As the Indian team took off for Nairobi in October 2000 to take part in the ICC KnockOut tournament now known as the Champions Trophy the mood was one of optimism. There were reasons for this. At the start of the new millennium Sourav Ganguly had taken over the captaincy towards the end of the previous season and in his first full assignment had led the Indians to a 3-2 victory in the ODI series that followed the two-match Test series. Ganguly was an aggressive, no-nonsense skipper giving as good as he got. Moreover this was a team for the new millennium for it had fresh faces in Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh and Vijay Dahiya. The team in fact seemed an ideal blend of youth and experience for alongside the new faces were seasoned campaigners in Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Vinod Kambli, Robin Singh, Venkatesh Prasad, Ajit Agarkar and Anil Kumble besides the captain.

Being confident was one thing; going out there and performing at the international level was quite another. Moreover this was a knock-out tournament so one bad day at the office meant that the team was on its way back home. The participants included the nine Test playing nations and Bangladesh who had already been granted Test status and were scheduled to play their inaugural Test at Dhaka the following month. Completing the line-up were the hosts Kenya.

When the draw was announced it was clear that India faced a tough task. After an easy preliminary outing against Kenya their quarterfinal opponents would be Australia, the world champions. And their probable semifinal opponents were South Africa who had made it to the semifinals in the World Cup in England the previous year. But then everyone was convinced that this Indian team was different, it would rise to the occasion and the mood remained upbeat as India took on Australia after their expected eight- wicket victory over Kenya. The three newcomers did make their ODI debut in this match and while Dahiya impressed by latching on to two catches and not conceding a single bye Zaheer caught the eye with his pace and hostility and was rewarded with three wickets. Yuvraj did not get to bat with the four seniors Ganguly, Tendulkar, Dravid and Kambli doing their job commendably.

Australia were at full strength. Mark Waugh and Adam Gilchrist opened the batting and following them in the order were Ricky Ponting, Michael Bevan, Ian Harvey, Damien Martyn and skipper Stave Waugh. The bowling in the hands of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Shane Lee presented a formidable challenge and Australia were favourites as Waugh won the toss and put India in to bat. Openers Ganguly and Tendulkar were associated in a 66-run partnership but then there was a slump with India 90 for three. Yuvraj joined Kambli and the two left-handers took the score to 130 before the experienced man fell for 29. Yuvraj now took charge and attacked the bowling with gusto and in the company of another left-hander Robin Singh took the score to 194 before the latter was out for 19. Wickets then fell at regular intervals in the slog overs as the batsmen tried to increase the scoring rate. But Yuvraj continued to go for his shots and was ultimately eighth out at 239 for a dashing 84 off 80 balls with 12 boundary hits. The final total of 265 for nine in 50 overs did give India a fighting chance of getting past the Australians but now the bowlers would have to follow up on the good job done by the batsmen.

The three pacemen Zaheer, Prasad and Agarkar chipped away at the top order and Australia at 86 for three were facing problems. But then Ponting and Bevan raised their hopes with a fourth wicket partnership of 73. However with both batsmen falling in the space of four runs much would depend on Steve Waugh. The fighter settled down to play one of his rearguard actions but wickets kept falling at the other end. Zaheer in particular had a particularly hostile second spell and it appeared that the energy and the spirit shown by the youngsters had rubbed off on the seniors. At 189 for seven Australia faced defeat but again their hopes were revived following an eighth wicket stand of 35 runs between Waugh and Brett Lee. Zaheer however practically settled the issue by bowling Waugh and the Austalians were all out for 245 in the final over leaving India winners by 20 runs.

It was a notable victory but they had another tough opponent in the semifinals. South Africa as expected moved into the last four with an eight-wicket victory over England and started as favourites. But Ganguly quickly made them no-hopers with the kind of aggressive innings that only he could play. The Indian captain hit a sparkling unbeaten 141 off 142 balls with 11 fours and six sixes as the final total was an imposing 295 for six in 50 overs. Ganguly and Tendulkar (39) were again concerned in a 66-run partnership and this was followed by a second wicket stand of 145 runs between the captain and Dravid (58). Yuvraj then made the most of the slog overs slamming a quickfire 41 and helping Ganguly add 82 runs for the third wicket. Even for the strong South African batting line-up that started with Gary Kirsten and Andrew Hall and continued with Jacques Kallis, Boeta Dippenaar, Jonty Rhodes, Mark Boucher, Lance Klusener and Shaun Pollock a target of almost a run a ball would be testing and fairly predictably South Africa folded up for 200 runs in 41 overs.

Against expectations India were in the final and looking hot. They certainly seemed the team to beat as any side would after victories over Australia and South Africa. The opponents in the title clash were New Zealand who had got the better of Zimbabwe and Pakistan. But India looked to be the better team and were installed as favourites against a team which had perennially been international cricket’s bridesmaids. Put in to bat India were given a flying start with Ganguly and Tendulkar (69) putting on 141 runs for the first wicket. Dravid (22) was content playing a supporting role to Ganguly during a second wicket partnership of 61 runs. The remaining batsmen all fell while trying to accelerate the scoring rate in the slog overs but Ganguly was not to be denied his second successive century before being third out for 117 off 130 balls after hitting nine fours and four sixes.

Still India’s total of 264 for six in 50 overs did seem to be a match-winning effort. And they seemed to be in a position of command when Prasad dismissed Craig Spearman and Stephen Fleming to have New Zealand staggering at 37 for two. Nathan Astle got a valuable 37 and Roger Twose chipped in with 31 but when they fell to be quickly followed by Craig McMillan the Kiwis at 132 for five seemed down and out for the count.

But as long as Chris Cairns was out in the middle New Zealand must have felt they had a chance. And now the team’s leading all rounder took charge. With big hits both orthodox and innovative Cairns got to his half century and found he had an able partner in the veteran Chris Harris. The two turned things around with a sixth wicket partnership of 122 runs and by the time Harris was out for an invaluable 46 New Zealand were within eleven runs off victory. Interest now centered round Cairns’ hundred which he reached and he remained unbeaten with 102 off 113 balls with eight fours and two sixes as New Zealand reached their target with four wickets and two deliveries to spare. New Zealand had finally won a major tournament but India’s heart-warming performance received plaudits aplenty.