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Monday, April 4, 2011

Captain's innings

India v Sri Lanka: captain's innings from Mahendra Singh Dhoni seals World Cup with final flourish

Cricket World Cup Final 2011: India (277-4) beat Sri Lanka (274-6) by six wickets

Agony and the ecstasy: Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara looks on as India's Yuvraj Singh hugs captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni after he scored the winning runs Photo: REUTERS

India owed their second World Cup to their magnificent batsmen. Their two finest – Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag – did not score 20 between them, yet the remaining Indian batsmen knocked off the runs with six wickets and ten balls to spare in the highest successful run-chase that any of the ten cup finals has seen.

The weight of expectation on India was enormous – from the outset of this tournament they have been the favourites – but they followed the example of their captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni in withstanding it. If Brazil win a football World Cup at home, they will have a small and silent fan-base compared to the Indian cricket team last evening and their 1.2 billion home supporters.

Sri Lanka were handicapped by dew when they bowled towards the end of India’s innings, and by the absence through injury of their brilliant young batting-allrounder Angelo Mathews, which precipitated four changes to their semi-final team that rather weakened their bowling. Even so, for India to chase down 275 with quite a lot in hand was a superlative effort.

The first time that India won the World Cup, in 1983, their players were given plots of land by the government and practically deified. When India won the inaugural World Twenty20, their team bus was brought to a standstill by millions – literally – thronging Marine Drive, outside the Wankhede stadium where they won last night. But these will be minor celebrations by comparison with winning this World Cup on home soil.
India’s joy made for a sad last international match for Sri Lanka’s mystery spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, not to mention for Mahela Jayawardene. The latter scored a century of almost sublime beauty, only to see it outweighed by Gautam Gambhir and Dhoni in their partnership of 109.

It was the sixth century in a World Cup final, but the first for a losing side.

It was also a great night for Tendulkar, who did not make his 100th international hundred but who was carried around the outfield at the finish on the shoulders of his adoring teammates. ‘The proudest moment of my life,’ Tendulkar called it, after a career that has given no cricketer since Don Bradman more cause for pride.

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