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Reliving The Fairytale: The Night Indian Cricket Was Reborn

Kanishk Mukherjee, UG ’21

Yuvraj Singh exults after Mahendra Singh Dhoni hits the winning runs in the 2011 World Cup final in Mumbai.

There are certain moments in sports which are forever etched in one’s memory. You remember everything you ate that day, what you wore, where you sat while watching the drama unfold. Maradona’s infamous hand of god goal against England in the 1986 FIFA World Cup; Kapil Dev lifting the Prudential Cup at the Lord’s balcony, Andy Murray lying on the centre court after being the first Brit to lift the Wimbledon in ages or Tom Brady winning his 6th Superbowl ring. It is moments like this that spur the future generation to pick up the sport; to practice that just one more corner, perfect that back hand, bat for another over at the nets.

One such moment occurred on April 2nd, 2011: nine years ago this week. A day which is considered a golden day for Indian cricket, it was the day India lifted its second cricket World Cup, the first one in 28 years. At the blue cauldron that was the Wankhede in Mumbai, when Mahendra Singh Dhoni- the captain – finished it off in style, a billion dreams were fulfilled.

In the title for one of his books, Boria Majumdar, the cricket writer describes the sport as 11 Gods and a billion Indians. Indeed, very few things in India unite people as much as cricket does.

Every nook and every corner, a small village or a big metropolis, the game of cricket is loved dearly and transcends all boundaries of class, race, and creed. It was no wonder, then, that life in the subcontinent came to a standstill when the World Cup of 2011 rolled by. This was the perfect chance to win the coveted cup which had eluded us for 28 years before that. Since the day Kapil Dev lifted the trophy in London in 1983, India had won the first twenty-20 world cup in 2007 under Dhoni’s leadership. But for all his stellar stewardship and the seemingly unending talent he captained, the fifty over trophy remained elusive. India had come close in 2003, losing out in the final to a brilliant Australian team, with Ricky Ponting single-handedly blazing his way to success. In the previous edition in 2007, India were undone in the pool stage itself, by minnows Bangladesh. This world cup was the 5th and last time Sachin Tendulkar, the cricketing demigod, would play the competition and it would be poetic for the man to win it for the country in his 5th and final attempt in front of his home crowd.

There were so many subplots to this story, it felt like it had all the elements of a Hollywood thriller. The start was fantastic, with Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli batting the game away from Bangladesh in the opener at Dhaka. In India’s second game at Bengaluru, the blues faced the mighty English. Tendulkar arrived at the party with a century and helped the team put up 338 runs on the board. Chasing 300+ against India is never easy, but clearly, that memo never reached their captain Andrew Strauss, whose brilliant century helped England claw back and tie the game in what became an all-time World Cup classic encounter. After comfortably defeating Ireland and Netherlands respectively in the following two games, and Yuvraj Singh winning man of the match in both the games, India faced a setback. In spite of yet another century by Sachin against South Africa, a clinical performance by the Proteas handed India their first and only loss of the tournament at Nagpur. It was a day when the batting was in shambles, with Dhoni and company losing nine wickets for less than thirty runs, after getting off to a flying start. It was important to rectify the errors and stand up again, otherwise India’s march to glory could’ve been significantly truncated. The men in blue came back in style and won against West Indies at the Chepauk, in Chennai. Yuvraj Singh, who scored a brilliant 113 runs, played the innings of a lifetime in the heat and humidity of Chennai. He battled despite his tumor, which was not known to him then: later in the year he was diagnosed with cancer. Even after coughing blood in those tough conditions, he fought like a warrior and earned another man of the match performance.

India finished second in the pool and faced Australia in the quarter finals of the world cup. To be the best, one has to beat the best. In this quest for becoming world champions, India had to defeat Australia, the 4-time world champions and current holders. In Motera, Ahmedabad, it was another Yuvraj Singh classic, where he took India over the finish line chasing 260. The glorious cover drive and the emotional war-like cry on the pitch after that is a moment every cricket fan salutes. The reigning champions had been defeated and up next was Pakistan in the semifinal, India’s eternal rivals.

