It was on this very date (March 1) in 2003, one of the most famous cricket matches between the two South Asian arch-rivals – India and Pakistan took place at SuperSport Park, Centurion. It was a special showdown as the affair was part of a World Cup fixture and some of cricket’s legendary names featured in that clash.
In his recently released autobiography titled ‘A Century is Not Enough’, former India skipper Sourav Ganguly opened up about that high voltage contest against Pakistan wherein the Men in Blue had emerged victorious.
“For all the fun off the field, playing Pakistan was always a charged affair — not just in Pakistan and India but in all neutral venues, be it Sharjah, Toronto, Australia, Sri Lanka or South Africa. Every time you played them you noticed something was different. It was always eventful. But during my five-year captaincy career it is the incident at the Centurion in South Africa that remains one of the highlights for me,” Sourav Ganguly wrote.
Dada further recalled that India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh and Pakistan batting great Mohammad Yousuf (then Yousuf Youhana) had a scuffle between them during that epic encounter.
“A scuffle had taken place between Harbhajan Singh and Yousuf Youhana in the common lunch arena. I did not know what led to the fight. But the scene was getting out of control and senior members of both the teams had to finally separate them. An Indo-Pak tie was always just that little bit extra tense. An Indo-Pak tie was always just that little bit extra tense. So the atmosphere was already heated. It also did not help matters that unlike other South African grounds the dressing rooms of the two teams were too close for comfort,” he added.
After opting to bat first, Pakistan posted a highly compete total 273/7 in their 50 overs at the back of Saeed Anwar’s glorious 101. Considering the strength of Pakistani pace attack, it was a daunting task for India batsmen but the opening duo of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag had a different plan in their minds. Sachin and Sehwag made the mockery of Pakistani bowling attack in the first 5 overs and consequently, Waqar Younis and company couldn’t recover from it.
Ganguly had his instructions clear: “I spoke to the openers before they went in. Particularly Sehwag. I didn’t want him to get affected by this pressure-cooker situation. We were chasing 273 against the likes of Akram, Waqar and Shoaib. We needed a solid opening partnership at any cost. So I cautioned Viru, it is a good batting wicket. Don’t take chances early. After 10 overs we will accelerate.”
In contrast to captain’s instruction, Viru and Tendulkar put on 50 runs in the first 5 overs. While the legendary Wasim Akram was hit for 21 runs in his first 3 overs, Waqar was plundered for 11. Sachin had a special treatment in store for speedster Shoaib Akhtar as he thrashed the Rawalpindi Express for 18 runs in his first over.
“What a joke the captain’s instructions turned out of be! India raced to 60 for no loss (50 for no loss in reality) in 5 overs. Sachin and Sehwag just ripped apart the Pakistan bowling. The hapless Indian captain, instead of complaining, was smiling ear to ear. I realised this was a huge knockout punch and would motivate us throughout the tournament,” Ganguly penned down the historic moment.
Tendulkar’s masterful 75-ball 98 in addition to Mohammad Kaif’s gritty 35 and the late flourish from Rahul Dravid (44 off 76 balls) and Yuvraj Singh (50 off 53 balls) ensured a 6-wicket victory for India with 26 balls to spare.
The Prince of Kolkata explained the win as “once-in-a-lifetime atmosphere” and revealed that he had received a special congratulatory call after the win.
“The Centurion dressing room had a small viewing area. By the time the winning stroke was hit the entire the entire team was down there. It was neither the final nor the semi-final yet it was a once-in-a-lifetime atmosphere. Our joy knew no bounds and back home in India the fans had already started celebrating Diwali in March with firecrackers. By the way, I got a call from the Chief of the Army Staff after we beat Pakistan at the Centurion. If I had any doubts about the importance of this match, that call put it in the right perspective,” Sourav Ganguly elaborated.