We changed the dynamics of Indian cricket: Mohammad Kaif revisits 2002 Natwest Trophy final

Combining with Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif scored a brilliant 87 not out to help India script a historic win over England in the Natwest Trophy final in 2002.

Mohammad Kaif played the innings of his life as India staged a remarkable fightback chasing an improbable total in the NatWest Tri Series final against England.   -  N. Sridharan

What did the Natwest Trophy final mean to Mohammad Kaif?

“Everything,” he says.

It was the evening of July 13, 2002, that changed his life forever. With an unbeaten 87, often considered the innings of his life, Kaif helped India beat a mighty England and clinch the title.

Back in those days, when Twenty20 was an unheard-of term and chasing 300-plus runs was considered a herculean task, it was Kaif and Yuvraj Singh who not only chased down a mammoth 325 runs, but also changed the dynamics of Indian cricket forever.

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It’s been 18 years since the iconic final, but it still feels like yesterday.

“July 13 will always be close to my heart. It changed my life. I wanted to make that day memorable, so I announced my retirement on July 13, 2018. It will always remain a special day for me...” Kaif says.

In a conversation with Sportstar, he looks back at the Natwest Trophy final...

India chased down a mammoth total of 325 in the Natwest Tri Series final against England.   -  N. Sridharan

 

The mindset

It was a completely new situation for me. I hadn’t faced something like that before, where you were playing a crucial final. Back then, there was a trend that India would qualify for the final but would eventually miss out on the title. It appeared that we were the best team till the final, but somehow things would go incredibly wrong in the last hurdle, so we were desperate to break the jinx.

Ahead of the final, there were a lot of discussions on how to tame the home team. But in the end, all that meant very little as England posted a mammoth 325. Those were the days when anything above 300 looked like an uphill task. So, as England piled on the runs, the Indian camp looked dejected and we knew that we failed to get the monkey off our back.

After all, who would have thought that we could script a turnaround!

Walk the talk

As we walked back to the pavilion after the first innings, our captain, Sourav Ganguly, tried boosting the morale. Inside the dressing room, we had a good chat – coach John Wright was standing in one corner and Ganguly explained why it is important to shrug off the odds and aim for the kill. Obviously, he was disappointed with the way we bowled, but then, the match was still on. “We still have 50 overs to bat, so let’s move forward,” he told the team. It was decided that we would bat aggressively and ensure that we don’t lose early wickets, at least till the 15th over. That was the plan.

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When you are chasing a big target, there are times when you tend to go too hard at the bowlers and in the process end up losing wickets. Back then, it was quite a common thing – so we decided to change that. Ganguly’s idea was to put up at least 90-odd runs in the first 15 overs, so that we could gain momentum. “This is my thought as a captain and an opener. We should not go hard right from the start to ensure that we don’t lose wickets. We have to plan our innings accordingly...” Ganguly said.

That was all he told us before walking out to bat.

Leading from the front

Ganguly looked determined. While Virender Sehwag held fort at one end, Ganguly went about his business right from the start. It was Ganguly who set the tone. Leading from the front, he took maximum strike and looked at ease as he went hammer and tongs at the England bowlers. Trust me, it wasn’t an easy task, but that day Dada proved why he’s the god of the off-side. He dominated throughout and gradually allowed Sehwag to step in.

As the two steadied the innings, the dressing room was buoyed with confidence. We knew that if we can keep the momentum going, we could clinch this one. By then, we had put up 100 runs inside 14 overs and the best thing was not a wicket was lost.

It was still a long way to, but we were chasing a dream!

Hiccups and panic

From being 104-0, we were suddenly looking rudderless at 146-5. Dada departed after a solid knock of 60, and a middle-order collapse followed. The England supporters, who had gone quiet, were suddenly excited to see the home team bouncing back. Sehwag, Dinesh Mongia, Rahul Dravid and even Sachin Tendulkar had walked back to the pavilion by then, and we were staring at yet another final debacle.

Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal triggered a Indian top-order collapse.   -  the hindu archives

 

And then, I walked out to bat. In my early days, I always batted as an opener or at No. 3, so batting at the seventh spot was a new challenge altogether. Back then, I preferred playing up the order, so that I could take some time to settle down and then bat till the end. So it was a new test for me, and let’s be honest – it was quite a tough task. But at the same time, I knew that the match isn’t over as long as I am around. I enjoyed playing under pressure and now that all the top players were out, sab nigahein Mohammad Kaif ke upar tha (all eyes are on Mohammad Kaif), and I knew I had to deliver!

