The 2002 Natwest Series final between India and England is still remembered as one of the best ODI games in recent years. A young Indian side led by Sourav Ganguly chased down 326 to beat England. Kaif has now opened up on a new aspect surrounding it.
England set India 326 in 50 overs to chase down after Captain Nasser Hussain and Marcus Trescothick hit centuries. While India began the innings well, they lost five wickets at almost the halfway stage. The biggest story of the match was that it was two young cricketers – Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh – who had ensured that India went on to win the match from a precarious position. The duo made the seemingly impossible, possible. Yuvraj was looking in his groove, and was scoring boundaries to ensure that the run rate does not go down. Kaif, on the other hand, was holding on to one side, and also punishing any poor deliveries. But the twist in the tale came when Yuvraj fell for 65, leaving 60-odd runs for India to chase with Kaif in the middle along with tailenders. Kaif, recently recalled how it was Harbhajan Singh who helped him at a crucial moment during the chase.
“Then, suddenly, Yuvraj fell. I was in shock, now I had to do it with the tail-enders but had no experience in dealing with them. I remember I pulled a six off Ronnie Irani – again not really the length for it but I just reacted. Irani was someone who would bowl around 120 kmph but had the attitude of a fast bowler. We two had a bit going in that game, I think,” Mohammad Kaif wrote in his column for the Indian Express. Kaif recollected telling Harbhajan Singh to play his own game; however, looking at the batsman’s gameplay, the off-spinner advised him to go for run-a-ball. The 39-year old then realized that he needs to be calm and only watch and play the ball. He added, “I told Harbhajan to play his game as I didn’t want to confuse anyone. But it was Bhajji who helped me at an important moment. I had slogged Paul Collingwood and the ball went off the inside edge to fine leg for two runs. Bhaji told me, “Kya kar raha hai, what are you doing? Run-a-ball now, look at the scorecard.” I thought, yes, he is right. I just needed to watch the ball, play the ball.”
The retired batsman went on to narrate that Darren Gough, who was one of England’s most trusted bowlers, was dealt with well when India needed 25 runs off the final four overs. Kaif collected another boundary off the last delivery in the third man area as the equation came down to two needing off the 50th over. Mohammad Kaif said that the second-last batsman, who was Zaheer Khan, played out two dot balls. He said that there was still fear of losing the game; however, there was a single off third delivery and an overthrow enabled to complete the winning run. After the victory, the Indian dressing room erupted in celebration with the skipper Sourav Ganguly taking off his jersey and waving it at the Lord’s balcony. That iconic moment is still etched in the memories of Indian fans.