Lords at Wankhede

Print edition : May 06, 2011

Indian players celebrating with the World Cup after winning their final match, against Sri Lanka, in Mumbai on April 2. - SHASHANK PARADE/PTI

The World Cup win reconfirms the status of the Indian team that has wonderfully rallied around Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

THE cricket fans had waited long for this triumph. Twenty-eight years ago, few had expected Kapil Dev and his team to make history at Lord's. That they did win the World Cup became one of the greatest upsets in the history of the game.

Anything less than a title win at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai would have gone down as an upset because this time almost everyone favoured India to win. That it did so only reconfirmed the status of the team that has so wonderfully rallied around Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

For someone who once wanted to play for the Railways only because he could land a job, Dhoni has remarkably transformed into a national icon. Maybe not in the same league as Sachin Tendulkar, but he has a place for himself in Indian cricket now. The Twenty20 World Cup in 2007, India's No. 1 position in Tests and this World Cup win have clearly established Dhoni as one of the finest captains in the game.

It suited us that very few backed us to do well in 1983, confessed Kapil Dev, the captain of the team. We were keen more on improving our image as a one-day team, and the focus was on giving our best. Honestly, we aimed at just going out there and enjoying our cricket. What came as positive results on the field gave us the confidence to go from strength to strength. But this team had bigger challenges to face. The expectations were high and almost every cricket lover wanted the team to win. One can imagine the pressure the boys must have felt. In the end they won, and I think the best team in the tournament won the World Cup.

Unbeatable combination

It was the best team no doubt. There were a few selection issues before the Cup commenced and even after India had played a few matches. Experts questioned the selection of leg-spinner Piyush Chawla and later the decision of the team management to keep off-spinner R. Ashwin on the sidelines. But then the team was under the guidance of Gary Kirsten, a highly professional cricketer from South Africa. The right decisions were taken at the right time and the team just grew into an unbeatable combination.

The World Cup victory highlighted Dhoni's leadership. He could get the best out of his team, and the consistency reflected well as India launched its campaign with a resounding win over Bangladesh in the opener. That win was special, said Virender Sehwag, who slammed a century and buried the ghost of 2007 when India crashed out in the first round after suffering a loss to Bangladesh.

A captain is as good as the team, goes an old saying in cricket. But it is also true that a good captain can make the difference, said Madan Lal, a key member of the 1983 team. Dhoni enjoyed the confidence of the team and I must say that his greatest quality is that he backs his players. No player can succeed unless he has the faith of his captain, and Dhoni made sure that he did not let his players down. He stood up for them publicly and won the team's confidence.

Even before a ball was bowled, most experts had predicted that batsmen would continue to dominate. It could have been a batsmen's World Cup, reflected Kapil. But he was among the few who spoke of bowlers enjoying the advantage in the subcontinent, and this fact was not lost on the Indian team management. By picking three spinners for the tournament and also grooming Yuvraj Singh as the fourth, the team management and the selectors produced a master stroke.

Yuvraj emerged as one of the key bowlers in India's scheme of things, bowling his 75 overs in nine matches like a crafty spinner. His rise as an all-rounder to rely upon was the biggest gain for the team. For long, India had craved a quality all-rounder, and Yuvraj, who had always promised to be one, finally delivered in style. For the first time in my life there have been claps in a press conference. I am sure this is a special moment for me, guys. This comment by Yuvraj summed up his rise in the team.

The format of the tournament suited India. In fact, it was meant to suit India, and the tournament director, Prof. Ratnakar Shetty, had admitted it. The administrators had learnt their lessons from the 2007 edition when India and Pakistan made first-round exits and the tournament lost much of its gleam. There were no such fears this time even though the duration of the Cup remained an eyesore.

Some critics, at the end of the tournament, claimed it was the best World Cup of all. But then each of the previous nine editions had a distinct flavour even though the 2007 competition suffered on all fronts. The 1992 format, when every team played every other one in a round-robin league, was said to be the best organised. The quality was superior. But then cricket has its own culture in the subcontinent, and the hosts India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh did a compact job.

M.S. Dhoni hitting the winning runs in the final.-K.R. DEEPAK

The World Cup had its share of shortcomings. The sale of tickets was an issue, and most fans remained disappointed at being denied access. At a few places cricket fans came in for harsh treatment from the police. It was a sad sight. Fans are the lifeline of any sport, and you can't treat them in such a shabby manner. I know it does become difficult to control when the response is so overwhelming, but then the authorities ought to have made arrangements. Fans being lathi-charged was a sad sight indeed, said Madan Lal. Well, the fans suffered at various places and on various occasions, but they turned it into a World Cup of joy by supporting their heroes.

The Indian team, after the huge win against Bangladesh, faltered in a couple of encounters. The tied match against England was a cause for worry as India failed to defend a big total. The loss against South Africa later was a timely reminder that the team had to improve drastically. It did, and the rest was a memorable ride.

Victories against Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the knockout carried India to the pinnacle. Dethroning Australia was a sweet experience as India had lost to Ricky Ponting's team in the 2003 final at Johannesburg. Beating Pakistan is always memorable, as Sehwag admitted.

The clash at Mohali was not the best between the teams as Pakistan gave Tendulkar four lives' and bowed to a superior team. The excellent spirit in which the teams played at Mohali, watched by their country's respective Prime Ministers, Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani, was a sign of maturity in both camps. Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi congratulating India and also wishing it well for the final was welcome too.

Win it for Sachin Tendulkar was the refrain from the Indian team before the World Cup. The players were determined to give their best to ensure that Tendulkar's showcase was complete, with this Cup adorning it. I always dreamt of winning the World Cup. I am so happy to have done it now. We wanted to win it for our country, said Tendulkar, playing his sixth World Cup.

His importance to the team reflected in this remark by Virat Kohli: Tendulkar has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years. It is time we carried him on our shoulders. Kohli was just one year old when Tendulkar faced his first ball in Test cricket.

It was the story of small town heroes emerging as national icons. The role played by Dhoni was lasting, leading from the front, raising the benchmark for a team that had made winning a habit. Players such as Suresh Raina grabbed the opportunity to live a dream. He had grown up hearing stories of the 1983 triumph and here he was playing an important role to help India repeat the 1983 feat.

It took a long time no doubt, but it happened. I am so happy for this team. There are some extremely gifted players in this team and it would have been a huge disappointment for all if they had not won the Cup, observed Kapil. He was among the first to hail the team and message the players.

India had 15 heroes in the World Cup win, but there are a few who deserved special mention. Munaf Patel performed creditably. Zaheer Khan dictated terms with his reverse swing and the slower ball. Ashish Nehra and Ashwin did not fail when the team looked to them. It did not matter if the conditions suited their style. They only epitomised what the team aimed for. To do a Lord's at Wankhede!

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