“Dhoni finishes off in style. A magnificent strike into the crowd! India lift the World Cup after 28 years! The party starts in the dressing room.”
To fans who watched it live, MS Dhoni hitting THAT six into the stands feels like a recent event. Indians have relived and rejoiced the moment so much that it feels unreal to comprehend that a decade and more has passed since Ravi Shastri’s booming voice sent a nation into delirium.
Managing to get the jigsaw together, India ensured that a 28-year-old wait for the coveted trophy ended that night. The performance was a coordinated effort, motivated by the best batsman of his generation in his last quest for a World Cup, championed by the all-round performance of a passionate cricketer who was to soon battle a life-threatening illness and orchestrated by one of the best white-ball captains the game has ever seen.
Horses for courses
Using their strongest suit to good effect, India were the best batting unit in the tournament. Despite the presence of a great like Sachin Tendulkar, India weren’t overly reliant on him as the tournament progressed, unlike previous editions
Virender Sehwag with a strike rate of 108 in the powerplay (the highest in the tournament) against the Top nine teams made the fullest of the field restrictions. After a few games, Sehwag and first-ball boundaries became synonymous. Out of the eight matches he played, Sehwag hit a four on the very first ball in five matches and the first over in the two others.
Sehwag and Tendulkar formed the most threatening opening pair of the tournament. Tendulkar went on to hit two hundreds and two fifties against big teams and ended the tournament with the second-highest overall tally of 482 runs.
In the middle overs, India not only had the best run-rate among the top teams but also the best average. Three players – Gautam Gambhir, Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh were largely responsible for this feat.
Gambhir – 308 runs (average 77, strike-rate 90.6)
Tendulkar- 263 runs (average 52.6, strike-rate 90.4)
Yuvraj- 164 runs (average 164, strike-rate 92.7)
Gambhir, the leading run-scorer in middle overs against top teams, played quite a few crucial innings, none more important than his 97 in the big final. Tendulkar remained the backbone in the middle overs while Yuvraj’s contributions were invaluable.
Batting in the death overs was a thorn in India’s flesh in the initial phase of the tournament. Against England, India lost their last seven wickets for 33 runs in 24 balls while against South Africa the collapse worsened to six wickets for 13 runs in 35 balls.
The situation improved significantly after India replaced Yusuf Pathan with Suresh Raina. In the knockout matches, India’s batting average in the death overs improved to 42.5 as compared to 12.2 in the league stage with Raina ending the tournament with an average of 60 and a strike rate of 103.5 in the death overs.
A hero was right around the corner
The path to the title was not flowery. In almost every big match, India found themselves in an awkward position needing a rescue act. In a team motivated to deliver, quite a few men raised their hands to carry the burden.
Zaheer Khan was one of the unsung heroes of the tournament. Ending as the joint leading wicket-taker (21 along with Shahid Afridi), Zaheer was the go-to bowler for Dhoni whenever he needed a wicket.
In India’s second game against England, Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell were well set as they brought a mammoth-338 run target down to 59 runs off the last eight overs with eight wickets in hand. Zaheer turned the game on its head by dismissing both off consecutive deliveries in the crucial 43rd over. He cleaned up Paul Collingwood in his next over to put India in the driver’s seat. A game that appeared done and dusted for India ended in a tie.
In the game against Australia, Zaheer accounted for the threatening Michael Hussey and Cameron White in the latter half of the innings and hamstrung the Aussies of any momentum in the death overs.
Back in the 2003 World Cup final, Zaheer started with a 15-run over. Eight years later, he started with three maidens in a row to ensure that Sri Lanka were immediately under pressure.
The 2011 World Cup though belonged to Yuvraj. An elegant left-hander capable of demoralizing any bowling attack with his bat swing and an array of shots contributed with equal impact with the ball in hand.
A left-arm orthodox bowler considered a part-time spinner at best took the mantle of being India’s all-rounder and the fifth bowling option. The man of the tournament, Yuvraj won four man of the match awards during the dream run where he scored 303 runs and took 8 wickets against the Top 9 teams.
He delivered his most impactful performance against Australia in the quarter-final, the reigning World Champions from the previous three editions. As Dhoni cut a ball straight to backward point, India found themselves five down for 187, still needing 75 off 75 balls. Counter-attacking with a glorious 57*, Yuvraj stitched an unbeaten 74-run partnership with Raina, who scored a 28-ball 34 himself to end Australia’s reign of three consecutive World Cup wins. After hitting the winning boundary, Yuvraj got to his knees and let out a roar, an image that has lingered in memories since.
On the stage of the big final, after Sehwag and Tendulkar failed to get going, it was Gambhir with a gritty 97 and the captain himself - choosing to bat higher up the order despite a quiet tournament till then - hit a flamboyant 91* to get India home.
Looking to utilize his ability to pick Muttiah Muralitharan better, something that he learnt after keeping to him in the IPL, Dhoni nullified the Lankan spin threat to ensure a win for India that seems comfortable in hindsight. The 35-run knock from a then 22-year Virat Kohli was crucial as well, as he had walked into the cauldron after Lasith Malinga chipped off the openers early. Along with Gambhir, he absorbed the pressure and made Dhoni's job a little easier.
The weaker suit stepped up
India’s bowling attack was not its strength, to begin with. As the tournament progressed this became clear as India failed to defend big totals of 338 and 296 against England and South Africa respectively. The bowling unit was highly unsettled with constant chopping and changing throughout the tournament.
Zaheer was the lynchpin along with Harbhajan who did not take a heap of wickets but managed to keep the opposition quiet. However, they did not find adequate support from the other end in matches against stronger teams in the league stage.
It was in the knockouts when Yuvraj and Munaf stepped up to play a more crucial role.
Yuvraj was not just more economical, he also picked two wickets in each of the knockout matches - the most impactful ones being of a threatening Brad Haddin in the quarter-final, Younis Khan in the semis and Kumar Sangakkara in the final.
Munaf, expensive in the group stage was tighter in the knockouts, controlling one end. Though not picking a lot of wickets, he dismissed Mohammad Hafeez in the semis – the wicket that Tendulkar later termed as the turning point of the match. Harbhajan too delivered timely blows, picking up Umar Akmal and Afridi at a crucial juncture.
In what was a perfect team effort throughout the tournament, the captain chose the opportune moment to lead by example and finish it off in style, sparking joyous tears among the players and support staff.
While the players were carrying the man who carried the burden of a nation for 22 years on their shoulders, the cricket-crazy population of more than a billion left all inhibitions behind to come out on the streets and celebrate. Even after a decade, the emotions of that night give goosebumps to those who witnessed it.