As we were reeling at 146-5, many of the Indian fans were leaving Lord’s thinking that the match was over. There were disappointments all around, and as I walked out, a jaded Sachin was heading back to the pavilion. Those who know Sachin are aware of the fact that Sachin is someone who always wanted to go that extra mile in the final and make India win. His preparation was of a different level and he would go quiet before the final.

As Sachin headed back to the tunnel, the pin-drop silence in the stands said it all – we needed a miracle here!

Steadying the ship with Yuvraj

It took me a bit of time to settle down and my good friend Yuvraj Singh, who was at the other end, ensured that we steadied the ship. As time went by, both of us calmed down and knew that the onus was on us to guide the team home. We had to react to the situation and there was no plan as such. We decided that we will go with the flow and take things as they come. That worked for us – slowly we got back the confidence and even before we realised it, we had put the pressure back on England.

For both me and Yuvi, it was also an opportunity to prove ourselves and win the game for India. It was a transitional phase for Indian cricket; Ganguly was backing the young players and we knew that we had to overturn the odds and get the team home.

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There was a belief in those days that once Sachin was gone, things were over for India. One couldn’t even imagine that No. 6 and No. 7 batsmen would actually seal the deal! So, it was a new experience – for the fans and also for us. Another factor that helped us was the fact that both Yuvi and I knew each other for a long time; we have played cricket since our early days. So, there was that comfort level and we knew that if we could back each other, the target could be achieved.

Since both of us were at the top of our fitness levels, we made sure to pick quick singles and ease the pressure. Even as Yuvraj went for a few big shots, it was the singles that kept us in the game.

Tale-enders

Yuvi made my life easy. He hit nine boundaries and a six in that innings and that eventually helped me play my natural game. But when Paul Collingwood dismissed Yuvraj, we still had a long way to go.

There walked in Harbhajan Singh. I did not have much experience of playing with tail-enders, so it was a new ball game and trust me, it’s not easy. There were Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble – who were senior to me. But it was one of those moments when as a batsman you had to call the shots.

Bhajji stayed at the crease for nearly half an hour and backed me. I wasn’t focusing on the scoreboard and went about my business and it was then I played a rash shot off Collingwood, but managed to survive. Bhajji walked up to me and said: “Tu kya kar raha hai, yaar? It’s a run-a-ball situation now. Why are you taking risks?”

The partnership between Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif was crucial for India's fightback in the final.   -  n. sridharan

 

That made me realise that we, indeed, had come close. But soon Bhajji himself was dismissed. Kumble was unlucky to have been given out. I still feel it was a wrong call by the umpire (Steve Bucknor).

With two quick wickets, the pressure was on me. I did not want to put Zaheer Khan in trouble and wanted to finish the game inside the 49th over. Back then, IPL (Indian Premier League) was an unheard-of term and it was considered risky to stretch the match till the last over.

Tackling Andrew Flintoff in the last over wasn’t easy, but then, on a day when things went our way, we managed to pull it off! In today’s time, 300-plus scores are regular in international cricket. But back then, the scenario was completely different. It was not easy to chase down such huge totals, but the Natwest Trophy final did change the dynamics. I remember after the Natwest heroics people realised that India was very much in the game even after Sachin’s dismissal. They started pinning hopes on Yuvraj and Kaif, so I feel proud to have created a name for myself, despite batting at No. 7.

No one thought that India would chase down 325. But we did.

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Gasping for breath

As we took the winning runs, it was still hard to believe that we had won the title. In the Lord’s balcony, we saw Dada waving his shirt – that was a surprise! Minutes later, as Zak (Zaheer) and I were heading towards the pavilion, the entire team rushed to the ground. I remember Dada jumped over me and I could not control my balance. I was surrounded by my team-mates; there were tears of joy. After batting for 109 minutes, I was tired, but my team-mates were all over me. Dravid came to my rescue!

The entire stadium cheered for us; my team-mates looked emotional and we knew that we have changed the dynamics of Indian cricket. What a moment it was!

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