‘The worst day of my cricketing career’

Losing the first match to Bangladesh upset all our calculations. All teams can have a bad day, but this came in our very first match of the tournament. By Ajit Agarkar.

It was a tough period for all of us. True you can’t win always, but that one loss against Bangladesh hurt us so much. It was very much against the run of play. We were all in good form and looking forward to the championship because we thought we were well prepared. We had the team to go the distance but one defeat turned our campaign into a nightmare. Even today when I look back, that loss rankles because it was not a true reflection of the team’s potential.

The pitches in the West Indies suited us. They were on the slower side. But losing the first match to Bangladesh upset all our calculations. All teams can have a bad day, but this came in our very first match of the tournament. Obviously, it meant we had to reorganise ourselves. There was little time to recover. Had we played Sri Lanka first it might have been different.

I remember only Sourav (Ganguly) and Yuvraj (Singh) got runs as the batting collapsed. Sourav and Yuvi showed the patience to tackle the challenge in conditions that were not really hostile. It was just not our day. We had toured the West Indies the previous year and it was not that the conditions were unknown, but it was a poor day for most of us and collectively it proved disastrous.

After an outing against Bermuda came the match against Sri Lanka. It was going to be difficult because we were facing a formidable combination. Again we did not play well at all. I remember the target (255) was gettable and it was at a venue (Port of Spain) we all loved. The pitch was flat, but we did not bat as the situation demanded. Virender (Sehwag) and Rahul (Dravid) got runs, but not enough to see the team through. Our World Cup campaign was practically over that day even though we had to wait for the last match in the group to be over. It was a torturous period.

The day we lost to Bangladesh was the worst of my cricketing career. In fact, for many in the team it was not any different. We were bowing out in the first stage when our followers had backed us to win the tournament. But then whatever took place back home hurt even more. It was horrible to learn that some misguided cricket fans had targeted the homes of some of the players because of our early exit from the World Cup.

I must say here that a player feels worse than anyone else when such defeats happen. It was tragic no doubt because I know how passionate our cricket fans can be. When we landed home, I was told that some people had gathered at the airport to protest, but we were whisked away through the back door by the police. I don’t think cricketers from Mumbai faced any threats from the cricket fans, but elsewhere we came across disturbing news. I really felt for the families of my colleagues.

It was not a nice feeling because the same fans show such affection and adulation when we do well. But defeats are part of the game and we all must learn to accept them gracefully.

Australia won the tournament for the third time even though the conditions had suited them more in the previous edition in South Africa. Sri Lanka did well to reach the final, but ran into an imperious Adam Gilchrist (149).

Of course, Australia had the team to win the title with players like Ricky Ponting, Gilchrist and (Glenn) McGrath. They had this belief that they could win because they play the big games best.

As told to Vijay Lokapally