A NATION CELEBRATES…
After a long wait of 28 years and six unsuccesful attempts, the Men in Blue finally got their hands on the holy grail of the cricket world, the World Cup, once again. But it was not a walk in the park for them by any means. They faced a spirited Sri Lankan side that was raring to go and put up a gritty performance.
The toss was won by the Lankans, and unsurprisingly, Sangakkara elected to bat first on a wicket that was expected to deteriorate and slow down by the time the second innings was to be played. But whatever advantage was offered to them by winning the toss was quickly taken away as they were hit by a fantastic opening spell by Zaheer Khan who bowled 3 maiden overs to increase the already overwhelming pressure of the occasion on the Sri Lankans. Added to this was the superb fielding of Yuvraj, Kohli and Raina, who between them saved many a boundary by throwing their bodies around. Finally, the pressure told, and Tharanga edged one to Sehwag at first slip. This was followed by Dilshan getting out to a soft dismissal, trying to sweep a Harbhajan ball that was outside leg stump and only managing to deflect it onto the stumps. Sri Lanka then tried to consolidate their position and work their way to a respectable total. With two calm heads, Sangakkara and Jayawardene at the crease, they started rotating the strike well and putting together a decent partnership. But two runs short of his half century, Sangakkara misjudged an innocuous looking Yuvraj delivery and edged it into the waiting gloves of Dhoni. Now, India had broken into the suspect middle-order of the Lankans, and soon, Samaraweera was given out LBW to Yuvraj after the review and reversal of Simon Taufel’s original decision. But at the other end, Jayawardene was still going strong and he found an able companion in the form of Nuwan Kulasekara, who played a little cameo towards the end of the innings. Much to the delight of the Lankan fans, Jayawardene completed his century and Thisara Perera showed that he can hit the ball too, and the Lankan recovery from a slow start was complete with a blistering Batting Powerplay. The target set for the Indians was a very respectable 275 at a required rate of 5.5 runs per over.
Like their counterparts, the Indian innings had a shaky start too. Both teams had finished with their lowest mandatory powerplay scores in the tournament. The first wicket to go down was Sehwag, out LBW in a similar fashion to Malinga as he was in the semis against Pakistan. But the biggest shock of the evening came when the little master, Sachin Tendulkar himself was caught behind after flashing at a Malinga outswinger, and the crowd was wrapped in deafening silence, with their expectations of a Tendulkar hundred unfulfilled. Although India got off to a bad start, the Delhi boys, Gambhir and Kohli started to stamp their authority on the game by stringing together a solid stand until the latter was out caught and bowled to Dilshan after a leading edge. Surprisingly, Dhoni himself elected to walk in at number 4 ahead of Yuvraj. But his tactics proved to be spot on as his partnership with Gambhir became the highest by an Indian pair in a World Cup Final. But when the chase was going on swimmingly, a moment of madness by Gambhir saw him bowled, just three runs short of what would have been a magnificent ton. But if the Lankans thought that there was a turn in their fortunes to come, they were sadly mistaken because Yuvraj showed no signs of taking his foot off the gas. However hard the Lankans tried, the duo had the answer to every delivery they would bowl. Finally, India clinched victory in a fitting manner with Dhoni himself hitting a huge six to start the celebrations.
There was joy in the streets, victory parades were started nationwide, and the country rejoiced in a way never seen before. Fireworks went off all around. A billion people celebrated. The promise had been fulfilled, the tag of favourites had been justified, and the World Cup was brought home…