What a night it was! Unbelievable scenes of jubilation engulfed the nation as India were crowned World Champions defeating Sri Lanka by 6 wickets in the final of the ICC Cricket World Cup. Egged on by a boisterous 33,000 spectators that included a galaxy of Bollywood stars, politicians, business tycoons, industrialists, sportsmen and other celebrities not to forget the common man and also billions watching on television, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men in blue scripted a new chapter in the annals of India’s cricketing history.
In a match that lived to up a tournament final, both teams engaged themselves in a witty contest between bat and ball. Chasing 275 to win the final, India were rocked by Lasith Malinga as Virender Sehwag first and then Sachin Tendulkar were back in the pavilion by the 7th over. However, the impressive Gautam Gambhir and the no-nonsense Virat Kohli buckled down and raised a partnership that made the people believe that we could do it. When Kohli fell to a brilliant moment of inspiration from Tillakaratne Dilshan, the script was not complete. Mahendra Singh Dhoni promoted himself up the order ahead of the in-form Yuvraj Singh and played perhaps the most significant innings of his life.
Dhoni shed the diffidence that had characterized his innings in the matches so far in this tournament and batted like a man possessed. He seemed to have saved his best for the last. Gambhir and Dhoni played with such composure that slowly all began to believe that India would finally end a wait of 28 long years. Gambhir was cruising towards his hundred when he made an unnecessary charge at Thisara Perera and lost his stumps. As Dhoni was to say later, only Gambhir himself had to blame for he was at the doorstep of a historic century in a World Cup final – a feat only six men had done before. This was a minor glitch as Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni helped India coast to a fabulous victory in the 49th over. The winning shot will forever be etched in my mind. Dhoni’s eyes lit up as he saw the ball sailing over the long on boundary and the swing of his bat on the follow through was as delightful as that murderous six.
Earlier, there was drama at the toss as Kumar Sangakkara’s call was not heard clearly in the din of the crowd and he won the re-toss and decided to bat first. Zaheer Khan imposed on the batsmen with the new ball and with an unusually sharp Indian fielding, the Sri Lankans found the going tough. Tharanga scratched around for 20 deliveries but could only score 2 before finally edging to slip off a Zaheer Khan delivery that moved just a shade. Dilshan tried to sweep Harbhajan Singh but the ball kissed his glove and dislodged the stumps to leave Sri Lanka in trouble. However, their stalwarts – Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene – put the innings back in its groove before Sangakkara found a thick inside edge trying to cut Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni took a good catch. Jayawardene was ably supported by Thilan Samaraweera as Sri Lanka started to realize that 250 would be a good score on the pitch.
Samaraweera and Chamara Kapugedera departed in quick succession as Sri Lanka appeared to be wilting under pressure. Nuwan Kulasekara displayed some cool manners as he helped Jayawardene negotiate the tricky period in the lead up to the batting Powerplay which was taken by default in the 45th over. The Indian bowling and fielding deteriorated under pressure as Sri Lanka plundered 63 runs in the final five overs to take them to a healthy 274/6 in 50 overs. Jayawardene reached his century during the process – a masterclass that was to be in vain as proved by the subsequent events of the night. The Sri Lankan total appeared a strong one at the innings break as the pitch had been showing signs of slowing down. But the Indian batsmen had other ideas and on the night nothing could stop them.
The win set off celebrations like India had never seen before in its history. People were out on the streets waving the tricolor, honking horns and cheering their heroes. The cricketers themselves shed tears of joy, understandably so, as this was something every one of them wanted to achieve so badly. Sachin Tendulkar was beaming with pride and was carried on his shoulders by Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina. Tendulkar went on to say that this was the proudest moment in his life. Indeed it was, for his story would not be complete without such a glittering feather in his cap. The team did it for Tendulkar, who as Kohli rightly said, had carried the burden of the nation on his shoulders for the past two decades. It was indeed time for them to carry him on their shoulders!
Sri Lanka will be disappointed to finish second best for the second time running. It was perplexing why they made such wholesale changes to their side and upset that winning combination. The batting was understandably strengthened but the bowling lacked bite which undid them in their search for wickets. The only change they had to make was to bring in Thisara Perera for the injured Angelo Mathews, which they did. The decision to bring in Kapugedera for Chamara Silva was also a right one. But the decision that backfired was the one to leave out both Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath. The result was that only Malinga looked threatening and the others just did not come to the party.
India’s cup of joy brimmed over on the night thanks to the performance of their batsmen – Gambhir and Dhoni in particular. Gambhir kept his focus throughout and lost it only when he threw his wicket away. Dhoni was the good old Dhoni we all wanted to see – aggressive and spirited. The batsmen made up for the poor showing of the bowlers and fielders in the final overs. The next step for India is to be dominating as the Australians once did, but for that, these Indian cricketers need to put their heads down and their feet firmly on the ground.