that team, which won the historic title in October 2000 at the Gymkhana Stadium in Nairobi, I feel that victory changed the course for cricket in New Zealand. That fascinating and unbelievable win against a formidable and favourite India made all realise that this New Zealand team may not have superstars, but it certainly has the potential to turn the tables on the bigwigs.

That’s exactly what we did then. As another Champions Trophy nears, and being the batting coach of New Zealand I gear up for more challenges, I can’t help but recollect those days. When we travelled to Kenya, we knew it would be tough to get through to the final. Placed in a strong group, nobody perhaps expected us to topple the favourites — India and Pakistan. But the vibe in the dressing room was loud and clear: work hard and strive for glory.

We had a good all-round side, and all the players contributed to the team’s success in their own little way. If Stephen Fleming led the unit, we had a Chris Harris or a Roger Twose to take charge of things in the middle. Basically, everyone was aware of the responsibilities.

I think that is what worked well for us.

When we took on Pakistan in the semifinal, we needed a good partnership to guide us home. And that’s where I chipped in with an unbeaten 51. That not only helped us win the game, but also sealed our berth in the final. With everyone playing their roles right, things couldn’t have gone wrong.

I am glad that they didn’t!

The weather conditions in Kenya suited South Africa the most. Even India and Pakistan were able to get acclimatised. Coming from a different zone, it was tough to settle down and deliver the goods. I remember how we were initially scared of the results. After all, beating the heat wasn’t that easy. But when you have a unit which is ready to walk the extra mile, no challenge can throw you out of the race. It was a similar story for us.

Once we progressed in the tournament, we knew we had to give our best to pull this one off. And perhaps, the result was out in the open — a dominating win over tournament favourite India. That evening, I failed to deliver. But my team-mates ensured that all went fine. In the end, it did. 

Even after that, the New Zealand team has performed well in quite a few tournaments, including that historic World Cup final in 2015. But that evening of 2000 is still the only time we came home smiling. As I walk down memory lane, those moments make me happy. It’s been 17 long years, but still feels like yesterday!

(As told to Shayan Acharya)

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