Wednesday, April 3, 2013

India's World Cup triumph, two years on

India's World Cup triumph, two years on

Sangakkara watches as Indian players celebrate their World Cup triumph on April 2, 2011.
April 2, 2011. Marine Drive in Mumbai was bristling with thousands of people lining up for the Wankhede Stadium as India geared up to take Sri Lanka in the final of the World Cup. After a shameful exit from the West Indies in 2007, stamped by a defeat against the Lankans, India had made wholesale changes to their ODI outfit. Rahul Dravid made way for MS Dhoni to take over as captain while a host of young players made their way into the Indian team. India was shocked - it was only four years ago in the 2003 World Cup in South Africa when Sourav Ganguly had led the team to the final. What had come of the side? 

2011 provided India with a chance to avenge humiliation against the Sri Lankans and become the only Asian team to win the World Cup twice. So there it was on that summer afternoon in the coastal city of Mumbai - the Men in Blue with thousands of vocal fans behind them, as the breeze from the Arabian Sea drifted in through the open columns of the stadium, took on Sri Lanka. The grand finale of what had been a brilliant World Cup - the host nations had qualified to battle for the title in the backyard of India's most celebrated cricketer - Sachin Tendulkar. 

The stands were packed - the Sri Lankan flags did not outnumber the Indian tri-colour but the Island nation had come out in droves to support their team. Both countries have always had healthy encounters on the field but with the history of the World Cup behind them, 02/04/11 was always going to be an adrenaline packed afternoon. They screamed at the first sight of the players walking on to the hallowed turf of the Wankhede, the flags were waived and the biggest party on the planet had begun even before a ball had been bowled. 

Meanwhile, the tension had got even to the men in the middle of the action. The coin had to be tossed twice after match referee Jeff Crowe said he could not hear Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara's call. When MS Dhoni tossed it the second time, Sangakkara called heads and getting the roll of the dice his way, decided to bat. While that looked comical on TV, there were nervous smiles around the press box. The Sri Lankan media had assembled in good numbers and not for a moment did they take their eyes off their skipper as he walked off the field - was he right to bat first? After all, Sri Lanka had won their maiden World Cup in 1996 chasing Australia's modest total. India's batsmen had dominated the World Cup for over a month; did Sri Lanka have enough firepower in their attack to stop them? A lot of those questions would be answered in a few hours and the Sri Lankans decided to relax. The Indian media contingent had settled down to witness what was to be a historic moment in the country's cricket. 

As Zaheer Khan and S Sreesanth kept the Lankan openers quiet with a tight line and the Indian fielders dived around to the cheers of the capacity stadium, a lot of nerves had relaxed in the press box. Usually, the media box in any stadium is rather professional - journalists are not expected to take sides, remember - but the press enclosure at the Wankhede that afternoon could have been excused for feeling the heat. It was the World Cup final. A few of the Sri Lankan reporters later came and told me: "We should party tonight, no matter who wins. This is history in the middle - two Asian sides in the final of the World Cup. That's a reason to celebrate." 

While it was a privilege to be reporting from the ground, the bonhomie in the stands, between fans from both nations was a sight to behold. Fortunes had swung in the middle, India had dented Sri Lanka with repeated strikes before Mahela Jayawardene fought back with a classic century to lead a revival. It was cricket of the highest pedigree and the spectators realised it. They appreciated a good thing when they saw one and Jayawardene's knock was the best they had seen in a long time. But there was a sense of apprehension too - thanks to that sensational 103 and a couple of lower order cameos, India had been set 275 to win - the highest target ever to win a World Cup. Yes, India's batsmen were in form but nerves could do funny things. 

India's chase is well documented in history now - how the Wankhede was stunned into silence after Lasith Malinga had removed Virender Sehwag and Tendulkar as India slumped to 31/2, how Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli steadied India with a fine 83-run partnership and how Dhoni joined Gambhir at the crease to add 109 more as India inched closer to the World Cup. The scent of the sea from across the street had never seemed sweeter when the Indian captain clobbered Nuwan Kulasekara over long on as India became World Champions after 28 years. 

The Indian contingent rushed out to hug their captain while Yuvraj Singh, let some steam off at the other end. It was to be later learnt that the Man of the Tournament had battled cancer fatigue right through the World Cup but he expressed none of the pain that night - all he showed was unadulterated joy. 

It was a night when I saw Tendulkar cry, tears of joy after finally laying hands on the trophy he always wanted to win for India. The final turned out to be the last ODI the Little Master played at home - he announced his retirement from limited overs cricket a year later. Kohli, who had, with a short, compact innings established an important partnership with Gambhir, was to become India's most consistent ODI batsman in the months to follow. That night at the Wankhede was made in the heavens. As Dhoni lifted the World Cup, Sourav Ganguly watched from the sidelines - after all, he had reached so close to winning the World Cup too. 

