Sunday, April 03, 2011

2nd April, 2011 - The day that mattered

India - World Champions 2011

When Dhoni smashed that full length ball from Kulasekara for a massive six over the long on boundary, it heralded the emergence of a new, confident and fearless India.  Winning the multi-nation ICC tournaments is one thing, but winning the World Cup is a different feeling altogether.  A nation deprived of global stardom for nearly thirty years couldn't hold its emotions together.  This Indian team finally went the full distance, and could wipe out the scars of the 2003 World Cup final against Australia.  I can also say that the nightmare of 2007 was truly forgotten, but that would mean grave injustice, since the 2007 tournament never felt like a World Cup.
Sachin Tendulkar - The final hurrah
In the context of all that's happened to us in the past, and all that was happening in the present, the World Champion tag is something to be proud of.  The closest we came to a World Cup victory was in the 2003 World Cup, and Australia made sure that we never remembered that final for all the right reasons.  Hayden and Gilchrist had launched a brutal attack against our in-form fast bowlers, which served as a perfect platform for Ricky Ponting to flay the Indian attack.  It was truly unforgettable, and it felt unrecoverable.  We had loads of work to do.  The baton was handed over from Ganguly to Dravid to the mercurial Dhoni.  Dhoni inherited the most high pressure job in India, and everybody felt he was lucky enough to be made captain, considering that Sehwag was woefully out of form during that time.  Looking back today, it was a decision that has paid handsome dividends.  It was only fitting that the man himself lent the finishing touches to the final.

Dhoni - What a time to get back to form
Consider the backdrop of this win.  The Indian team were the favorites to lift the title, which meant they had to fight intense scrutiny from a fanatical population, from within and outside India.  Every little move was dissected and analyzed at great lengths.  Dhoni also made some wrong selection moves, which also includes the final, but at the end of the day, he always had that element of good fortune to fall back on, backed by some good captaincy, and a very good team.  The World Cup win feels special because
  1. We were able to avenge our 2003 final defeat against Australia thanks to a frenetic run chase.  The quarter-final match against Australia had to be the match of the tournament for the Indians.  At one point, we had to chase 70 odd runs in 12 overs with the last recognized batting combination of the man of the tournament Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina (which again was a brilliant selection move by the Indian think tank).  The way Yuvraj dismantled Brett Lee and Shaun Tait was brilliantly done.  First strike, and it was great to see that disgruntled look on Ricky Ponting. 
  2. We were able to maintain our clean record against Pakistan.  The high pressure, high octane and high voltage semi-final clash against our traditional rivals Pakistan had lent an unbelievable touch to the atmosphere.  Nobody could take their minds off the game.  Sachin Tendulkar lived dangerously to score a very uncharacteristic 85, but the modest team total of 260 never felt safe.  But, thankfully, we were able to pull off a fantastic victory.  In spite of the win, I felt we made a selection blunder by leaving out Ashwin.  But, again, Nehra was brilliant that day.  
  3. India-Sri Lanka finals at the Wankhede.  Everyone was looking forward to the World Cup win, and it actually never mattered whether Tendulkar would score his 100th ton here or not.  But, another selection harakiri meant India was pushed to the back foot right from the word go. India had just handed a free player to Sri Lanka.  India was playing with just 10 players, instead of the customary 11, while Sri Lanka could breathe easy with 12 players.  The selection of the temperamental Sreesanth was always scary.  At the end of the Sri Lankan innings, the odds were stacked against us.  275 to win was huge in a World Cup match.  Only 2 out of 10 world cup final games had resulted in successful run chases, and that too, the target in both the instances were way lesser than what we would be chasing.  At the end of the first six overs, India was reduced to 31/2.  The best opening pair had gone back to the hut.  If you are an Indian fan, you would have felt queasy in your stomach.  The way Gambhir, Kohli and Dhoni orchestrated the run chase was truly spectacular.  Dhoni played a special innings, and it was fitting that he sent the fans to delirium with a fantastic six over long on.  
Celebrations galore
The celebrations are still going on, and am sure that nobody has yet recovered from that spectacular win. It is a magical moment.  Personally, I was too young to understand the impact of the 1983 win, and to watch a win live is a great experience.  The courage of this Indian team is truly commendable.  I still can't believe that some nuts left the stadium after the dismissal of Tendulkar, and that too when only less than 10 overs had been bowled.  As a cricket fan, I can't imagine how you would switch off your mind away from the action.  Even when Tendulkar was our only hope in the nineties, I would still wait for the completion.  The faith in our tailenders had reached quite a fervor after Kumble and Srinath had pulled off a pulsating victory against the Aussies in Bangalore during the Titan cup. The true Indian fan always had the hope.  I am sure, even if India required 10 runs off 1 ball, we would still be hoping for a no ball six.  It is too hard for that mentality to change.  I wish some true fans had got the tickets to the final instead of those who left the stadium when we were 2 wickets down.  Anyway, they will be repenting for the rest of their lives.

Yes, this win means everybody gets all kinds of rewards from every state.  That means even Sreesanth gets a hold on all these bounties.  Talking about Sreesanth brings to my mind, one of my all time favorite quotes from Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin's Dad: The world isn't fair, Calvin.
Calvin: I know, but why isn't it ever unfair in my favor?

I have laughed uncontrollably at Calvin's response.  But, Sreesanth has truly proved the impact of that statement.  There are so many talented cricketers, but only a few get a chance to play international cricket, out of which, only a handful get to play the World Cup Final.  Out of the handful, only two or three seamers make it to the final eleven.  Sreesanth should never complain about his life.

Even in a blog post, I don't want Sreesanth to have the last laugh.  So, let me end this with something positive.  The Indian team has given us a win to remember for the rest of our lives.  Like one of my friends had posted a message on Facebook, I am sure we should be up for this question "What were you doing on 2nd April, 2011?".  Yes, I have seen India win the World Cup final, and as Dhoni's final hit soared towards the boundary, I am sure all the Indians around the world had forged an instant connection with each other, and that timeless moment has now given us a lifetime to cherish.