Could 2003 be a favourite World Cup? How on earth could it be for an Indian? India got hammered in an embarrassing final. Yet, it is. Because in 2003 India offered their fans a “bouncebackability” that made following them utter fun.
Their itinerary was not restricted to the big South African cities. They travelled to wine country in Paarl, Pietermaritzburg, with its memory of Mahatma Gandhi, lived in Pretoria when playing in Centurion, and travelled to Zimbabwe while some teams refused to do so in protest against President Robert Mugabe’s politics. After an early, crushing defeat to Australia, one Indian said, “To get two points, we’ll go to the dark side of the moon.” The star batsmen may have been dazzling, but in the 2003 World Cup, India’s seam bowlers were the surprise package, quick, stinging, harrying opposition (bar one of course) and backed by fielding we’d never seen before. This was a World Cup at which India were out of their “comfort zone”, but went about busting some myths. About what was possible and what could be made to happen. Many days after the final ended in tears, it was discovered that after India’s bowlers had been pounded by Australia, Anil Kumble (not in the playing XI) told the gloomy batsmen that 360 could be chased — one boundary per over and 160 runs in the remaining 250 balls. The daring of it. That was them.
On the eve of the tournament, travelling Indian journalists were surprised to be invited by the team management to their Cape Town hotel for high tea. With one rider: no cameras, no mics, no recorders, no pens, no paper, and certainly no stories out of any chats. Turn up, ask whatever you want to whomever you want. It was made mandatory for every single player and support staff member to spend an hour putting up with the beastie boys (and girls), and they did. This was a World Cup before Indian cricket’s age of entitlement set in. It was a pre-IPL, pre-cricket bully, pre-big three World Cup. And, the team reached the final playing like hard-charging cavaliers