World Cup 2011 final: Zaheer Khan breaks down India's bowling effort

In a chat with Sportstar, Zaheer Khan, the key bowler in India’s World Cup triumph in 2011, speaks of the most momentous day of his cricket career.

Zaheer Khan: It was one of the most momentous days of every squad members’ life. I can say that with full confidence.   -  REUTERS

Zaheer Khan, like other members of the Indian team, woke up to live a dream. It was the day of the World Cup final at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. The tournament had progressed to an exciting finish and it was Zaheer’s second final after the heartbreaking loss to Australia in 2003 at the Wanderers in Johannesburg.

The team had decided not to attract needless pressure and take the field with a belief that this was going to be 'the' day. Victories against Australia and Pakistan in the knockout stage had prepared the players mentally to give their best. And they did just that to stop Sri Lanka from winning a second World Cup crown.

In a chat with SPORTSTAR, Zaheer Khan, the key bowler in India’s triumph, speaks of the most momentous day of his cricket career.

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What are your memories of the first half of the match?

First of all, we lost the toss and we were bowling first. There was a little controversy at the toss, which surprisingly, I was not even aware of. Who won the toss? And that was something which I got to know later, which I had no idea when I was bowling. I was completely in my zone. And you know, teams like to bat first in a high-pressure final. So both the teams were wanting to bat first. I was personally just in that zone of staying in the present. I wanted to stay in the present and not let the emotions get the better of me. And, for me, I had my personal experience of the 2003 final to guide me through this. You know, how emotions can get the better of you.

Zaheer Khan: I had to keep motivating Sreesanth through that process because he had not been part of the World Cup playing XI up until that point.   -  REUTERS

What was on your mind?

I was more determined from that point of view and as soon as the National Anthem was over it was about going out there and staying in the present. I was in that zone and the first 10 overs were superb. It was a very, very hot and humid Mumbai afternoon. For anyone to sustain through that was going to be an uphill task. I'm glad that you know we were able to do. In finals, I always knew that it's important to set the tone right. To start the finals well. For me, bowling those three overs and taking that wicket without really giving any run was amazing.

I was just focusing on that, and, building it from there and making sure that others also were continuing with that. I remember someone like Munaf (Patel) was there at the other end to support me and Sreesanth was there who was struggling with the heat. I had to keep motivating him through that process because he had not been part of the World Cup playing XI up until that point. It was an injury (to Ashish Nehra) which made place for him in the team. And that was not easy on him, especially without having played a single game in a tournament with that kind of pressure. So, we were trying to be more understanding of that fact and motivating him.

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What was the plan in the initial stages?

It was about keeping the pressure going. Mahela (Jayawardene) was playing well in the middle overs. He put the pressure back on the bowlers but we were getting the wickets from the other end. So that was the important thing. Yuvi’s (Yuvraj Singh) middle overs spell was also very crucial. If I'm not mistaken he got two wickets in the middle overs. We knew how threatening Mahela can be. Mahela’s innings in that final was remarkable under pressure. It came at a time when his team needed it. They were struggling because (Tillakaratne) Dilshan and (Upul) Tharanga both were out pretty quickly and also (Kumar) Sangakkara. Only Mahela could have done the damage to us. But even if he was playing well we were getting wickets at regular intervals from the other and keeping that pressure going.

Sri Lanka was only 31 for one in the first 10 overs but they progressed well in the next 20 overs.

That’s the partnership I was talking about. Mahela was the only one who could have taken Sri Lanka to a good score. We had to get him out but you know that's how the game goes. I think overall, it was a great wicket to bat on. It was also established that it was good bowling that was keeping us in the game.

At the halfway stage Sri Lanka was only 105 for two. As the key bowler, what kind of strategy did you have in mind and what were you telling your colleagues on the field?

Usually, in the shorter format, the run rate pressure also gets you wickets. It was important to keep things tight, and that was the discussion during the drinks break or when a wicket fell. We wanted to finish strong and sustain the pressure right till the 50th over and not relax.

At the end of 40 overs, with a score of 183 for five, did you have things under control?

Yes, of course. Like I mentioned, it was a great batting wicket. It was a typical Mumbai, Wankhede high-scoring pitch. It was just that we were able to keep the pressure on the Sri Lankans till the 40th over. That was the gist of that fact. They were scoring at four and a half runs an over.

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Zaheer Khan: Yuvraj Singh was superb right through the World Cup.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

 

Yuvraj Singh chipping in with 10 overs. How would you assess his contribution?

He was superb right through the World Cup. He was almost able to bowl his quota of overs throughout the tournament. He gave us that balance of the fifth bowler we used to always talk about and also provided an overall balance to the playing 11.

What did you learn from the 2003 World Cup final? What did you tell yourself not to do?

Like I told you, being in control of the emotions because the final can be overwhelming. Finals can get those emotions out: about what can happen if we win the finals. And what can happen if we lose? They are very strong emotions. During the 2003 World Cup, I was just a young kid coming at the international level, reaching the finals, playing against an opposition which was very strong and experienced. Australia had a lot of match-winners in that playing eleven. 2003 was thinking this was going to happen if we win the World Cup. It will be huge, you know. It's not happened since '83. The country is going to go crazy and everyone is expecting us to win. So all those kinds of things also put you under pressure.

When you do something wrong or if you don't get the rhythm going then comes the pressure of what is going to happen if we lose. So I think it's a pendulum swing between that and the only way to stop it is by staying in the present. You've to be able to block yourself out from these thoughts. If you are staying in the present and just observing what the game is, and just reacting to that, these things get simpler. I think that was the experience and learning of 2003 that I applied to 2011.

Zaheer Khan heaped praise on Mahela Jayawardene, who scored a brilliant hundred against India in the World Cup 2011 final.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

 

What do you remember as the most striking part of the Indian batting after losing wickets early?

The partnership of Gautam (Gambhir) and Virat (Kohli) to start with and then MS Dhoni and Gautam. The nerves were there and you didn't want anything to go against us at that stage because cricket is tricky and funny with that regard one wicked can bring to. So it was about hoping and wishing that these two (MSD and Gautam) don't leave it to anyone else to finish it.

How did you celebrate?

What I remember is a feeling of relief. That is something which comes to my mind very clearly. Everyone was relieved because there was a lot expected of us. The whole team had been building up towards winning the World Cup. A lot of the guys were not possibly going to be part of the next World Cup. If you remember, the talk before the 2011 World Cup was about this squad winning the tournament. If we missed this, it may not happen very soon. I think we all knew that. We've not disappointed anyone; we wanted it badly and we got it.

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Was it the most momentous day of your life?

No doubt about it. Absolutely. It was one of the most momentous days of every squad members’ life. I can say that with full confidence.

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