Twenty-eight years after Indian cricket changed forever on an English summer's day, the country's dream of enhancing its reputation as a major force in the world game found glorious realisation at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Saturday.
Mahela Jayawardene lit up the World Cup final with a century (103 not out) of rare radiance, enabling Sri Lanka to score 274 for six in 50 overs. But Gautam Gambhir responded with an innings of 97 that was just as masterful. Captain M.S. Dhoni (91 not out) summoned his best under pressure and hit the winning runs — a six — to gift India and the great Sachin Tendulkar the World Cup.
India's mood had been grim when Lasith Malinga impaired it early. The Sri Lankan fast-bowler trapped Virender Sehwag ‘lbw' for a duck in the first over before having Sachin Tendulkar caught behind in the seventh. Tendulkar had looked in fine touch during his brief stay — the maestro's dismissal stunned the home crowd into silence while Sri Lanka's cricketers celebrated the big wicket that had left India at 31 for two.
Gambhir saw out the remainder of Malinga's first spell and took calculated risks against the other seamers to ensure that India kept pace with the asking rate. It was brave, intelligent batting under duress. Virat Kohli (35) applied himself to the task of rebuilding the innings, helping raise 83 for the third wicket before he fell to a brilliant one-handed return catch by Tillakaratne Dilshan.
Dhoni promoted himself above Yuvraj Singh to join Gambhir. Together, the two batsmen set about controlling the run chase, guarding against Muttiah Muralitharan, who posed a threat despite not being fully fit, and Malinga, whose pace and unique action merited careful handling.
Whenever the opportunity presented itself — when Kumar Sangakkara brought the field up for instance or one of the bowlers erred — Gambhir and Dhoni capitalised. Dhoni also pushed a tiring Gambhir hard between the wickets, ensuring that the fielders were constantly hassled and the bowlers had to often switch line. Just when it seemed as if the pressure had been transferred to Sri Lanka, the 109-run partnership ended.
India needed 52 in 52 balls after Gambhir's departure. Dhoni and Yuvraj brought it down to 30 in the last five overs, which would span the batting Power Play, before a three-run over from Malinga made it tense. The batsmen were able to relieve the pressure in the next two overs, delivered by Nuwan Kulasekara and Malinga. It was a matter of time before the rest of the Indian team surged onto the field to celebrate the historic six-wicket win.
Saturday afternoon witnessed drama, and this was before a ball had been bowled in the match. The toss had to be staged twice after match referee Jeff Crowe said he hadn't heard Sangakkara's call the first time.
India swiftly put the disappointment of losing the toss behind it. Zaheer Khan produced an exceptional first spell, bowling three successive maidens before having Upul Tharanga smartly caught at slip by Sehwag. The ground-fielding was of a high quality as well. Yuvraj and Raina looked particularly impressive. As a result, Sri Lanka managed only 31 runs in the first ten overs.
Dilshan (33) and Sangakkara (48) looked to hasten the rate. They targeted Sreesanth, who was preferred over R. Ashwin to replace an injured Ashish Nehra in the Indian team. The pair added 43 for the second wicket before Dilshan, who became the first batsman to reach 500 runs in the 2011 edition, dragged a sweep off Harbhajan Singh onto the stumps.
Jayawardene timed and placed the ball adeptly to rotate the strike before accelerating — often with stylish, orthodox cricket strokes – in the end overs. He was involved in partnerships of 62 with Sangakkara for the third and 57 with Thilan Samaraweera for the fourth wicket.
India fought back, reducing Sri Lanka to 182 for five. But Jayawardene seemed to find the boundary at will in the batting Power Play, which came into force after the 45th over. Nuwan Kulasekara (32) and Thisara Perera (22 not out off nine balls) gave him the support he needed in punishing India's bowling. Zaheer, who had started so well, went for 35 runs in his last two overs, the 48th and 50th of the Sri Lankan innings.
Keywords: Cricket World Cup 2011