April 28, 2007 was the day when WC 2007 came to its conclusion, in a final that was somewhat of a chaos, in-terms of organization, much like the whole tournament. The Game itself was intriguing where Sri Lanka gave a good fight to a mammoth task set ahead by the mighty champion Australian side, but the fiasco by Bucknor-Bowden and even the match referee Crowe, saw the Lankans bat three overs in pitch dark, something that wasn’t required at all and took the shine of the game. The tournament was also marred by the death of a famous coach, early exits of two famous nations in a somewhat flawed early round format, and a much long drawn and boring super-eight stage. This was soon followed by the invention and fast-track progress of T20 cricket and suddenly everyone around the globe found 50Fifty to be not so interesting.
Came 2011, and just like the doctor ordered, hosts India-Sri Lanka-Bangladesh teamed up to provide an exciting six weeks of cricket. Many predictions were thrown off. There were upsets by minnows (Ireland, Bangladesh), a tie game, surprise victories (Pakistan over Sri Lanka, England over South Africa), the knock-out stage upset (New Zealand – South Africa), thrilling chases, last over heroics, and the icing on the cake was a fitting finale to an already mesmerizing event at the world stage for over 8 years. This World Cup not only provided a sense of fulfillment to every Cricket fan across the globe, but also infused a fresh life in the 50-over version of the game. India and Sri Lanka dished out the best fought final game since 1987 clash between Australia and England.
The stage was set for a big game on April 2, 2011 at the newly remodeled Wankhede stadium Mumbai and its newly laid pitch. Both teams had earned their place in the finals with some quality performance throughout the tournament. After a long time, the World Cup was still open for any of the two to grab the crown of the champion. Teams gave full justice to their stature and kept coming back at each other and no one had sealed it almost until the 97th over of the game. The two captain faced selection dilemma before the game. Dhoni was forced to pick between Ashwin and Sreesanth due to a Nehra injury while Sangakarra had to recall Randiv all the way from Colombo to replace indisposed Mathews. India made only one change (Sreesanth for Nehra) while Sri Lanka made as many as four (Randiv, Kapugedra, Kulasekara, Parera) from the line up that won them the semi finals clash. The tone was set right at the toss as the crowd noise forced a re-toss because match referee Crow couldn’t hear the call, the first time.
Finals typically are played between the teams that have talent pool of players capable of winning any game and it eventually boils down to holding your nerves at the crucial junctures. Sometimes, curbing your natural instincts to play according the situation is the key to win the game. Batting first, Sri Lanka were not allowed to get off to a flyer, thanks to brilliance of Zaheer Khan, who was miles apart from his performance in the 2003 finals. In form Dilshan and Sangakarra found run making difficult as India was tightening its grip over the cup and that’s when the old fox Mahela pulled out a gem of a knock. His ton was all class-n-elegance and almost no power-or-hard-hitting. It was sheer timing married to serenity and the result was faced paced hundred that pushed the visitors to a very good score. Late innings push by Kulasekara, Perera, power-play, and some errant line by ZK and Munaf resulted in about 20 extra runs to Sri Lankans as they posted a stiff target of 275.
In any other game, on that Mumbai belter, with spinners finding it tough to grip the ball because of the evening due, the target would have been easily gettable. However, this was the world cup finals and the team chasing was carrying huge expectations of the billions. The Mumbai crowd was all in support of their host team but they were completely silenced by their own IPL favorite Slinger-Malinga (Mumbai Indians player) as he snared two big guns of Indian team: Viru-Sachin in first 37 balls of the chase. At 2/31 there was unusual quietness in the crowd that had been hyperactive for over four hours. This is exactly when the boys in blue displayed why the current outfit is much different than the many sides of the past 25 or more years. Mainly for two reasons: they don’t crumble under pressure, and they don’t rely on one-two players.
Virat-Gambir build the most crucial partnership in the history, after the Kaif-Yuvi (England ’02) and Sachin-Kaif (Centurion ’03). Kohli vindicated his skipper’s decision of playing an extra specialist batsman as opposed to hard-hitter like Pathan. It was soon followed by a masterstroke. There are leaders, and then there was path-breakers who inspire all of the world, in a move that surprised almost everyone around the globe, captain MS Dhoni came out at #5 (ahead of in-form Yuvi) to lock horns with the biggest challenge on the grandest of stage. From the moment he arrived until the moment he hit that final blow that sailed over the ropes, he was calm, composed, and focused at the team’s goal. His presence out there was crucial behind Gambhir converting good start into a big knock, for the first time in this tournament. However, Gambhir had himself to blame to give-away unique feet of scoring century in the WC finals. Overall, though the team India played like a true champion side. They outplayed their opponents. It was well apparent right throughout the playoffs that harsh words from their leader after the South Africa loss had inspired them to put up a better show, as they played for the country an not for the gallery.
After the triumph, the jubilations were evident. The emotions were overflowing as the hard-work had finally paid-off. Key things to be noticed were the statement from Virat about Sachin carrying nation for over 21 years, and coach Kirsten being lifted and carried around by two of youngest members of the side – a clear reflection of his very good rapport with younger generation in the team. Seniors players like Sunny, Shastri, and Dada, also openly expressed their happiness towards the team’s achievements. It was a day to feel proud for any Cricketing fan, and not just Indian, for both the nations had played the most exciting finale after many years.
The Indian fan inside me felt truly blessed at that moment. I had witnessed India’s first success at the WC when I was just eight. Kapil’s devils had stunned the world and exceeded the expectation of everyone including Indians, and that’s why I think Dhoni’s boys have achieved something greater as they had to constantly deal with expectations from billions. As an adolescent I watched Little Master Sunny become the first man on the planet to score 10,000 test runs, I was fortunate to be born in an era where I followed the entire cricketing career of the cricketing God since my days as a teenager, and now this crowning glory was true icing on the cake. Feel proud to be an Indian Fan today. Feel even more privileged to be fan of such great game!!!
-Nikhil Sharad Jadhav