How time flies! It seems like it was only the other day that we defeated England in a sensational final of the NatWest Series in 2002. And to think now that it was a decade ago.
The NatWest triumph was definitely one of India's greatest victories in One-Day International cricket. To be very honest, when England put up a total in excess of 300, we knew that we had a real fight on our hands. In those days, to get 300 was quite an achievement, a rarity of sorts. To chase that down was, therefore, far from an everyday occurrence.
But if there was one thing we possessed in abundance, it was confidence. The team had been doing well since the start of 2002, and we had come to England on a high after defeating the West Indies in West Indies in the ODI series. So after England made 325, we earnestly believed that if we put our best foot forward, we could make it. Saying that, we also knew from the outset that the target was a daunting one, and that too against an English attack with some meat in those conditions.
It was important for us to win the final because we were trying out a few things with our combination, with an eye on the World Cup in 2003. Rahul Dravid was keeping wickets, and we had pencilled in Sachin Tendulkar at No. 4 instead of his favourite opening slot. The intention was to let the opposition know that with Sachin at No. 4 and Rahul at No. 5, our batting had a lot of depth and experience in the middle order.
It was also important for the two youngsters, Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh, to slip in to their roles at No. 6 and No. 7 because that again added to our depth. It was imperative that they got some runs and confidence, but who would have thought these two youngsters would play such a huge role in one of India's greatest victories.
When you chase a total of that magnitude, it's crucial to start well. Virender Sehwag and I provided a solid base but we slumped a bit in the middle before the two youngsters came to the fore. Kaif and Yuvi started to put things together once half the side was back in the pavilion with less than 150 on the board, and what stood out for me was the maturity, intelligence and common sense with which the two of them, just 21 and 20 then, batted.
I have always believed that Kaif, who has played many brilliant knocks for India in ODIs, was a better Test player. He played very well under Rahul Dravid when India won a Test series in the West Indies in 2006 for the first time in 35 years. The question wasn't whether Kaif was a good player or not; the problem was that he was not given enough opportunities in the Test side to cement his place. He is still very fit, still only 31 and a very good fielder to boot. I feel the selectors can still consider him for a place in the Test side.
Kaif and Yuvi got us close, and then when Kaif and Zaheer got us past the winning post, it was an unbelievable feeling. For starters, we had arrested a run of defeats in nine consecutive finals; for another, it was a huge statement by Indian cricket on foreign soil.
When we got together in 2000 - Sachin, Rahul, Anil Kumble and John Wright, the coach - one of our major goals was to devise plans to make India a successful team overseas. This victory helped us judge ourselves in a difficult situation, away from the comfort of home. I would like to believe the confidence we gathered from that final helped us immensely in the way we played the World Cup in South Africa in 2003, where we went all the way to the final before being beaten by a really strong Australian side.
When I look back now, two things stand out. First, the atmosphere at Lord's that day. To say that it was electric would be an understatement. That may have inspired me to do the 'shirt act' on the balcony after victory was attained, but I would still say it was just an instinctive, spur-of-the-moment act. Second, some six players from that side were a part of the squad that won the World Cup in 2011. If anyone says he foresaw that in 2002, all I can say is that he is clairvoyant.
I made my Test debut at Lord's in 1996, and my last game for India was in Nagpur, against Australia in November 2008. During that period, I am proud to say, India lost only one of four one-dayers at Lord's of which I was a part. And of all the matches that I as a player and captain, and we as a team, played at Lord's, that NatWest final remains the most memorable.