“Dhoni, finishes off in style! A magnificent strike into the crowd. India lift the world cup after 28 years!” It’s been a decade since Ravi Shastri’s voice boomed through our television sets and sent a nation of 1.2 billion people into a frenzy.
There was a lot of hype surrounding the 2011 world cup long before it started. The tournament was being played in the Indian subcontinent after 15 years. The Indian team had made significant strides under MS Dhoni’s leadership in the last couple of years. With home advantage this time around, many believed this was India’s best chance to end the world cup drought. This was also, in all possibility, Sachin Tendulkar’s final shot at world cup glory. As Virat Kohli would famously go on to say after the final, “Tendulkar has carried the burden of Indian cricket for 21 years.” The man had featured in five world cups, and plundered runs in almost every edition. Yet the trophy had eluded him.
India had sailed through the group stage, winning all games except a solitary loss against South Africa and a tie against England. They then went past defending champions Australia in a hard-fought quarterfinal, to meet arch-rivals Pakistan next. The high octane semifinal was watched by prime ministers of both nations at the Mohali stadium. India went past Pakistan, and now had co-hosts Sri Lanka to face at Mumbai.
We all know what followed. It’s been ten years since that unforgettable evening, and yet every moment is etched in memory like it was yesterday. Let’s relive the events that ensued on April 2, 2011.
Mahela’s fighting hundred
Sri Lanka chose to bat after winning the toss. The Indian outfit was pumped. The bowlers weren’t giving anything away, the fielders were stopping everything that came their way. Zaheer Khan got opener Upul Tharanga early. Harbhajan Singh came into the attack and immediately cleaned up the dangerous Tillakratne Dilshan. Captain Kumar Sangakkara fell just short of a half century to Yuvraj Singh’s golden arm. But the legendary Mahela Jayawardene kept going. He remained unbeaten on 103 and took Sri Lanka to a competitive total. Some big hitting by Thisara Perera lower down the order ensured that the Lankans finished with 274 in their 50 overs.
Malinga’s early strikes
India needed a good start if they were to chase down 274. But Sri Lanka’s star pacer Lasith Malinga had other plans. He sent back the dangerous Virender Sehwag for a duck in the very first over. Tendulkar, playing in his beloved home city, enthralled the crowd with a couple of crisp boundaries before Malinga had him caught behind in the seventh over. He walked back for 18 to an eerie silence in the crowd.
Gambhir and Virat steady the ship
A young Virat Kohli, just 22 years of age back then, joined Gautam Gambhir in the middle with India reeling at 31 for 2. The two went about steadily anchoring India’s chase before Kohli finally fell for a well-made 35, courtesy a specular return catch by Dilshan.
Gambhir, meanwhile, went on to bat for another 20 overs. It broke our hearts when he lost his stumps to Thisara Perera for 97. The man had bailed India out of a precarious situation and given his side a real chance to win. He deserved a century.
Dhoni comes to the party
What happened after Kohli’s dismissal is now one of the most famous anecdotes in Indian cricket’s history. Yuvraj Singh, India’s hero at the world cup, was slated to go in next. But he had traditionally struggled against Sri Lanka’s ace spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, which prompted skipper MS Dhoni to promote himself up the order. The move raised a lot of eyebrows. Yuvraj was the man in form, while Dhoni had had a lukewarm tournament at best with the bat. This, however, was Dhoni’s moment.
He went about scoring runs in typical fashion, piercing the gaps, running hard and dispatching the bad deliveries to the boundary. A half-century was completed, and the runs started coming quicker.
In the 49th over of the innings, Dhoni lifted Nuwan Kulasekara for a six over long on. Wankhede erupted. Ravi Shastri went ballistic in the commentary box. Yuvraj Singh, who we would later learn was playing with a tumour growing in his body, wept. Tendulkar was given a lap of honour around the ground. India stayed up late that night, jumping, whistling and dancing on the streets. The world cup was home after 28 years.