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Team India : Champions of the World

Mumbai: Living up to the hopes and fervent wishes of a billion people, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Team India lifted the 2011 World Cup of Cricket by beating Sri Lanka by six wickets at the Wankhede Stadium here on Saturday.

It was a dream that has taken 28 long, occasionally tortured years in fructifying, but when it turned into reality, Dhoni’s India stood on top of the peak, unchallenged and proud as the champions of the world.

Replying to Sri Lanka’s challenging 274 for six, India scored 277 for four, registering a commanding triumph with 10 deliveries to spare. Fittingly, it was captain Dhoni, the Man of the Match with 91 not out, who hit the winning run with a rousing six over long-on.

In a fantastic final that lived up to its billing and produced a contest worthy of the occasion, India breezed past a spirited Sri Lanka in front of more than 32,000 delighted fans. The audience included the Presidents of India and Sri Lanka was treated to a wonderful exhibition of batsmanship from India’s formidable line-up in which Captain Courageous stood out for his sense of occasion.

The crowd didn’t get to see a coveted 100th international century from its favourite son, Sachin Tendulkar, but the disappointment at his cheap dismissal quickly gave way to unbridled joy at a team victory that brought the World Cup back to India for the first time since Kapil Dev’s team had shown the way in 1983.

Mahela Jayawardene’s classy 14th hundred appeared set to extend the jinx of home teams in the World Cup as Sri Lanka made the most of batting first, posting a more than competitive 274 for six. The pressure of a Cup final, and having to bat second, made that total look a lot more, but despite losing Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar early, India found their heroes in Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir, who emphasised the depth of Indian batting.

For a nation starved of epochal victories in team sport, this triumph will forever remain special. The team had captured the imagination of the country with its exploits in the quarterfinal and the semifinal. In the final, they showed the same single-mindedness of purpose that has taken them to the top of the Test standings, and even when they were pushed to a corner on a couple of occasions, they bounced back in spectacular fashion.

Dhoni was the Man of the Match and the irrepressible Yuvraj Singh the Player of the Tournament, but this was a triumph for Team India, committed, driven and desperate. That desperation showed in their remarkably high fielding standards at the beginning of the afternoon, and in the calculated, clinical run-chase under lights masterminded by the fire of Gambhir and the ice-cool of Dhoni.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything more than this,” said Tendulkar, in his sixth and most certainly last World Cup. “Winning the World Cup is the proudest moment of my life. The team stuck together in the rough phases and proved people who doubted our ability wrong. The self-belief has always been there but in the last two years, we have been very consistent. It’s been great honour to be part of this team.”

Tendulkar was the force that kept pushing the team towards the summit. Virat Kohli, one year old when Tendulkar made his international debut, was one of those who carried the great man on his shoulders on a victory lap around the ground, and aptly summed up the mood of the team. “He has carried Indian cricket on his shoulders for 20 years, the least we could do is carry him around the ground,” said the young man who led India to the under-19 World Cup title in 2008.

The fireworks on the field gave way to fireworks of the genuine kind as the clock ticked over to 11.30 pm. Dhoni received the cup from Sharad Pawar, the president of the International Cricket Council, formalising India’s status as the World Cup champions. Kapil Dev and his team are no longer alone!

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