It was just not another day in the life of Maximum City. From the billions in the country, the few thousands of Mumbai became the chosen one to witness this historic moment. On April 2, 2011, exactly a year ago, 35,000-odd cricket fans reached the zenith of their fan career. They saw their Men in Blue give them the deserving reward, prize, gift or whatever you may call in some style.
After the cracker of a contest or call it the final before the final in Mohali, it was moment of truth in Mumbai. High on beating Pakistan in the semis, India was meeting neighbours Sri Lanka in the World Cup final in Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai. The city was bustling with mixed feelings of nervousness and excitement.
There wasn’t a soul in the city who wasn’t praying for the Indian team on that day or maybe since March 30 when India beat Pakistan. In those two days since the win over Pakistan, the famous Siddhivinayak temple, Haji Ali Dargah, Mahalaxmi Mandir and Mahim church had seen unprecedented number of devotees turning up to pray for the 15 Men in Blue.
Mumbai had turned Blue in excitement and Wankhede a fortress. Lanes heading to the stadium were choked with security. Residents living close to the stadium entries were not allowed to leave their homes that day, no exaggeration this. By 2:30 pm, the usuallychoc-a-block roads wore a deserted look. Bursting at its seams, the local trains probably had only the unlucky drivers on duty.
The lucky few, those who had tickets, VIP passes, media accreditation, were about to witness a moment of their lives. Fans started making a beeline to enter the stadium from as early as 10:00 am, for a match that was slated to start at 2:30 pm. Watertight security ensured not even the most famous made it to the stadium with moolah.
Yes, those who had coins of 25 paise, 50 paise, Rs. 1, Rs. 2, Rs. 5 and Rs. 10 in their pockets had to leave it at the entrance of the stadium. Even a certain Michael Vaughan and Derek Pringle, queued up in the media entry in their journalist avatars were frisked and asked to surrender the coins for security reasons.
While the former cricketers-turned-journalists were amused with this, the quintessential Indian fan didn’t battle an eyelid before surrendering the chillar. At the end, it was all worth it for them. From what one could understand, the amount of money collected went into five figures, just in change.
The newly made media box with a capacity of 100 was just not enough. Extra chairs in cramped spaces were provided to many journalists who made it late for the occasion. Mind you these journos came in at 1:30 pm for the 2:30 pm start, which was late to come for a match, especially a World Cup final featuring India.
It was a dramatic start to the final of the World Cup. Confusion reigned during the toss of the coin. Sri Lanka skipper Kumar Sangakkara’s call wasn’t heard by the match referee Jeff Crowe and the former Kiwi player promptly asked for the coin to be re-tossed. Something that plays a big role in deciding the fate of the match was re-done because the boisterous crowd at the stadium made it difficult for the referee to hear the call.
The second toss was done and Sangakkara won it deciding to bat first. The moment brought in a lot of flak for the officials as well as the Lankan skipper. Apparently, the match producers said that they heard Lankan skipper calling. But then all’s well that ends well. The huge contingent of Indian media and the billion fans didn’t mind after all.
So the Lankans, who wanted to banish the memories of a horrible 2007 World Cup final against Australia, were not letting this one go. It wasn’t a start that they wished for as opener Upul Tharanga was undone by an experienced Zaheer Khan’s probing line. The Lankan skipper arrived to the centre in the 7th over itself. In company of Tillakaratne Dilshan, the two batted with intent.
But Harbhajan Singh’s tight spell forced Dilshan to try and break the shackles. And then he tried to sweep a leg side delivery and all but managed to edge it and lob it on to his stumps. This is when the man for the moment arrived. Mahela Jayawardene and Sangakkara, on numerous occasions got Lanka in driver’s seat and this time around too they had no different intentions.
Sanga’s flowing blade and Jayawardene’s imperious touch kept Dhoni guessing. But then the tournament was tailor-made for one man, Yuvraj Singh. The pie-chucker from Punjab pushed one which the Lankan skipper, on 48, edged it to Dhoni. Experienced Thilan Samaraweera came out to accompany Jayawardene. The two put up a 50+ venture before man with the golden-arm, Yuvraj caught Samaraweera (21) right in front of the stumps.
