It had to be THE clash of the 2003 World Cup for India. Pakistan had a brilliant side with stars like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Saeed Anwar. I grew up watching these cricketers. So, it was a huge moment personally as well.
There was great fanfare in South Africa regarding the India-Pakistan match. I am sure the locals were wondering whether the match was being played in South Africa. It was a huge turnout. For a moment I thought we were playing in India. It was madness out there.
The hype and pressure was also at its peak. Whoever we met had just one thing to say: “Win it at all cost”.
We lost Virender Sehwag and (skipper) Sourav Ganguly off successive balls. I was facing the hat-trick ball from Waqar. Sachin Tendulkar, who was at the other end, asked me to relax and just watch the ball. He gave me an idea as to what Waqar was trying to bowl. He asked me to play the ball and I played that inswinger from Waqar well.
The atmosphere was electrifying. It wasn’t easy to concentrate and stay focused in the middle. It was easy to get carried away by the occasion. But Tendulkar helped me calm my nerves. He constantly kept talking and that helped in building the crucial partnership (102 runs for the third wicket) with him.
We knew we had a job on hand. The expectations were high. I was looking to stay there and give the great man company. I wasn’t thinking too much about the outcome and the atmosphere. I had a great partner in Tendulkar, who mad my job a lot easier.
Pakistan were charged up. Taufeeq Umar was very vocal. He kept sledging us. A lot was directed towards Tendulkar because he was the big fish.
But he stayed calm and undeterred. He knew exactly what his role was. He played positively and it was treat to watch him from so close. He had planned his innings well. He read the wicket better than anyone. Tendulkar knew playing shots was the only way to counter attack. Those upper cuts (to Shoaib Akhtar in his first over) came so naturally to him.
A lot of credit goes to Tendulkar for keeping the team together. He was charged up and was very keen to win the World Cup. He kept motivating the team and youngsters.
The media had written us off after a bad start to the tournament. The pressure was huge. In fact, writing us off helped the team. It motivated us. Our
determination became stronger.
The victory against Pakistan changed the complexion of our side. We were a different team thereon... it lifted us. The win was one of the key factors in Team India reaching the final of the World Cup for the first time in 20 years.