How was the preparation leading up to the 2011 World Cup?
Ten months before the World Cup final, we were preparing to play Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup final. The question Gary Kirsten asked was, “If this was the World Cup final, are we ready as a team to go on and win?” The answer between Gary, I and the bowling coach Eric Simons was “no”. The question then was what do we need to do in 10 months to prepare the team? The conversation that followed from there laid the foundation for what are the things we need to do.
One of the things we needed to consider was that no team had won the World Cup at home up until then. The thinking was, it’s because of the amount of pressure on the home team. When we extrapolated that, it was clear that playing a final in Mumbai at the Wankhede Stadium, which is one of the noisiest stadiums in the world – in Sachin Tendulkar’s last World Cup game – there would be no higher pressure any of those players would have played under or will play under for the rest of their lives.
So, we had to prepare for the highest-pressure situation that any player would have played under. That’s where the second of April was set up. In every team meeting and conversation, we had, there was a mention of us playing the final. Going into that final we probably experienced less pressure than most of the teams because we were so mentally prepared for that moment.
How was the atmosphere outside the stadium before the final match?
Arriving from the hotel to the Wankhede Stadium is normally about a 15-minute drive. This time it was about a 40-minute drive because the streets were absolutely jam-packed. The work of our support staff was to keep the players focused on just playing cricket – bowlers bowling one ball at a time, batsmen facing one ball at a time. Focus on the cricket and not on the end result.
Thoughts on chasing 275 in a World Cup final?
Probably two players you would have wanted to perform in the final were Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar. The nature of Sehwag’s game is that if he had batted 15 overs playing his usual flamboyant game, he would have taken the game away from Sri Lanka. We would have been so far ahead in the game. I was secretly hoping Sehwag would do well in the game because it would relieve so much pressure on the entire batting line-up.
So, when Sehwag got out fairly early, all of us knew we had to work hard here.
How did you guys react after Sehwag and Tendulkar fell early?
There was that additional pressure and disappointment of having Sehwag and Tendulkar back in the change room. But the reality was, you had two of the best high-pressure players in the team – one of them at the crease – Gautam Gambhir. Gary Kirsten used to call him the rock. He spent most of his career as Sehwag’s sidekick.
Sehwag would be the guy who used to be on the highlights package and play the flamboyant cricket and get the crowd cheering. Gambhir would just squirt the ball with that square drive behind backward point. He wouldn’t get the crowd going and he wouldn’t make it to the highlights package, but Gambhir was the glue that kept the great batting line-up of that era together.
Although he had not delivered with the bat for seven games until then, MS Dhoni was at that time, probably still is, the best in the world when it comes to second innings chase in white-ball cricket. So, we really did have, in truth, our two biggest guns or two biggest bullets still in the chamber.
What was the thinking behind Dhoni promoting himself?
There was no conversation around Dhoni promoting himself to No. 5. It was just that Dhoni knew that he hadn’t delivered for seven games. He knew a final like that was set up for someone like him and his ability under high pressure. We’d spoken in the team that when the time is right during the entire campaign each person needed to stand up and be counted when it was their time and Dhoni knew it was his moment.
Dhoni always stays inside the change room during the batting innings, he never sits outside with the players in the dugout. I was sitting next to Gary outside the change room and we just heard a knock on the window and Dhoni was there padded up and he just indicated to Gary and said, “batting next,” and he pointed to himself. That’s all it was. Just three little hand gestures and Gary knew exactly what he meant and he just nodded his head. It was a deep knowing, deep courage and an unbelievable decision from Dhoni to take that decision. Gary backed it and the two of them – the two leaders of the team were on the same page.
It was a very courageous decision at that time because had Dhoni got out, he would have been significantly criticized for going ahead of Yuvraj Singh, who was in such form. It was a risky decision. When Dhoni walked down the stairs, I turned to Kirsten and said, “Do you realise Dhoni is going out there to fetch us the World Cup?” I had such deep confidence that he was going to come off the field carrying the World Cup for us.
Where does this World Cup win rank in your professional career?
Without a shadow of a doubt, it is head and shoulders above the most significant experience of my entire life, never mind my professional life. I don’t know how long that incredible electricity of ecstasy was buzzing through every cell, every vein, every nerve of my body within me and it was just ignited by the celebration that was going on immediately around us with the players and the support staff and within that stadium. Wankhede Stadium is arguably the world’s loudest stadium and the noise in there was just electrifying. Everyone there was just firing each other up. It’s something that I’ve never experienced before and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to experience it again. If one day I can find out how to bottle that experience and give people a pill, I will be the richest man in the world without a shadow of a doubt.
Tell us about the post-match celebration
The post-match celebration was quite different from the ones I had experienced. The first thing we did was we got the wives and the children in. It brought in a different energy, brought a different dynamic in the dressing room. It made it a family celebration as opposed to a bunch of men celebrating, singing and jumping up and down, screaming and maybe drinking a beer.
It was quite a measured, mature family-type celebration. Drinking a couple of beers and listening to loud music and maybe having a dance – that happened later that night. But it was wonderful to have the families and the children in there – the people that had supported the players in the background through their journeys, through their careers – and to be there with us, it was wonderful to have them inside the change room.
Was there a sense of satisfaction for you and Gary Kirsten?
Gary and I set that goal nearly three years before the actual event. It was clearly one of our two goals. No. 1 goal was to win the World Cup and the second goal was to make India the No. 1 Test team in the world. It was incredible to have achieved them. But the World Cup win was just sheer ecstasy. When we realised Dhoni got the middle of the bat and we saw that it was going to go the distance…from then I didn’t know I had that volume of ecstasy that could pump through a human body.
We had worked so hard and reached the highest mountain available in the world of cricket that evening. Nothing could have been better. And it wasn’t luck or fluke, we had worked and planned and strategised and put in that effort to get on top of that mountain.