India will complete 75 years of Independence this year. Here is a series acknowledging 75 great sporting achievements by Indian athletes. Sportstar will present one iconic sporting achievement each day, leading up to August 15, 2022.
September 24, 2007: Dhoni’s young India becomes World T20 champs
Prior to the World Twenty20, the Indian team was written off, not because of the customary snide remarks on its celebrated superstars, but for a lack of evidence to believe otherwise. There was no flaw in the reasoning. The Twenty20 format allows for defiance and surprise results. And as it found its first deserved winner, it can be said that some of the reasons perceived as weaknesses worked towards India’s benefit in the end.
India won the title six months after a demoralising World Cup debacle in the Caribbean. The team’s fans came alive with the World Twenty20 victory as was evidenced in the reception of players after their arrival in Mumbai. As Lalchand Rajput, the India coach during the exhilarating journey through the tourney, recollects, “It was one of the best receptions we’ve ever had. Mumbai came to a standstill that day. It took us almost eight hours to reach Wankhede Stadium from the airport. People were on the roads, on the streets, on the balconies...just to cheer us up.”
The lack of Twenty20 experience was a blessing. Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh had played in just one international, while the youngsters had figured in only one domestic tournament. So there was no hype about the Indian team’s performance. The players looked a little circumspect in their first couple of matches but picked up the nuances of the game very quickly
The players who had spent some time away from the team had unrelenting pressure — given the timeframe — to make an impact. Ideally, any judgement on them should wait for a longer version of the game, but in a format that some say allows the lesser players to succeed, the class of Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Irfan Pathan was expected to carry them. However, some doubts persisted before the start of the World Twenty20.
Sehwag had a mixed tournament, but his innings against England, along with his opening partner Gautam Gambhir, proved crucial and this set up Yuvraj for his blistering knock.
Harbhajan’s bowling was exceptional, except in the final. The ease with which he bowled the yorker was amazing. Irfan Pathan had enough scope in the tournament to measure his progress, and he claimed three crucial wickets in the final against Pakistan. “I learnt a lot in the last six months. I worked very hard then. There were not many people who had come forward to help me then. But all this helped me learn. At 22, not many people have seen what I have,” said Pathan.
Rudra Pratap Singh didn’t win any man-of-the-match award, but he has definitely been the bowler of the tournament for India. The left-armer swung it perfectly in Durban, and in the final at the Wanderers, he pegged back Pakistan’s chase with two early wickets. Sreesanth had an erratic tournament, giving away runs, yet picking up crucial wickets. But all will be forgiven because of the final catch he took to herald India’s victory.
The batting responsibilities were shared by the Indians throughout. Gambhir provided good starts, even if he sometimes gave it away. It all came together for him in the final, where his shot selection was much better. The streaky ones were no doubt a part of his innings, but he, along with Rohit Sharma, looked the only batsmen who could force the pace on a slow track at the Wanderers.
Yuvraj beefed up the middle-overs. His clinical striking of the ball formed a crucial part of India’s batting in the middle-overs. Robin Uthappa, Dhoni and Rohit batted well and showed their ability to play crucial cameos.
The disastrous fielding during the England tour had raised doubts over India’s ability to tighten up on the field. However, the team’s fielding in the World Twenty20 proved to be exceptional. Dinesh Karthik’s horizontal lunge to complete a brilliant catch to dismiss South Africa’s Graeme Smith in the last Super Eight match typified the players’ athleticism on the field, while Uthappa and Rohit Sharma were brilliant with direct-hits.
I didn’t have to do anything as captain. Whoever was asked to perform, performed. Whether it was in batting, bowling or fielding, everyone fulfilled their responsibilities. Neither did I have to take big decisions, nor did anything crucial depend on my decisions
— MS Dhoni
After the World T20 final win over Pakistan
An inexperienced captain, it was thought, would need some time to piece together a winning combination, especially in a world event. But Dhoni proved to be a relaxed and shrewd captain. He shuffled his bowlers well and made the changes at the right time. This made the difference in the end.
However, he chose to underplay his role. A captain, Dhoni said, was as good as his team. “I didn’t have to do anything as captain. Whoever was asked to perform, performed. Whether it was in batting, bowling or fielding, everyone fulfilled their responsibilities. Neither did I have to take big decisions, nor did anything crucial depend on my decisions,” said the captain.
“The enjoyment was there. The boys enjoyed each other’s company, and enjoyed playing with each other,” Dhoni added.
No Indian player topped the batting or bowling charts, but India emerged the winner. It clicked as a team. Locking horns against Pakistan in the final, India was missing Virender Sehwag with an injury and was replaced by debutant Yusuf Pathan. After a shaky start, India’s top-scorer of the tournament, Gautam Gambhir, played anchor with a gritty 54-ball 75 before newcomer Rohit Sharma’s cameo of 30 off 16 helped the team post a fighting 157.
Down and out at 77/6 after Shahid Afridi fell for a golden duck, Misbah-ul-Haq led Pakistan’s fightback and got the team within touching distance. With the equation down to six runs off four balls, Misbah played the infamous scoop straight to S. Sreesanth at short fine-leg, handing India a five-run win and a World Cup title after 24 years.
“We have some amazing memories. I remember Mumbai stood still and we got a tremendous welcome and it was fantastic. It will stay with us forever. Winning [the title] was important but sharing that victory with all the fans was equally important because without the fans it’s not the same,” said Irfan Pathan, who especially labelled the victory against host South Africa as memorable, besides those against arch-rival Pakistan.
The buzz the victory created in India was pounced upon by BCCI’s administrators to carve out a glitzy Indian Premier League, a phenomenon that had rippling effects around the cricket world. Recognising this, Lalchand Rajput who coached India during the tournament said, “Because of the World T20 win, the IPL [came to exist] and I think the IPL has also done very well because players, support staff, and everyone involved get benefitted. Because of the IPL, players get into the Indian team.” Since the landmark moment, Twenty20 has taken up sizeable time, space and consideration of cricketers the world over - a key marker of a new era.