The story NatWest series final of 2002 has been told and retold several times over the past two decades. It remains one of India’s greatest wins in a limited-overs game, not to forget the iconic Sourav Ganguly celebration at the Lord’s balcony. And on Sunday, former England cricketer Nick Knight, who had opened for the team in the final, recalled how Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif managed to leave the hosts dumbstruck with their “extraordinary partnership”.
Opting bat first, England lost Knight early before two sublime centuries from Marcus Trescothick and captain Nasser Hussain helped England finish with 325 for five. Speaking to Cricket.com on their innings, Knight recalled that the dressing room atmosphere was immensely positive after the innings. He admitted that despite India’s strong batting line-up, England were the outright favourites with their score.
“The game back then was not played the same way it is done now. So 325…I can tell you that when we were back in the dressing room and having some of the best foods we were pretty happy with ourselves. I knew we were playing against a good side with extremely good players but in those days if you got 325, you are the strong, strong favourites,” he said.
In response to the target, Indian openers Virender Sehwag and captain Ganguly stitched a fiery 106-run stand with the latter getting to his half-century. Knight recalled that watching the two openers from deep point, he felt the game might end up being a close one given that Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar were still waiting for their opportunity.
“Then Ganguly and Sehwag came out and smashed the first few overs I got to think then, probably after 10 overs that this might be be quite a close game here because Dravid, Tendulkar was yet to come. And we really didn’t know much about Yuvraj and Kaif. We knew they were good and talented players but I didn’t really, if I’m really being honest here, that at 140 for 5 when Sachin got out did I think that these two guys whom we didn’t know much about can get the team up to 326. It’s not being arrogant or being stupid, it’s just the way you think at that point,” he said.
However, Ashely Giles’ stunning wicket of Tendulkar and Ronnie Irani’s twin strikes reduced India from 114 for two to 146 for five in the 24th over. The former England opener admitted that Yuvraj and Kaif both being unknown to the England side, the hosts began believing that victory was theirs. But the pair had other plans.
“When the partnership began to unfold you started thinking that these are really good players. Yuvraj was just smashing it leg side and over long-on. But what Kaif did affected me a little bit a deep point because a fielder there think he just got to stop the boundary but what he was so good at was hitting the half-length balls and makes you think that you got to come in and stop those twos and threes. They ran us ragging. That partnership was filled with ones, twos and threes. It was one of the best partnerships that I can remember playing the game,” he added.
“When Sachin got out, the entire England crowd, the team and part of the Indian dressing room were thinking that it’s a long way for India to win this game so for those two guys to do what they did was extraordinary.”
The pair smashed a 121-run stand before Yuvraj was dismissed for 69. Kaif then marshalled alongside the tail enders in Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble and Zaheer Khan to wrap up the chase with three balls to spare.