ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

India v Sri Lanka, final, World Cup 2011, Mumbai

Mature India refuse to be beaten

Over the course of six weeks, and with their victory in the final, India busted a few old theories while proving several of their own ones right

Sharda Ugra at the Wankhede Stadium

April 3, 2011

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The Indian team celebrates with the World Cup, India v Sri Lanka, final, World Cup 2011, Mumbai, April 2, 2011
India learnt from the mistakes of 2003 to win the trophy in 2011 © AFP
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Just before the Indians left their Ahmedabad hotel for their first knock-out match of the 2011 World Cup, six men spoke to the team. They were players from the Class of 2003. Each of them told their team-mates his own story about what had happened at the Wanderers that day, about the mistakes of eight years ago that should not be repeated. They had tried too hard, they had been too eager, they had allowed the situation to overwhelm them. It was a cautionary tale. Their words were few, short, and plain and they gave the younger, newer, less-scarred group in front of them a simple instruction: not again.

It is how India have performed at the tail end of the World Cup, looking at how their group stage had gone and saying "never again". So that in the last fortnight of this World Cup, they could find a way to ensure that their early mistakes would not be repeated.

It is often believed that finals somehow never turn out to be the events that are expected because the high stakes make athletes go cold and freeze up. Much is also said about what captain MS Dhoni called "peaking" in an event, which works more smoothly with individuals than it does with teams.

On both counts the Indians came off at the Wankhede Stadium, like the fireworks that lit up the Mumbai night seconds after Dhoni's bold signature six sealed their triumph. The final was the time when all the incomplete notes of India's World Cup performance fell into sync.

Gautam Gambhir, who had three fifties in the Cup but had not seized a game by its throat, produced his most convincing performance to lift India from the shock of losing their openers. He was central to two partnerships that took India from 31 for 2 to a six-wicket victory.

Dhoni, whose top World Cup score up until the final had been 34, strode out and did not leave the field until victory had been achieved. Of course Yuvraj Singh, the Player of the Tournament and the Indian team's totem through the early rough stages of the tournament, had to be with him at the other end. After defeat to South Africa in the group stages in Nagpur, India's biggest stumble in the World Cup, Yuvraj had told a friend, "I have to take us to the World Cup final. Just you watch. I'm going to take them there."

There they were. Not a familiar India, dependent on their batting, but a more secure, self-assured India, batting as if chases in finals were like having a net, except with a crowd cheering them on. This was India in their most accomplished situational batting performance of the event, chasing down 274 with 99 singles, 24 twos and even a three. In every knock-out game, India have, through sheer consistency of method, exposed the weakness of their opposition. They made the most of Australia's uneven bowling attack, defended against Pakistan by pressing hard in the field and forcing their batsmen to fumble, and stunned Sri Lanka by letting the weight and experience of their batting bear down, by taking the barest minimum of risks but making sure to always keep the score moving.

India's danger signs for the opposition in this World Cup lay not in their attacking openers or any flood of fours but in what their weakest links were able to do. When Indian fielders start diving, their batsmen start taking threes or sprinting surprising singles, or their most medium of pacers begin to repeatedly beat the edges and hurry batsmen, it is time for the opposition to worry. Or as the old says goes, to be afraid. In a World Cup knockout, that should have read be very afraid.

After the game at the Wankhede, Dhoni said that the World Cup win had ended a chapter in Indian cricket that had opened with the World Twenty20 win of 2007. "Right now we can close the chapter. We need to build a team again. Because of the amount of cricket we play, we need quite a few reserve players to come in and bowl. We need spinners and batsmen to be at their best because if we want to do well at the international level, we will have to try out quite a few players and not think about the result."

Two weeks ago the audience would have guffawed. Now it must nod in agreement. Today it is perhaps wiser to give Dhoni and India's theories the time to be tried out. After all, over the course of six weeks, with their victory, they have busted a few old ones and proved several of their own right.

- That home teams are jinxed in the World Cup and chasing in finals is only a prelude to a meltdown. The Indians managed both at the Wankhede, setting the benchmark for World Cup final chases. If playing at home meant enduring the growing weight of public hope, it was also about enjoying the familiarity of conditions.

An emotional Yuvraj Singh is embraced by Suresh Raina, India v Sri Lanka, final, World Cup 2011, Mumbai, April 2, 2011
Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina were battle tested by the time India reached the final © AFP

- That options exercised, whether in matches or training, can work if planned smartly. Dhoni said the Indians had known the group stages were going to contain "weak games" and they would need to keep their most seasoned players in prime condition going into the knockouts. "It was a big challenge, series by series we gave rest, or players opted for rest. And to be in a position where we were able to give 100% on the field, each individual throwing themselves around. They had a bit of reserve battery, which they applied throughout the tournament."

- That in a major event, covering the most trying of yards and being pushed to the edge is always more useful than coasting through to the final hurdle. In the final, Sri Lanka faced the heat for the first time in their World Cup and could not fall back into producing what their opponents know as their trademark move when defending a score: the mid-innings garotte. It begins with a few tight overs, the tap of runs suddenly shrinking to a trickle, moves onto a field closing in on the batsmen, and finally ends with one wicket and then another. On the contrary, the Indians had earlier survived several 31 for 2-like scenarios before. Had they lost Dhoni soon, the batsmen who followed - Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina knew how to resuscitate an innings because they had been there, done that. Yuvraj with Raina versus Australia, and Raina with the lower order against Pakistan.