An India-Pakistan face off is very special. Two excellent cricketing sides, divided by a banal border drawn on a whim by a drunk Englishman, it is the blockbuster match in any competition, let alone the semifinals of the World Cup. In Mohali, India started off extremely well, with Sachin and Sehwag driving the ball with ease. A sudden flurry of wickets and good death bowling by the neighbors – spearheaded by Wahab Riaz – prevented the tail enders from capitalizing on the good start, restricting India to a modest 260. A World Cup semi-final at home, a chance to progress to the final and square off against Sri Lanka in the final, everything for the Indians was at stake. It was arguably the most crucial 50 overs of the tournament. Pakistan started in a decent manner but after being 103-3, they could not get a partnership going and were eventually bowled out for 231. That was the cue for India to go berserk. Pakistan, despite their batting prowess, had no answers for the wily Ashish Nehra, who probably had his best game in an India shirt. The final at Wankhede was up next. One match remained between Sachin Tendulkar and the trophy which had evaded him for 22 years and the country for almost three decades.

One could feel the excitement, anxiousness and electricity at the beautiful venue of Wankhede, right next to the Arabian Sea. After winning the toss, Sri Lanka, led by the legendary Kumar Sangakkara, chose to bat. After losing Upul Tharanga early, and Tillekeratne Dilshan – the eventual golden bat winner for scoring 500 runs in the tournament for 60 runs – the captain Sangakkara and another all-time great, Mahela Jayewardene, put up a strong partnership with the latter scoring a beautiful century. A World Cup century in the final is a rare occurrence and with some positive run flow towards the end of the innings, the Lankans put up a tricky and challenging total of 274 runs. The calculations were straightforward: India were 275 runs away from being world champions.

The start of the Indian innings however, was nothing short of a nightmare. Sehwag was out, leg before on the second ball and the stadium was silent. Tendulkar too fell soon for 18 runs and India were suddenly in a spot of bother. Lasith Malinga, one of the best bowlers of the world cup had sent the two giant openers of India back to the pavilion, leaving the home side reeling for 31-2. The two new men, Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir, had to stay on and see through this minor collapse. Having played for Delhi together, their synergies were in tandem with one another, and they helped India steady their ship with a solid partnership. After Virat Kohli fell to Dilshan, India were 114-3. Throughout the whole tournament, Yuvraj Singh had been consistently good with the bat and with the ball. He batted number 4 and was expected to bat through the end with Gambhir already settled. But, the captain with number 7 on his back, Mahendra Singh Dhoni walked in. A lot of eyebrows were raised, as the master finisher from Jharkhand had had a very average tournament with the bat. In a situation like that, this decision could have easily backfired. As the eloquent Harsha Bhogle says, even Dhoni’s shadow does not know what is going inside his head.

This move though was calculated. The Lankans had put the spinners on and Dhoni, being a teammate of Muttiah Muralitharan at the Chennai Super Kings of the Indian Premier League, would be well equipped to face the iconic wizard from the emerald isle. Also, a left-hand right-hand combination with Gambhir would be ideal.

As it turned out, Dhoni played the innings of his life, and slowly, calmly and steadily, constructed the innings as only he could. Gambhir missed out on a memorable ton as he was bowled on 97, opting to dance down the track only to miss the ball completely. Hiis innings, however, is heavily underappreciated. The maturity with which Gambhir played his knock is absolutely awe worthy. With Yuvraj finally at the crease, and the left-hand right-hand combination maintained, India kept the scoreboard ticking, never allowing the asking rate to increase significantly. With 4 runs needed off 11 balls, Dhoni finished it off in style with a magnificent six over long-on. Coach Gary Kirsten, who kept a straight face throughout, finally got up and punched the air in celebration. India were finally world champions, again.

The skipper’s 91 runs earned him the man of the match award. Yuvraj Singh’s 15 wickets in the tournament and 362 runs with four half centuries earned him a much-deserved man of the series award. Sachin Tendulkar, who finally fulfilled his dream, finished as India’s highest scorer in the tournament with 482 runs and only second to Dilshan. Zaheer Khan was the leading wicket taker of the cup with 21 wickets to his name. It was a massive team effort by the men in blue, firing right on all cylinders and earning a deserved world cup title.

India was euphoric after the win, with people partying till late night on the streets, hugging and dancing with each other. I, for one, remember hugging my mother really tight and running on the street outside my house, my happiness knowing no limits whatsoever. The players cried tears of joy, and this win definitely built the foundation for the next generation of players to rise up, and accept the challenges that come with the iconic blue jersey, now sparkling with yet another star above the BCCI crest.

This night was unforgettable, the night of 2nd April, 2011. The night where Dhoni finished it off in style, sending the ball soaring into the Mumbai sky. The nation gleamed brighter than any stars that night.

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