India had played wonderfully well in the 2003 World Cup in South Africa against all opponents, barring Australia. India had lost only two matches in the whole tournament and both came against Australia. Sachin Tendulkar had scored the most runs in the tournament and his record still stands.
The second loss was the most heartbreaking for the Indian fans, as it came in the finals of the tournament, as Australia blew India away, to win their second straight World Cup title. India returned home in economy class and then Team India manager Amrit Mathur recalled an incident about the great Sachin Tendulkar during the flight, in an article for The Quint website.
Mathur recalled the immense patience and calmness Sachin Tendulkar showed when he was hounded by the fans on the flight for photographs and autographs on their journey back from Johannesburg to Mumbai eight-hour flight.
Mathur writes, “Tendulkar was seated on 38B, bang in the middle of a noisy mob with only Harbhajan Singh, Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan providing some protection. His misery began even before the seat belt sign was switched on; efforts to put head down and hide was defeated by fans/passengers who sensed a golden opportunity to click a photo and get something signed.”
“For the next three hours, Tendulkar did precisely this even through dinner. He would push some food into his mouth with his left hand, then drop the fork to sign something, then resume eating,” Mathur recalls.
Sachin Tendulkar had done everything in the tournament to ensure India reached the finals, but he faltered at the final step and Mathur writes, “Stressed out after a draining tournament, Tendulkar needed rest and anonymity but instead he had to endure this. Yet, such was his composure that he greeted everyone politely and did what was asked of him with grace and humility.”
“Tendulkar was still busy signing autographs half asleep, looking into cameras one last time for one more fan. Seeing this, seated two rows to his left, said a concerned Anil Kumble, “Just imagine what would have happened had we won the Cup!” writes Mathur.
When Mathur congratulated Tendulkar on his patience on the flight, once they landed in Mumbai, Sachin responded that there was no use of this patience on flight, he should have been patient on the wicket; referring to his early dismissal in the final against Australia.