Exactly six years ago to this day, an iconic six from the willow of an equally iconic cricketer brought about unbridled joy to about a billion lives in India. 2nd April 2011 was not just another day in the country. India woke up with palpable excitement and went to bed with unprecedented euphoria.
This level of excitement nor euphoria would normally be associated with the election frenzy in the world’s largest democracy. But it was the turn of cricket on that particular April night in 2011.
For that day, students forgot their exams while the corporate world cared a little less about targets. The households, despite their difference in beliefs and faith, prayed and wished for a common cause.
When Dhoni launched Nuvan Kulasekara’s length ball into the orbit on that memorable evening, Team India had finally ended the ODI World Cup drought that had dragged on for twenty-eight years. A downpour of emotions filled that evening and earmarked that particular day for a special place in history of the nation.
There were comments and arguments sporadically thrown around whether the celebrations of this scale were warranted at all. But this was a nation that had aspired to be among the best in the world, not just in cricket for that matter, but had found little success
There had been many promises forgotten and many opportunities squandered and as a result, the nation had largely resigned to its fate. But all the while cricket was a lone shining spot in the nation’s armoury. We have never replicated the successes of the West Indians of the 1980s to mid 95s nor that of the Aussies which spanned for nearly 15 years since the once mighty Windies relinquished their control.
Yet there were Kapils, Gavaskars, Azharuddins, Sachins and Kumbles all along the way who, with their perseverance, would showcase to the nation moments of glory and pride which the nation itself had considered to be out of its grasp. Hence, all the passion and outpour of emotions when the nation was crowned the world champions was just inevitable.
On the field, this was a tournament where Team India played cricket like an actual team game. Contributions from almost everyone in the squad were critical for the team’s rise to the top. Be it the belligerence of Sehwag or the consistency of Yuvraj Singh, they were ably supported by the tenacity of Gambhir and relentlessness of Raina as well.
Such was the theme of the team’s journey that the main cast found an equally impressive support cast all along the way to sustain the intensity. In the bowling department, the canny Zaheer was top notch while the wily offie Harbhajan made it a habit of choking the opposition in the middle overs.
Harbhajan did not pick up truckloads of wickets but the control he lent the team during the entire tournament was impeccable. It was a testament to his discipline and focus.
Sachin’s World Cup
Out of the billion voices that cheered for the Men in Blue, there were millions of them who had joined the wagon for the man in the blue. It was going to be Sachin Tendulkar’s World Cup for them.
And how did Sachin respond to that?
The centuries of the great little man against England and South Africa may not have tilted the results in favour of Indians then, but it did just enough for India to wake up and improve their game as they inched towards the business end of the tournament.
Sachin’s sparkling half-century against the mighty Aussies was certainly one of his finest knocks he had ever played. That half century by him against the ruthless reigning champions was imperative so that the Aussies did not run away with the momentum, something which they were very capable of.
Another crucial half-century against Pakistan followed, where Sachin was nowhere near is best. The master blaster hung on in Mohali, eked out singles, interlaced them with some silky drives as well en route to his 115 ball 85.
But the period where he held on to his wicket when Wahab Riaz was proving too hot for his fellow batsmen and Ajmal repeatedly beat him prevented an Indian collapse which could have had catastrophic results on the match. The temperament of the little master saved the day for India.
After enduring a wait for nearly 22 years, the master batsman finally managed to lay his hands on the cup. The hard wait of 22 years was punctuated by the match-fixing scandal, an excruciating tennis elbow, a lot of away time from his family and constant flak from his critics.
Hence the cricket World Cup deserved to be held aloft by the arms of Sachin Tendulkar.
With emotions running so high, it would have been easy for the team to get carried away either by a glorious victory or a shattering defeat. Fortunately, the team found a man who was born to override emotions and instead accomplish the task at hand.
MS Dhoni did not have a great tournament with the bat till it mattered the most. Yet the way he marshalled his troops and fronted the press after each match made it crystal clear that he was the man in charge. Even more astounding is the fact that Dhoni had started to infuse youngsters into the team a good couple of years prior to the tournament in a quest to change India into a dynamic fielding unit.
The Indian unit nearly saved 20-30 runs in each of the matches. The fielding we witnessed from team India in the grand finale will forever be a testament to the successful experiment.
Whether it was bringing back Yuvraj from the wilderness into the main fold a couple of tournaments prior to the big one or retaining Harbhajan in the playing eleven when there were growing noises to unleash his fellow CSKian Ashwin proved to be a masterstroke.
When Yuvraj repaid his captain’s trust with heroics throughout the tournament, Harbhajan was a silent team man who offered unrelenting control with the ball. Inducting Suresh Raina into the eleven just when the team approached the knockouts proved fruitful.
When one observes more closely, team India started to peak at the right time rather than peaking too early and running out of steam during the most important phases and the main reason for this can be attributed to Dhoni’s subtle changes in the playing eleven.
And cometh the night of 2nd April 2011, when the sun had begun to set, Dhoni dawned upon the entire nation as the player who would drive India home along with the services of Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh. Dhoni’s courage to confront the situation in the middle and the resultant glory are well chronicled in cricketing archives.
When the team was throwing it all in the field, a group of three gentlemen would silently observe the proceedings. Once the players enter the dressing room, those three would take charge and ensure the players are in the right frame of mind as well as body to go and express themselves.
The trio of Gary Kirsten, Eric Simmons and Paddy Upton did a commendable job in assisting the Men in Blue reach their ultimate destination. No amount of eulogies will befit their contributions. If Dhoni was the king, then these three were the wise councilmen. Dhoni foresaw the glory through this trio’s eyes.
The nation embarked on the journey with the Men in Blue during the entire course of the tournament and the team did not disappoint.