On this day 18 years ago, the duo of Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh combined to steer India to a memorable victory against England in the final of the NatWest series. Kaif remained unbeaten on 87, while Yuvraj scored 69 as the duo led the side to a remarkable win after India had lost their key batsmen early in the 326-run chase.
After Sachin Tendulkar's wicket fell with India's score at 146, a majority of Indian cricket fans began to lose hope. Kaif revealed that his parents had switched off the television and went for a movie after Tendulkar departed!
However, the young duo of Kaif and Yuvraj then forged a 121-run partnership to bring the side back in the game, and Kaif eventually ensured that the side makes a historic comeback to seal the win.
Mohammad Kaif has now revisited the incredible victory, saying that it remains the most memorable day of his life. "July 13 will always be close to my heart. It changed my life. I wanted to make that day memorable, so I announced my retirement on July 13, 2018. It will always remain a special day for me...” Kaif said in a conversation with Sportstar.
Kaif said that in those days, there was a belief that India would perform very well throughout the tournament, but would lose in the final. However, the final of the NatWest series finally helped change the notion.
"Back then, there was a trend that India would qualify for the final but would eventually miss out on the title. It appeared that we were the best team till the final, but somehow things would go incredibly wrong in the last hurdle, so we were desperate to break the jinx," said Kaif.
With India's score at 146/5, Kaif said that it was an opportunity for him and Yuvraj to prove themselves and show faith to captain Sourav Ganguly's backing.
"For both me and Yuvi, it was also an opportunity to prove ourselves and win the game for India. It was a transitional phase for Indian cricket; Ganguly was backing the young players and we knew that we had to overturn the odds and get the team home," said Kaif.
"There was a belief in those days that once Sachin was gone, things were over for India. One couldn’t even imagine that No. 6 and No. 7 batsmen would actually seal the deal! So, it was a new experience – for the fans and also for us. Another factor that helped us was the fact that both Yuvi and I knew each other for a long time; we have played cricket since our early days. So, there was that comfort level and we knew that if we could back each other, the target could be achieved.
"Since both of us were at the top of our fitness levels, we made sure to pick quick singles and ease the pressure. Even as Yuvraj went for a few big shots, it was the singles that kept us in the game."
He described the winning moment as something "which changed the dynamics of Indian cricket."
"As we took the winning runs, it was still hard to believe that we had won the title. In the Lord’s balcony, we saw Dada waving his shirt – that was a surprise! Minutes later, as Zak (Zaheer) and I were heading towards the pavilion, the entire team rushed to the ground. I remember Dada jumped over me and I could not control my balance. I was surrounded by my team-mates; there were tears of joy. After batting for 109 minutes, I was tired, but my team-mates were all over me. Dravid came to my rescue!" said the former Indian batsman.
"The entire stadium cheered for us; my team-mates looked emotional and we knew that we have changed the dynamics of Indian cricket. What a moment it was!"