In the 39th over, the Islanders were precariously placed at 179/4. And it got worse as Khan bowling the 40th over foxed new man Chamara Kapugedara with a slower delivery for one. But then Jayawardene on the other end was in sublime touch at 67 then. He was joined by promoted Nuwan Kulasekara who gave him company for a good 69 runs between them.
Kulasekara was unfortunately run out on the last ball of the 48th over in which he had already hit a six and the over had leaked 17 runs and saw Jayawardene complete a deserving century. But it was the last over which saw tide turn in favour of Lankans. Zak was to bowl and Perera had no choice but to try and hit everything to the fence.
At the beginning of the 50th over, Lanka were 256/6 and at the end they were 274/6, thanks to two boundaries, a double and a six by Perera. The total was a tough ask for Dhoni’s men as Lanka had a formidable bowling attack and traditionally the Mumbai strip was never known for big runs and a World Cup final centurions side had never lost the match.
Such was the start of India’s chase that the nation was half dead in the second ball. Lasith Malinga got Virender Sehwag right in front of the stumps. The ear-numbing Wankhede Stadium suddenly became a silence zone. India were 0/1, journos almost began to write India’s obituary, fans were in shock. But Sachin Tendulkar was still there and Gautam Gambhir hit his first ball to the fence.
The two hit a few boundaries to get the crowd going. But in the 7th over, another one from Malinga silenced a billion across the country. Tendulkar’s World Cup was over as he tried to steer an away going delivery which kissed his bat and was pouched by Sangakkara cleanly. Now what? Will India make it?
One man knew it or had seen it well before anyone. Who else but southern superstar Rajnikant. The legendary film star who is known to be ahead of anything and everything in the universe was present at the match and honestly, he looked least flustered with Tendulkar’s fall. Well that’s Rajni for you. Did he really know before everyone that Tendulkar’s wicket wasn’t a big deal after all?
Anyway, Gambhir was joined by his statemate Virat Kohli. The two stitched up a good association slowly and steadily. Gambhir has this knack of rising to the occasion, that too when he is least expected to. The 2007 T20 World Cup final had Gambhir playing the crucial knock and this time around too, he was repeating his feat.
The two Delhiites stayed together for 14-odd overs before a blinder from Dilshan in the 22nd over ended Kohli’s well-stitched stay at the crease. The Lankan opener plucked one from nowhere off his own bowling to give Lanka a crucial breakthrough. At 114/3 then, the match was evenly poised. And in came Dhoni, ahead of in-form Yuvraj. This move surprised one and all, but skipper knew what he was doing.
Journos started calling Dhoni’s move to promote himself as foolish daredevilry which could cost India the World Cup. But then the skipper moved in front because Muttiah Muralitharan was bowling and he knew what to expect of the Lankan wizard as the two played together for Chennai Super Kings. Probably, nobody else than the team management had the wherewithal to think about this.
So the move actually paid dividends. Dhoni and Gambhir both played their strokes as and when needed. Boundaries came exactly when needed. The two ensured the scorers were busy and the equation never went out of India’s reach. Gambhir’s knock was all set to overshadow Jayawardene’s gem. But a reckless shot ended his stay on the crease on 97. Crowd stood up applauding the splendid knock in a World Cup final chase.
But the balance was in India’s favour by then. 52 were required of nine overs. Yuvraj had just joined his skipper and Suresh Raina was still to come. It was India’s title to lose now. The two ensured that there were no further hiccups as Dhoni blasted his way to a memorable, unbeaten 91 of 79 balls with man-of-the-tournament Yuvi in tow.
It was all blur after that, except for like always calm and composed Dhoni, everyone else, including the Blue billion and the players were ecstatic, in tears and didn’t know what to say. Tendulkar’s dream of winning a World Cup was fulfilled, Dhoni had now led India to the peak in all forms of the game and Gary Kirsten’s reign as the Indian coach could not have ended better than this.
Mumbai partied itself out in the night and how. A Saturday Nite fever like never seen before gripped the nation. Why not...