A day and a half later, I am still feeling the high from yesterday’s dramatic triumph. Yes , I know that India were among the pre-tournament favorites and were even expected to win but there is many a slip between cup and lip. They have flattered in the past only to deceive and, even yesterday, there were passages during the Indian innings when it seemed that Sri Lanka might pull off an upset.
This World Cup final was more evenly contested than any that I can remember ;the shifting fortunes made it an absorbing match to watch. At the beginning , Sri Lanka were in a spot of trouble thanks to Zaheer’s opening 5-over spell which included 3 maidens and a wicket. With Tharanga also departing cheaply , things got worse (60 for 2 , after 16.3 overs) but Sangakarra and Jayawardene gradually played themselves in . Then the tide shifted and as wickets fell at regular intervals , I thought that Sri Lanka would wind up with a very gettable total , 240 or 250 perhaps . I hadn’t counted on their savaging of the Indian bowling at the death which led to their posting 274. Who would have thought that Zaheer , so stingy in his opening spell , would be carted for 35 runs in his last two overs ? Mahela Jayawardene showed his class with a perfectly paced innings and a well deserved century and I was glad to see him break out of his slump.
The Sri Lankan’s 274 , while not imposing , did seem like it might be enough. It began to look even more formidable after Sehwag ( second ball duck) and Tendulkar ( 18) were sent back to the pavilion early. In previous years , their departure might have signalled the beginning of a rout but this Indian team is made of sterner stuff. The manner in which Gambhir and Kohli played sensibly and blunted the Sri Lankan attack cannot be praised highly enough . It must be admitted that the Sri Lankan attack , with the exception of Malinga , was not penetrating( I can’t understand the decision to drop Mendis) and the Sri Lankan fielding was uncharacteristically sloppy . Still , when Kohli fell to a blinder of a catch by Dilshan there was a brief frisson. At the time there were still 161 runs to be made ; another quick wicket might have seen India in real trouble . It was a surprise to see Dhoni walking to the wicket ahead of Yuvraj. The captain has not been in the best of form and it was a gutsy call to promote himself into a pressure-packed situation . He succeeded beyond all expectations , hammering a quick-fire 91 and punctuating his innings with a mammoth six to seal the victory. Short of Sachin Tedulkar scoring a century and getting the matchwinning hit , it could not have ben scripted better. That would have been too Bollywood !!
The reason that India won , in my opinion , is that they were mentally tougher. Gary Kirsten and the other coaches had been preparing the team for this moment for over a year and it showed. India’s fielding was better than it had ever been and Zaheer Khan was magnificent with his tight opening spell , a prime reason Sri Lanka did not break 300 in spite of their blitz at the end of the innings. India’s performance was all the more admirable when one realizes the pressure the team has been under. Dhoni has spoken of how Yuvraj was vomiting in the dressing room and how many of the players were unable to sleep because of anxiety . With all that , they never allowed their nerves to get the better of them and played the match of their lives . No praise can be too high for Gary Kirsten and the support staff who molded them into a fighting team . It is understandable that Kirsten wants to retire ; he’s been away from his family for almost 4 years and naturally he’s anxious to get back to them . He will be missed and I hope the BCCI get another just like him to guide Team India . Incidentally , I can remember how many ex-India cricketers , Wadekar and Kapil Dev among them , criticised his appointment as coach. I wonder what they have to say now.
Along with Kirsten , Dhoni has been most responsible for the transformation of the Indian team . From the first , he has been a team player , a mind-set that is rubbing off on the others. He has led from the front and has not hesitated to take the tough decisions or to take burden on himself . I was delighted that he regained his form and played such a responsible yet aggressive innings in such a tense situation , particularly when he could have sat back and let Yuvraj come in at No.5. His Man of the Match award was well deserved as are all the accolades being heaped on him . I still think it was a mistake to include Sreesanth ( ahead of Ashwin) and am most relieved that the move did not backfire.
Yuvraj had said coyly that he was dedicating his performances to a special person and everyone assumed that it was a girl friend he was referring to. Instead it seems to have been Sachin Tendulkar. It was heartwarming to see the adulation showered on this man who has been the bulwark of Indian cricket for the past 20 years and more , a cricketing colossus who had the misfortune to be backed up until now only by lesser mortals. Virat Kohli was speaking for the entire team , the entire nation , when he said ” Sachin has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years . It is time we carried him on our shoulders“. It was fitting that Kohli and Raina chaired Sachin for a victory lap , in recognition of what the Little Master has meant to Indian cricket.
The final was hard-fought but it was played in a spirit of sportsmanship.It has been most pleasing to see is the reactions to the Indian victory. It is wonderful to read the comments from Sri Lankan supporters and even Pakistani fans congratulating India on the victory. As for the paroxysms of joy in India , they are indescribable and it is good to see that the Indian public has something to cheer . For a day , for a week , all the problems of everyday life have been banished in this outpouring of joy. I hope that this triumph will inspire young Indians and make them realize what can be achieved by hard work and dedication married to talent.
CHAK DE INDIA !!