Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s winning six over long on at the Wankhede will remain imprinted in the memories of Indian cricket fans for years to come.
In 1983, a World Cup triumph was not even in the realms of fantasy. By 2011, it had become non-negotiable.
The Lords of Wankhede explores the evolution of Indian cricket in the 28 years between the two World Cup successes. Seen through the eyes of former Test cricketer W.V. Raman, who has been associated with the game for four decades, and R. Kaushik, a cricket writer with 30 years behind him, this book provides a perspective of the successes and strife, the trials and tribulations that made the journey of Indian cricket so fascinating over the 28 years bookended by Lord’s and Wankhede. An absorbing revelation for the millennial, a stab of nostalgia to the middle aged and an essential for the cricket romantic, this book lays bare the conditions that led to India becoming a cricket behemoth.
In the following excerpt, we look at what happened when India faced Sri Lanka in the 2011 ICC World Cup final at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium on the fated day of April 2, 2011.
“Dhoni finishes off in style!”
With these iconic words, proud and emotional, and laced with an unmistakable mixture of relief and elation, Ravi Shastri’s booming voice announced India’s ascent to the summit at the 2011 World Cup. On a muggy Saturday Mumbai night, as a wave of blue swept through the Wankhede Stadium, Mahendra Singh Dhoni applied the finishing touches to a campaign most memorable, the skipper vindicating his decision to bat ahead of the in-form Yuvraj Singh in the final against Sri Lanka with a spectacular assault, which culminated in the most storied six in Indian cricket history, over long-on off Nuwan Kulasekara.
April 2 thus joined June 25 as red-letter days in India cricket. Dhoni would forever be linked with the talismanic Kapil Dev, spoken of in the same reverential breath, celebrated and lauded, and adored and deified. For 28 years since Kapil first led the team to an unexpected World Cup crown at Lord’s in 1983, India had tilted at the windmills without success. They had reached the semifinals twice (at home in 1987 and 1996) and surged through to the final in South Africa in 2003, but the knockout hurdle proved insurmountable. Until…
India’s build-up to the mega event was measured and carefully thought out. The clamour for sustained match practice was set aside as conditioning—physical and mental—assumed paramount importance. Their last assignment before the World Cup (which started on February 19 in Mirpur, Bangladesh) was in South Africa, when they narrowly went down 2–3 in a five-match series, by which time the contours of the World Cup 15 had already taken firm shape.
Unlike four years previously, when there was a certain uncertainty about the brand of cricket India would embrace, there were no such doubts this time around. Within the chosen 15, there was a strong reservoir of experience—Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Dhoni himself, Suresh Raina, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Harbhajan Singh—but there was also plenty of young blood, with a bristling Virat Kohli and the temperamental S. Sreesanth setting out stall as the face of the youth brigade.
There were startling similarities between India’s squads of 1983 and 2011. In England, India had a plethora of medium-paced all-rounders—Mohinder Amarnath, Roger Binny, Madan Lal, Kapil himself—capable of exploiting the assistance the conditions offered. Now, with spin expected to play a more pre-eminent role, India could fall back on Sehwag, Tendulkar, Raina and Yusuf Pathan, if need be. And, of course, there was Yuvraj.
India had just two days between the semifinal and the final, and Yuvraj was battling more inner demons. Having struggled for sleep, he took a sleeping pill on the physio’s advice the night before the final training session, overslept and turned up late for practice, looking shot and on his last legs. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, were ravaged by injuries and forced to make changes, which gave them an unsettled look.
The toss of the coin was performed twice because the noise in the stadium rendered the first call from Sangakkara inaudible. As a result of this, Dhoni suggested that the coin be tossed again to which both Sangakkara and the match referee Jeff Crowe acceded. Kumar Sangakkara called it right and opted to bat, hoping to make the most of scoreboard pressure. India started brilliantly, with Zaheer unplayable with the new ball, but Mahela Jayawardene played one of the best World Cup knocks to remain unbeaten on 103. As it turned out, it would be the only hundred in a final to come in a losing cause.
The bursting-at-the-seams Wankhede lost its voice when Sehwag and Tendulkar fell to Lasith Malinga in quick succession, until Gambhir and Kohli reignited their hopes by putting on 83 for the third wicket. When the right-hander was smartly caught and bowled by Tillakaratne Dilshan, Gambhir looked up, expecting to see Yuvraj walk in; instead, like the rest of the world, he was stunned to see Dhoni making his way to the middle.
Dhoni had had a fairly forgettable tournament with the bat, with a high score of 34 against the Irish. Contrast this with Yuvraj, who had smashed 4 fifties and a hundred in his seven outings. It was a no-brainer, one would have thought, but Dhoni knew what he was doing.
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Unwilling to expose two left-handers to Muttiah Muralitharan and fancying his chances against the off-spinning great, Dhoni took a huge gamble by striding out at No. 5. Had things gone bad, he would be summarily pilloried for trying to fix something that wasn’t broke. But Dhoni was on top of his game. He batted with careful circumspection at the beginning, and increased authority and flair as his innings blossomed, while Gambhir cut out all frills and ground out the Sri Lankans. Runs came at a trickle initially and then with greater regularity—109 of them in all, when Gambhir ill-advisedly charged at Thisara Perera and was bowled for 97.
Yuvraj joined his captain and watched as Dhoni shifted gears, tearing the Lankans to shreds. As the field closed in with 4 needed off 11 deliveries, Dhoni launched Kulasekara over long on, watched the ball sail into orbit, twirled the bat-holding left wrist and sank into Yuvraj’s welcoming arms. The dressing room erupted, the Wankhede went mad and India didn’t sleep that night. Thousands flocked the streets of India’s financial capital, honking and celebrating with gusto. Strangers stumbled into each other’s embraces and wept unashamedly, sweets were distributed and the city that never sleeps truly lived up to its name. The scenes weren’t any different elsewhere in the country, or in the dressing room, suffused with the additional pride of ‘doing it for Sachin’.
After Dhoni, the calmest person on the ground, received the trophy from ICC president Sharad Pawar, the Indian team went on a victory lap, with Kohli hoisting Tendulkar on his shoulders. ‘He has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years. It’s time we carried him,’ Kohli gushed later, unaware that a couple of years thereafter, he would carry the Indian batting after the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar.
Excerpted with permission of Rupa Publications from The Lords of Wankhede: Tales Between Two Titles by W.V. Raman and R. Kaushik.