The Tendulkar kids appeared too, as their famous father stood near the presentation platform, surrounded by teammates. Zaheer Khan noticed Arjun Tendulkar and wanted him to walk across to the Indian team but the shy boy stayed away. Sara Tendulkar meanwhile told me she hoped Dad would finally take her out to party. Work had kept him busy for a long time. 

Ganguly came close to being mobbed as I stood talking to him outside the media zone - a few hundred spectators wanted autographs while others wanted to just capture a moment with the captain who had taught the team to win again. Dada made a quick exit but not before telling me how much Tendulkar deserved it. He was genuinely happy for his old friend that night. I took those words home with me and understood why he was such a great captain. 

Outside the Wankhede, the Marine Drive was packed to the hilt. The Indian tri-colour fluttered at every corner of the vast stretch - even the Sri Lankans joined in. The party never seemed like it would end. Clive Lloyd and Sunil Gavaskar had to walk back to the Taj - there was no room for a car on the roads. The teams had to exit through the back gates while thousands waited to meet their heroes. Never had Mumbai witnessed such jubilation. 

Indian cricket has been through a lot over the last two years. From whitewashes in England and Australia to a disgraceful defeat against the English at home and an ODI series defeat against Pakistan, also at home, MS Dhoni's reputation had taken a sound beating. However, close on the second anniversary, India created history again, handing Australia a 4-0 whitewash only recently - the celebrations were of course more subdued but the crushing victories served a timely reminder - the Indian team is in young hands now and it is ready to start another journey.

The day we became World Champions

The day we became World Champions
The day we became World Champions
Three dates will live forever in the memories of the Indian cricket fans: June 25 - 1983, September 24 - 2007 and April 2 - 2011. 

In 1983, Kapil Dev lifted the World Cup for India at the historic Lord’s balcony as Indians halted West Indies’ World cup hattrick and were crowned as World Champions.

A win that made India a cricket fanatic nation as no one expected them to win. Sachin Tendulkar was just eight then and as a young kid he dreamt of playing for India and winning the World Cup.

In 2007, Team India had a disastrous first round exit in the 50-over World Cup, losing to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in the Caribbean. The manner of defeat made the fans angry and they burnt effigies of cricketers, pelted stones at their houses.

The cricket viewership and fan-following took a beating. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was appointed as the captain of India’s T20 side as senior cricketers like Sourav Ganguly,Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar took rest in order to give youngsters an opportunity to play for India in the slambang version of the game and what better opportunity than a T20 World Cup.

Youngsters like Robin Uthappa, Gautam GambhirRohit SharmaDinesh Karthik, Rudra Pratap Singh, S.Sreesanth, Irfan Pathan were led by MS Dhoni with senior players likeYuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh supporting them.

No one expected this team to win and that took the pressure off them. They played in the personality of their skipper, which was fearless cricket. Yuvraj Singh’s six sixes in an over to Stuart Broad, his blistering knock against Australia despite playing with a pain-killer injection paved the way for India’s road to the finals of the inaugural T20 World Cup.

Rudra Pratap Singh, S.Sreesanth, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh starred with the ball to make India the first T20 champions of cricket. The fans that had lost interest were seen dancing on the streets and the world saw India’s youth brigade making their mark.

Clive Lloyd was the first captain to lift the 50-over World Cup trophy in 1975 and Mahendra Singh Dhoni became the first captain to lift the T20 World Cup in 2007.

On April 2, 2011, Team India was once again crowned as World Champions after 28 long years and it was Mahendra Singh Dhoni and company who were the architects of India’s historic win.

Yuvraj Singh excelled both with the bat and ball to earn the Man-of-the-series award. His knock in the quarterfinals helped India knock then World Champions Australia out of the tournament. Sachin Tendulkar was the second highest run-scorer of the prestigious event and Zaheer Khan’s exploits with the ball under the leadership of Mahendra Singh Dhoni helped India script victory and this win made Indian cricket fans go berserk.

April 2, 2011 was a day of celebration as the entire nation was on the street in a festive mood. It took Sachin Tendulkar five world cups and more than 22 years of hard work and toil to get his hands at the World Cup Trophy. The only trophy which eluded his illustrious wardrobe was finally in his hands. Gautam Gambhir’s knock of 97 after the fall of two wickets early on and skipper Dhoni’s unbeaten 91 in the finals gave glory and joy to the entire nation. This date will always be remembered and cherished by Indian cricketers as their win has left a great legacy for youngsters to follow and take heart from.