World Cup 2011 April 3, 2011

Dasher Dhoni's masterpiece delivers victory pizza

Yesterday night was a bad time to go far a quiet seaside stroll along Marine Drive, Mumbai

Yesterday night was a bad time to go far a quiet seaside stroll along Marine Drive, Mumbai. I had been told this was one of the more peaceful and relaxing things to do in this ludicrously massive city. Thousands and thousands of people had obviously been given the same advice. Only there was not much strolling, and it was not very quiet.

In scenes reminiscent of the bedlam on the streets of Essex after local hero Peter Such received his first call-up to the England team in 1993 (perhaps even a little more exuberant), India celebrated as long and hard as MS Dhoni had hit the final ball of the World Cup. A tournament which began with jubilation and pride in Bangladesh at the mere fact of hosting the World Cup ended with similar scenes and emotions after India won it. Perhaps there would have been equally boisterous revelry had the home team lost, in celebration of the fact that cricket exists. Perhaps not.

I spent most of India’s innings sitting in the Wankhede stands amidst a crowd that was initially expectant and adulatory as Sachin Tendulkar began as if about to fulfil his unalterable destiny of scoring his 100th international hundred in front of his home-town worshippers to win a World Cup final. Some dextrously finessed twos through the infield, then two boundaries of eye-watering perfection, and the Mumbai Master was on the road to his crowning personal glory. Sadly for the crowd, traffic cop Lasith Malinga pulled him over and confiscated his licence. He pushed, edged, and walked. The crowd was left not merely agog, but severalgogs. A stunned hush clamped the Wankhede, as if the crowd at one of Jesus’ miracles had just seen their hero turn a sickly child into a mahogany bookcase, and mumble “Oops”, before scuttling off saying, “Same time next week?”

Admittedly, the stunned hush was declamped after approximately 0.75 seconds by the inevitable honk of gratingly, wilfully incongruous pop music. But the crowd visibly gulped as someone sang something about someone or something else not even tangentially related to the situation at hand. Not only had the Greatest Story Ever Told (Cricket edition) had its final chapter ripped out by a sub-editor and sent for a rewrite, but the billion-strong dream of an Indian trophy was seemingly about to be interrupted by an aggressively bleepy Sri Lankan alarm clock.

The rebuilding operation began. Gautam Gambhir, a calculating craftsman with a bat made of scalpels, and Virat Kohli, finding substance to whizz together with his style to make a critical-runs cocktail, slowly hauled the Indian ship back onto an even keel. When Kohli’s drink was unexpectedly glugged down by a thirsty Tillakaratne Dilshan caught-and-bowled, MS Dhoni grabbed the game by the throat and barked sternly into its face: “You are coming with me. No arguments. Now sit down, and do exactly what I tell you.”

When India’s captain chose to promote himself above man-of-the-tournament-elect Yuvraj Singh, he made a ballsy decision. He backed it up with granite cojones. Dhoni proceeded to play one of the greatest captain’s innings in modern cricket. A World Cup final was in the balance, the world’s second most populous nation was holding its breath like a miserly boa-constrictor holds on to its wallet; failure could have uncorked a Jeroboam of Chateau Criticism. He survived an early swish at and a testing return catch to Dilshan. Thereafter, he played with powerful precision and glacial self-possession. A careful beginning and rocket-propelled running between the wickets laid the foundations for resounding thumps to the boundary whenever Sri Lanka strayed, then a complete domineering of a flagging and riskily-selected bowling attack in the later stages.

The Wankhede resounded to his name, a 33,000-strong roar saluting a man who had taken it upon himself to ensure the Victory pizza they had ordered arrived at their table, on time, with extra toppings. He finished his masterpiece by obliterating a six into the Mumbai skies, an explosive cherry on an iron-fisted cake. India may well have won anyway without Dhoni’s innings. But their iconic captain ensured the victory, and power-drilled his name even further into the annals of the game.

EXTRAS

● Before Tendulkar was dismissed, India’s other batting genius, Virender Sehwag, had already departed, trapped leaden-footed-leg-before-wicket second ball. In yesterday’s blog, I predicted an Indian win, with Sehwag playing a crucial innings. I was right. On both counts. Sehwag’s two-ball zilcher was crucial on two counts. 1: It wore the new ball out. A little. His pads are coated with a radioactive isotope that makes shiny leather biodegrade. That is a fact. And 2: It gave Gambhir and Dhoni ample time to build and pace their innings to perfection. Had Sehwag scored a 100-ball duck, or a 50-ball 100, the thought processes of his team-mates would have been scrambled. Inevitably. Another prediction triumph, then, for the On The Road With Zaltzman column.

● Sri Lanka paid for selecting three new bowlers for the final. They paid heavily. In fact, they blew everything they had earned through Mahela Jayawardene’s sublime century; they maxed out their credit card and were ushered out of the restaurant. Their selection was a high-stakes gambit. Nuwan Kulasekara had not played since the group stage, Thisara Perera had bowled 15 expensive overs since Sri Lanka’s opener against Canada, none of them in the last three weeks, and Suraj Randiv had not played an ODI since November. He had to step up from playing for Bloomfield against Saracens in Colombo last week to playing against the World’s top-ranked Test and second-ranked one-day side in a World Cup final yesterday. With all due respect to Saracens, against whom Randiv took 12 wickets, India have proven themselves to be the superior batting team. Ajantha Mendis, outstanding recently but with a dicey recent record against India, and Rangana Herath joined the injured Angelo Mathews on the sidelines. The three new men took 1 for 162 in 26.2 overs. Which was approximately the equivalent of India picking three Sreesanths.

● The wild communal jubilation on the streets around the Wankhede was mostly in exuberant good nature. One man scooting past in a crowded car, however, leaned out of the window and shouted at me: “Go home, white man, go home.”

I do not like to jump to negative conclusions about people, and am unwilling to suggest that his comment was more than 60 years late, so I am prepared to accept that he was an employee of the airline company I am flying back to Britain with today, who had hunted me down on the packed streets of Mumbai to give me a verbal flight reminder. For which I am eternally grateful.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

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