It was worth the wait

Team India was strong on belief, had men for different situations. These bravehearts looked adversity in the eye, backed themselves and pulled off an incredible victory. By S. Dinakar.

Raw emotions swirled around the arena. The pounding of the drums reached a crescendo. The crowd went berserk.

Nobody wanted the moment to fly away. It had been a long wait, from Lord’s, 1983, to Mumbai, 2011. India had won the World Cup. The Indian cricketers shed tears of joy and relief. Fireworks illuminated the night sky. The Wankhede Stadium was a blaze of colour.

For Sachin Tendulkar, it was a great dream fulfilled. He was carried around the arena by his jubilant team-mates. The maestro, finally, had his hands on the elusive cup. Tendulkar had been the Indian team’s inspiration, its soul.

Outside the arena, the air was suffused with emotions. The sidewalks were full, and the roads were choked with vehicles of various hues. Shouts of ‘India, India’ rent the air.

People screamed with joy, cars honked and the Tri-colour was omnipresent. There was maximum happiness in the maximum city. India was now at the acme.

Dhoni’s dashers had delivered. The side was strong on belief, had men for different situations. These bravehearts looked adversity in the eye, backed themselves and pulled off an incredible victory. The roar that greeted the winning blow will ring in the ears for a long time. Dhoni bludgeoned Sri Lankan paceman Nuwan Kulasekara into the stands. What a way to finish!

India’s beginning in the competition might have been tentative, but the side peaked when it mattered; in the business end of the competition. The enormous expectations from being one of the hosts of the tournament spurred the side on; it did not act as a burden.

Yet, the final was not without moments of anxiety. The gifted Mahela Jayawardena’s century (103) of footwork, timing and grace enabled Sri Lanka reach a challenging 274 for six. Then Lasith Malinga, breathing fire, dismissed Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar in the initial overs. India was under enormous pressure.

Once again, the side found men who put their hands up. The left-handed Gautam Gambhir (97), supported ably by Virat Kohli, put India back in the chase, and the game was on.

In the climactic stages, Dhoni, promoting himself in the order, tore into the Sri Lankan attack. His bat-speed and powerful wrists settled the issue.

It, however, took some time for India to put its pieces together in the tournament. Virender Sehwag entertained with his 175 in the opener against Bangladesh in Dhaka, but the Indian bowling was seen in ordinary light.

The bowling once again disappointed as the India-England duel concluded in a heart-stopping tie in Bangalore. While Zaheer Khan impressed with his seam movement and variety, India’s decision to play Piyush Chawla backfired. Tendulkar’s rousing 120 went unrewarded.

There was more trouble for India when South Africa finished at the right end of a humdinger in Nagpur. The bowling crumbled at the crunch and the batting, after Tendulkar’s sensational 111, collapsed.

Off-spinner R. Ashwin’s induction for the game against the West Indies at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium lent more depth to the Indian attack. He could deny power to the batsmen in the Power Play overs. Gradually, the Indian attack settled down.

There was another key development. The mercurial Yuvraj Singh struck form with a majestic 113 at Chepauk. Given his ability to send down handy left-arm spin in these conditions, Yuvraj actually enabled India to play an extra batsman or a bowler.

The balance he provided would be the key to the side’s eventual date with glory. Match-winners come rare.

The left-handed Yuvraj is indeed a game-changer and his explosive stroke-play led to a famous jailbreak by India when Australia had the host on the mat in the quarterfinal at Motera. Chasing 261, India slumped to 187 for five when Dhoni departed. The rampant Yuvraj (57 not out) launched the sort of onslaught that lifts spirits. The Aussies were shell-shocked as the ball streaked through the gaps or sailed over the ropes.

Suresh Raina found his mojo too, and India emerged from this nerve-wracking duel more resolute. Raina’s inclusion, made possible by Yuvraj’s all-round brilliance, added greater weight to the Indian lower middle-order.

The semi-final against Pakistan — under the media glare — was a game of enormous proportions for both sides. This was a high-pressure game in a charged-up atmosphere. India found the right answers. Tendulkar’s defiance and Raina’s flourish towards the end took India to a fighting 260. Then Pakistan choked from a position of some strength. Harbhajan Singh struck, so did Yuvraj and towards the end, pacemen Ashish Nehra and Munaf Patel bowled with (reverse) swing, cut and precision. India was in the final.

Then Dhoni’s blitzkrieg shut out the Lankans. And the skipper held aloft the World Cup.