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The Harbhajan advice that calmed Kaif down in NatWest chase after Irani tussle

by Wisden Staff 2-minute read

Mohammad Kaif has recalled a crucial bit of advice from Harbhajan Singh that helped him pull off India’s famous triumph against England in the 2002 NatWest Series decider.

India chased down a 326-run target – a challenging one for the time – with two wickets and three balls remaining, thanks largely to Kaif, who batted with the tail and scored a remarkable 75-ball 87*.

Centuries from Marcus Trescothick and Nasser Hussain had helped England to the big total, but India were going well with half-centuries from Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh, with Kaif putting on 121 with the latter.

However, when Yuvraj was dismissed by Paul Collingwood, Kaif, who was just 21 at the time, had a bout of nerves. “I was in shock, now I had to do it with the tail-enders but had no experience in dealing with them,” Kaif wrote in a column for The Indian Express.

“I remember I pulled a six off Ronnie Irani – again not really the length for it but I just reacted. Irani was someone who would bowl around 120 kmph but had the attitude of a fast bowler. We two had a bit going in that game, I think.”

It was then that Harbhajan, who had come in at the other end, helped calm Kaif down. It was much-needed. “Ï told Harbhajan to play his game as I didn’t want to confuse anyone. But it was Bhajji who helped me at an important moment,” he said. “I had slogged Paul Collingwood and the ball went off the inside-edge to fine leg for two runs. Bhaji told me, ‘Kya kar raha hai, what are you doing? Run-a-ball now, look at the scorecard.’ I thought, ‘Yes, he is right. I just needed to watch the ball, play the ball.’”

Kaif negotiated the nervy finale expertly, despite Harbhajan and then Anil Kumble both being dismissed, and after sealing the winning runs frantically, the celebrations were special. “I would forever remember what happened next,” Kaif wrote. “First Yuvraj ran out for a big hug. And then Ganguly, who had the shirt-off celebration on the balcony, ran and jumped onto me and we were both down on the ground.

“Rahul Dravid too was pumping his fist and celebrating. He doesn’t do that usually. Behind them, I could see Sachin Tendulkar. In those times, he would never come onto the ground after a match. But there he was that day, running on to the field, high-fiving me. It was a really special moment – some of these legends, who I had grown up watching, were now jumping and celebrating with me.”

It remains one of the most iconic moments in Indian cricket.

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