When India won its first ICC World Cup in 1983, it transformed the history of Indian cricket. Hockey was India’s national game but on June 25, 1983, only one sport could be heard of – cricket.
Fans believed India could do it again under Kapil Dev’s captaincy in the 1987 Reliance World Cup but were stunned by Graham Gooch’s sweep at the iconic Wankhede Stadium in the semi-finals. Indian fans had to go through the same heartbreak of losing yet another semi-final at home in 1996, this time at Eden Gardens at the hands of Sri Lanka. Both the times, in 1987 and 1996, India were favourites to win but the pressure got to them and they were beaten.
So when the ICC World Cup was co-hosted in 2011 by both India and Sri Lanka, hopes of every Indian fan were raised again. India started once again as favourites for the 2011 World Cup and this being Sachin Tendulkar’s last World Cup after having played four World Cups earlier without tasting success, there was a lot at stake for the team; to give the little master a proper send-off and to prove to their die-hard fans that they could do it this time.
Fourteen teams were taking part in the 2011 World Cup and India’s first match was against Bangladesh who had been the main reason of their first round shock exist in the 2007 World Cup in West Indies. India had to take the monkey off their back and did so with a resounding victory and so started their campaign of the World Cup with a win. But there was drama when they faced England at Bengaluru where the game ebbed and flowed and the match ended in a thrilling tie. India then lost to South Africa in a close game, and doubts began to creep into fans’ minds for even though Indian batting was strong, their bowling against England and South Africa was found wanting. India came second in their group behind South Africa and had to face four-time world champion Australia at Ahmedabad. When Rick Ponting led from the front by scoring a hundred and India was struggling at one stage at 180 for five and their last recognised pair at crease, it was once again Yuvraj Singh - who had had a great run at the World Cup both with the bat and ball – that bailed India out along with Suresh Raina to take India in to the semis where they bumped into arch rivals Pakistan. Pakistan were peaking at the right time in that tournament but India got the better of them in yet another thrilling game.
India had four tough games before reaching the finals and it seemed they might have run out of gas when Sri Lanka piled up 274 on the back of a poetic hundred from Mahela Jayawardene and all seemed to be lost when India were two down for nothing with Sehwag and Sachin both back in the hut. It was all too much for a faithless few in the crowd who turned their backs on the game and set off for home as they did not want to see another heart-breaking loss.
But one man had other ideas. It was Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who came in at number five ahead of Yuvraj Singh, along with Gautam Gambhir, who scored a crucial 97, that took India to the threshold of a victory which brought a smile back on a billion fans. Captain Dhoni scored an unbeaten 91 off just 79 balls. What the nation had demanded was the World Cup and Mahendra Singh Dhoni delivered it.
There were many heroes of this World Cup win; Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Raina, Dhoni, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel, Ashish Nehra, but one player stood out - Yuvraj Singh, who battled cancer and deservedly won the Player of the World Cup award for his all-round performance. There were many emotional moments after the final runs were scored but Virat Kohli’s statement that "Sachin Tendulkar has carried the burden of the nation for 22 years, it was time we carried him" and when the little master was being carried on the shoulders for a victory lap said it all.
To those fans who pointed out correctly that superpower status in the boardroom rang hollow without silverware, this was a moment of Indian cricket learning to walk the talk. World Cup wins don't come easy, it took India 28 years to win its second title, not sure when will India get its third. Ask Williamson’s New Zealand who were almost there at the 2019 World Cup and are yet to win one.