Newly crowned ODI World Champions India were always the favourites to lift the trophy. That was something the team planned for well in advance and the fans expected victory from the very beginning, nothing less.
The reactions haven’t stopped following from the moment MS Dhoni lifted the gold-silver plated trophy. The players partied until early on Sunday morning, before their itineraries took a new shape, this time one worthy of champions. And the remaining one billion people streamed into their offices on Monday morning, hung over and tired from all the jubilation that poured into every street of this vast and wide country.
It however wasn’t as easy as it might have seemed when Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir were smashing Muttiah Muralitharan and company all over the Wankhede Stadium. It has been one long and winding road, with its fair shares of crests and troughs. And although the press conference after the final might have been a pleasant one, throughout the journey, there were questions galore. Selection of the first eleven out of fifteen is the basic point of any such tournament and the lengthy group stage did test the patience of everyone watching.
India’s bowling prowess was always their weak line, never mind the fielding aspect. There would be days when the team would save the extra runs or leak more than they normally should, for their luck on the field would always oscillate between these two extremes. But the bowling would be a worry, not because they didn’t have the firepower in terms of talent, pace or spin. It was down to individualistic worries pertaining to each bowler in their pack. Harbhajan Singh seemed off the boil despite his escapades in South Africa, Piyush Chawla was too inconsistent and Ravichandran Ashwin was a raw, unknown quantity. Ashish Nehra and Munaf Patel are much the same like Chawla while Sreesanth brings forth his own brand of mercurial to the table. Only Zaheer Khan seemed a surety for wickets, and that was if he stayed fit enough.
Somehow, someway, all of it worked out. Nehra and Patel gave away some runs, saved some and picked wickets at crucial intervals. Chawla rightly didn’t see the light beyond the group matches and Ashwin excelled in the one knock-out he played. Sreesanth proved to be a good luck charm at both the starting and finishing points, while Zaheer packed in the work load of all of them and more. Even Bhajji chipped in with wickets at the most opportune moments, and though an in-form spin spearhead was missing, Yuvraj Singh stepped up to the plate. It proved to be a bowling attack that would have made the quarter-final in anybody’s book. For they might have never looked worth winning the tournament to either Dean Jones or Ian Botham at one stage, they never looked like getting knocked out early either.
Their loss to South Africa and that tied game against England were both matches riddled with mistakes. Yet they gained a point off them, and the rest were never going to cause much trouble. Bangladesh were shown their place early and West Indies brushed aside comfortably.
That last league match at Chennai though was a turning point of sorts. While Ashwin did play in this match, two very important points came forth: Yuvraj, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina formed a triangular partnership on the field which created enough pressure to strangle the scoring, and in turn, Dhoni shuffled his bowlers around well enough to keep the batsmen guessing. It was almost as if the Indian skipper had laid down his winning cards.
Ashwin was always going to play against Australia, considering they don’t play off-spin so good. But it allowed the Indian team to realise their one weakness still – the absence of a third seam bowler hampered their manoeuvrability for the entire fifty overs. That they got through the Ahmedabad game with only a target of 260-odd was a lucky escape. And then Yuvraj turned the screws over, both on world cup history and on his own tale of woe.
His efforts made sure that a new world champion would be crowned and that he had come back from the dead, almost brand new. People say he is back to his old ways, but one believes that after going through a bad patch, you assimilate the old into a new mannerism. It is impossible to think that the man-of-the-tournament will repeat his mistakes from the past.
Pakistan were always going to be more than just an opponent, that too in a semi-final.
Of course the political shenanigans didn’t help either and when the day came, both sides showed their respective set of nerves. It best reflected in the way Sachin Tendulkar played that day. To drop him once is a sin and Shahid Afridi’s men did it four times. Alternately, the man himself doesn’t give the bowlers an inch and that he gave them so many chances just about summed up the intense pressure riding on this game. In the end, India did play the better cricket and no, batting wasn’t a part of that. In fact the batting prowess really shown through only in the final when the top the openers got out, for earlier they were all busy having collapses in the power-plays. Instead, they were a better fielding and bowling side, much more disciplined, and despite Dhoni reading the Mohali pitch a bit wrong, he didn’t have to pay much for it.
It boosted him enough to retain the same combination, with the slightest of changes in personnel. Ashish Nehra’s injuries in the past have never been so hotly debated but Sreesanth coming in after a full seven matches was guaranteed to earn some wide-eyed debate. Having witnessed the match in full, with pitch conditions not changing much and dew playing just a minor role, it can be said that the on-field aspects for both Sri Lanka and the eventual victors were perhaps at par.
Mahela Jayawardene countered brilliantly Zaheer Khan’s opening spell, Thisara Perera’s burst in the end negating the sharp fielding by the Indians in the first ten overs and then Gambhir, Kohli and Dhoni dismissing the damage done by Lasith Malinga. The major difference between the two sides however stood out to be the calm of their leaders.
To make four changes on the eve of a summit clash perhaps indicated that in his mind Kumar Sangakkara wasn’t as sure footed as his opposite number. And it was indeed this very peace of mind that MS Dhoni has exuded throughout the tournament, every time he went out to explain why Chawla was in the squad or why Ashwin wasn’t. It was the same confidence with which he proclaimed at one point in the group stage that ultimately the whole tournament hinged upon winning those three games. And India won theirs.
© Cricket World 2011