Cup of joy

Run-machine...Virender Sehwag celebrates after reaching a double century in one-day internationals.-AP

From Lord's 1983 to the Wankhede Stadium in 2011, it has been a long, often agonising wait, for the nation. Now, India was back at the acme. By S. Dinakar.

The air was suffused with emotions. There was not an inch of space on the sidewalks and the roads were choked with vehicles of various hues. People screamed in joy, cars honked and the tri-colour was omnipresent.

Their other worries put in the backburner, the people were not willing to let the moment fly away. India had regained the ICC World ODI Cup after 28 years. The entire Mumbai and, indeed, the whole of India was out on the streets to celebrate.

The nation, indeed, exploded in a blaze of colour. From Lord's 1983 to the Wankhede Stadium in 2011, it has been a long, often agonising wait, for the nation. Now, India was back at the acme.

Several teams had promised much along the way but faltered at the crunch on the biggest stage of them all. This time around, Mahendra Singh Dhoni's bravehearts delivered. In a pulsating vignette, Dhoni thwacked paceman Nuwan Kulasekara for the maximum. And the packed stadium erupted. This was the emphatic World Cup winning blow.

Given the magnitude of the occasion, there was as much relief as happiness. April 2, 2011 will be etched in Indian sporting history. Fireworks lit up the night sky, reflecting the mood in the country.

The Indian team, that began tentatively, peaked in the climactic stages of the competition. Importantly, it found men for the occasion. And the host did not succumb to the burden of expectations.

Sri Lanka, lifted by an innings of 103 of sublime beauty from Mahela Jayawardene, posted a challenging 274 for six in the summit clash. When a fired-up Lasith Malinga removed Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar in the initial overs, India was under massive pressure.

India stayed alive though. The left-handed Gautam Gambhir (97), with Virat Kohli (35) providing valuable support, put the home side back on course. The chase was on. Then skipper Dhoni, reserving his best for the last, cut loose. A blend of bat-speed and strong wrists sent the ball soaring over the bemused fielders or powering past them. The host now had a stranglehold on the contest. Soon, India became the King.

It had, however, been a bumpy ride for India in the earlier stages of the competition. Virender Sehwag produced a strokeful 175 in the tournament opener against Bangladesh in Dhaka but the Indian bowling disappointed even in a victory.

The attack was once again seen in ordinary light as the India-England duel hurtled to a sensational tie in Bangalore. Too much appeared to hinge on the crafty Zaheer Khan and the experiment with leg-spinner Piyush Chawla was not yielding results. Tendulkar's rousing 120 proved an innings in vain.

The Indian team-management had to answer more questions when South Africa clinched a thriller in Nagpur. The Indian pace attack — the admirable Zaheer was an exception — was taken to the cleaners in the end overs. This meant maestro Tendulkar's scintillating 111 went unrewarded.

Looking at an imposing 400 plus total at one stage, India collapsed to 296 all out. Out of nowhere, South Africa surged back. For India, the signals were worrying. The batting tended to fall apart in the end overs and the bowling lacked incision and consistency.

Predictably, there was a clamour for the inclusion of off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. Ashwin's induction for the game against the West Indies at Chepauk brought greater stability to the attack. The off-spinner could hold his own in the vital Power Play overs. While the Indian bowling jelled better as a unit, Yuvraj Singh's well-paced 113 provided the home side the initiative.

The left-handed Yuvraj is a game changer and his blazing stroke-play gave India oxygen when everything appeared lost for the host against the Aussies in the quarterfinal at Motera. The home side, pursuing, 261, slumped to 187 for five when Dhoni departed. However the rampant Yuvraj (57 not out), with strong support from another southpaw, Suresh Raina, steered India to a memorable win; the hunter became the hunted and the Aussies chased leather. The victory over Ricky Ponting's men made India more resilient.

In a high-stress semifinal under the media glare against old rival Pakistan at Mohali, India made the right moves. Tendulkar's assiduous 85 and some late flourish by Raina — his inclusion in the later stages added weight to the Indian lower order — took India to a competitive 260 for nine.

Pakistan was unable to pace its chase — senior batsman Younis Khan ate up 32 balls for his 13 — and ended up 29 runs short. For India, left-arm paceman Ashish Nehra sent down a zestful spell of cut and cunning. Then, India kept its date with destiny against the Sri Lankans.

The other significant ODI performance for India in 2011 was the rollicking record-breaking 149-ball 219 by Sehwag at Indore, the highest individual score in ODI cricket. The West Indies bowling was put to the sword and the previous best mark of 200 not out by Tendulkar was surpassed with plenty to spare by the marauder from Delhi.

Sehwag had once again raised the bar for attacking batsmanship and the host, in the process, raced to 418 for five, the highest team score in India in ODIs. Sehwag continues to sizzle with his hand-eye coordination, timing and that precious ability to strike with a still head despite limitations in footwork. Of course, he picks the length in a jiffy, gives himself that extra time to meet the ball.

A depleted Indian team travelled to the West Indies and still triumphed 3-2 in the ODI series. This was a year where the smooth-stroking Rohit Sharma (611 runs from 16 matches at 55.54) and the tenacious Virat Kohli (1381 in 34 at 47.62) came to the fore. The dangerous Raina had a mixed year (722 from 29 matches at 31.39) but a strike-rate of 99.58 underlined the southpaw's value to the side.

India went down in the ODI series in England, but then, top-order batsman Ajinkya Rahane made an impression. There was another positive in the manner left-arm spinning all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja contributed to the side with the bat and the ball. Jadeja and Ashwin, who slipped into the role of the spin spearhead with ease, combined effectively. As the year concluded, promising young pacemen Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron made a splash while the more experienced Vinay Kumar consolidated his slot.

India breezed past England and the West Indies in homes series without several big names. This is a formidable side in the sub-continent.

However, it was Yusuf Pathan who conjured a remarkable innings away from home during the year. The right-hander's thrill-a-minute 70-ball 105 that comprised eight boundaries and an equal number of sixes saw India, down in the dumps, falling just 16 short of South Africa's 250 at Centurion. It's a pity though that Yusuf lost his way subsequently.

India also awaits the return of the influential Zaheer Khan ahead of the tri-series involving India, Australia and Sri Lanka down under early next year. Zaheer played just 14 ODIs in 2011 but scalped 30 batsmen at 20.66 (economy rate 4.85). In the World Cup, the left-arm paceman made a crucial difference with his control and variety on batsmen-friendly tracks.