- That fielding can be lifted, no matter what vintage the players may belong to. All through the tournament Dhoni had constantly reminded outsiders that the Indians were not really good fielders, yet in the knockouts they stepped up a level with every game. No matter how clumsy or unpolished their techniques, the oldest and creakiest of the Indians were diving to stop boundaries.

Had the India of the World Cup group stages, the India seen in Bangalore or Nagpur, been fielding at the Wankhede, the target could have touched 300, because the wicket had smoothed out towards the end of Sri Lanka's innings. The dazzle of India's batting is well known; the bowling, led by Zaheer Khan all through the tournament, had fought back to win territory in the early rounds, like they did against England.

Where India were most astonishingly impressive during the knockouts was in cricket's most "unselfish" art - in the field. All through the tournament Dhoni, who specialises in automobile analogies, had compared the Indian fielding to an old car engine trying to adjust to working with hybrid fuel. After the semi-final, he said that all he hoped for now was one more game. "After that, even if some of the cars fall down, it is okay."

Then there is this last theory: about India not really hacking it in recent ICC tournaments. Partly true. Not in the World Twenty20 after 2007, not in the Champions Trophy either. But in this one, the ICC's biggest tournament, the Indians more than hacked it. When it came down to the rounds where both ability and nerve came into play, India became the team that refused to be beaten.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Comments: 63 
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Posted by V.L on (April 6, 2011, 1:09 GMT)

Diehard is Australian alright. We never heard them complain when things were going their way. And to hold championships all through the year is ludicrous! Do you have any idea how much of preparation it takes to run a cup of this magnitude? Even the FIFA that you are talking about does not hold these mindless championships you are referring to!

Posted by Greg on (April 4, 2011, 19:25 GMT)

The interesting thing is that the supposed "chokers" were the only team to beat India in the World Cup (as well as 3-2 in the series leading up to it)!

Posted by Dummy4 on (April 4, 2011, 18:58 GMT)

@diehard - learn to praise! Nothing can take away the brilliance of this Indian Team. Every team has flaws but this India Team had the self belief to take it to the end. This is not the forum to give your nonsensical ideas about tennis type touranments. Cricket is Cricket. Once again - enjoy this moment.

Posted by Mohan on (April 4, 2011, 17:51 GMT)

@diehard: u an australian??? 'cause I agree completely. never thought the australians who won the 3 cups and 16 tests in row were any good either.

Posted by Hemant on (April 4, 2011, 15:29 GMT)

Great victory indeed!! But honestly I dont believe this is the greatest ONE DAY SIDE EVER!! West Indians of 1979 and Australians of 2003 were superior as a side. And if this World cup had been played on seaming bouncy wickets,only Tendulkar would have made runs. Yuvi and Raina are no good against seam and bounce while Sehwag is very vunerable to seam. Gambhir and Dhoni are so so against quality fast bowling on seaming pitches. Without Dravid(hes done) and Laxman this batting is going to be quickly exposed abroad believe me. And the bowling is totally useless!! I am a big Indian supporter but this team has huge holes!!

Posted by Dummy4 on (April 4, 2011, 14:44 GMT)

I was waiting 4 this moment in my life!! I can die with happiness now!!may the ghosts of 2003 Wcup rest in peace!!A huge monkey is off the back now!!! as it is said that nothing succeeds like success I have some fascinating facts- -sri lanka lost both Wcup finals when they were outperformed by the wicketkeeper.Even in their T20 cup 2009 final,kamran demolished their bowling, -india won both ODI Wcups on saturday, -india started the campaign with a 4 and ended it with a 6, -india played their last and first match against the 2 teams with oustered then in 2007 Wcup, -Shane Warne emerged as "PAUL" of cricket, -sri lanka didn't beat any Wcup winning side in this Wcup, -mahela scored ton in a losing cause, -highest ever run chase in final, -274 was enough 4 srilanka 2 win..but they saw rajni & ghajini in crowd.. -home side jinx broken, -gambhir top scored under MS in both finals of 2007 t20 and this one, -srilanka drinking the tea in plate...coz india took away the cup.LOL

Posted by Dev Alok on (April 4, 2011, 14:25 GMT)

I feel bad for the 2007 team. Thanks to Greg they were totally out of sort. Gary on the other hand kept this team focussed and made them believe. I am happy!!!

Posted by Ajay on (April 4, 2011, 14:20 GMT)

Dhoni took the game by the scruff of the neck and won it for INDIA ............. CHAK DE INDIA.........

Posted by Balachander on (April 4, 2011, 7:11 GMT)

Dhonis has proved that critics are wrong particularly Mr. Deano who asked dhoni not to dream of the CUP which has proved wrng. KUDOS TO DHONI & TEAM

Posted by Dummy4 on (April 4, 2011, 7:01 GMT)

@diehard-5 I agree with you. Though , Me being an India I would cherish this victory to the fullest and would say this is edition of World-Cup was a balanced outing for all the teams in all the departments of the game , namely, spin , pace [conventional & reverse swing] as well as batting against spin and pace.This is testified by the highest wicket-takers tag that is shared by Zaheer and Afridi jointly[ a spinner and a pacer]. However, if ICC instead of allowing nations to play each other via bi-lateral series , they should conduct a series of tournaments in different pitches and conditions and crown a team based on its outcome.

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