Very often finals are a big anticlimax. The last exciting final in the Cricket World Cup was in 1996 when Sri Lanka chased down Australia’s 240 odd runs. The Australian era of domination meant a lot of lopsided encounters but, as was expected in this edition, 2 even teams produced a great contest.
The stage was set right at the toss when the crowd noise prompted the referee to have a second toss which Sri Lanka won. India too would have batted first, if they won the toss. So in hindsight it was a good toss to lose, with the dew coming in at the end. The Indian fielding was at it’s brilliant best. As against Pakistan and Australia, the inner ring was electric. Yuvraj , Raina and Kohli let nothing through and strangled the prolific Lankan openers. Tharanga played away from his body and was smartly snapped up by Sehwag. This was during an amazing Zaheer spell of 5-3-6-1. That set the tone and Sri Lanka were off to a very slow start. Dilshan and Sangakarra calmed the nerves a bit until Dilshan was unlucky to be bowled around his legs off Harbhajan. At 60-2 they were in a spot of bother but in comes Jayawardene waxes eloquent. Jayawardene in full flight is similar to a Michaelangelo Painting or a Beethoven composition -art in its purest divine form. His wrists and bat caressed the cricket ball to all the corners of the ground at impossible angles. The sheer timing on the late cuts and wristy flicks was amazing and the placement impeccable. Mahela without breaking a sweat scored a chanceless 103 of 88 balls whicha was as easy on the eye as a the beautiful Mumbai sunset. Yuvraj took 2 wickets for 49 and continued his good run with the ball. Sangakarra threw away his hand at 48 but Kulasekara and Perrera assisted Sri Lanka to reach 274 , with an explosive finish. 18 runs of the last Zaheer Khan over and it seemed that the Lankans had enough on the board.Besides India had to overcome history, 241 was the highest score to be successfully chased in a World Cup Final, no team which had a centurion in the first innings had lost the final and only 2 out of 7 times had the chasing team won the World Cup.
Malinga consolidated the advantage with an explosive opening spell that accounted for Sehwag and the master- Tendulkar. Sachin looked in complete control till he edged one to Sanga for 18. No hundredth hundred for him. But it was not about personal goals. Sachin would gladly trade any hundred for a World Cup title. And that is what the young turks of the Indian team scripted for him. Gautam Gambhir played the ODI innings of his life so far. With twinkling feet he dominated the spinners and took calculated risks to ensure that the run rate was always within reach. Sri Lanka dropped Gautam at 30 when Kulasejara was slow to judge the chip shot at longoff and spilt a difficult one. Gambhir was ably supported by Virat Kohli who was dismissed by Dilshan. against the run of play, with a brilliant return catch.
At 114-3 India were looking shaky and would have been in trouble if they lost another wicket. Dhoni , the captain courageous, promoted himself in a masterstroke of a move. It kept the right hand- left hand combination intact and with his explosive running ensured that the singles and twos kept coming. He was explosive on the off side and struck some powerful boundaries , in an innings that will raise his stature manyfold in Indian folklore. If Gambhir’s was a classical innings , Dhoni’s was an incisve, cut and dry innings which coupled brute power with brainy defence to take India home with an over to spare. Gambhir succumbed to a rush of blood, 3 short of a deserved century but the dynamic duo of Indian cricket Dhoni and Yuvi took India through. Dhoni cloberring a six to finish the match and consolidating his position as the best Indian Captain.He also kept his word – winning the World Cup for Sachin Tendulkar.
It has been a great win by Team India. Great performances , sometimes against the odds with contributions from all the team members. Yuvraj deservedly won the man of the tournament and Dhoni the man of the match. The fielding and commitment to the cause has been a revelation and India’s youngest old man, Sachin Tendulkar, has watched his dream come true. A generation of cricketers that drew inspiration from his genius gifted him his crowning glory. He can retire now anytime in the next 2-3 years as a reigning World Champion.