For both the modern Indian cricketer and fan, the allure of the World Cup is unique. It is, quite simply, the apogee of the game that defines the world's populous democracy.
During an interview with this newspaper, Sachin Tendulkar had told me that his greatest moment on a cricket field was winning the World Cup in 2011. Not the hundred at Perth in 1991 or the debut century at Old Trafford or one of many, many stellar achievements in a career without parallel.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni ranks India's exit in the group stages in 2007 as his worst moment on a cricket field. Not being eviscerated 0-4 and 0-4 by England and Australia in successive Test series. Not losing 1-2 at home in Tests to England in 2012. Being knocked out in the group stages in World Cup, he felt, was the lowest ebb of his career.
Most Indian fans, always oscillating between extravagant hope and deep despair, excitable and demanding, scale the greatest heights of frenzy and overreaction during this tournament. The World Cup provides a quadrennial occasion unlike any other for the outpouring of jingoism, hysteria and mass participation. The attraction of ODI cricket may on occasion pale beside the wham-bang of Twenty20, but the place of the World Cup in the fan's heart is secure, inviolable.
To understand why this is so, we have to go back to a sun-splashed glorious summer's afternoon in London nearly 32 years ago. 25 June, 1983. The World Cup final in which India beat the reigning champions, the West Indies. Batting first, India scored 183. The West Indies, the most formidable team in world cricket by some distance, looked set to overtake that without even breaking into a canter. Viv Richards, his eyes alight with the intent of slaughter, was being imperious as only he could.
And then Richards pulled Madan Lal, miscued it a fraction, the ball traced a parabola and Kapil Dev ran backwards, ran, ran with the sun in his eyes and our hearts in our hands, till he had the ball in his cupped palms. The beginning of the end for the champions. The beginning of the beginning of India's great love affair with the World Cup. Later there was the spray of champagne from the balcony, the droplets catching and refracting the late afternoon sunlight. A group of men smiled like they had never smiled before. Kapil's Devils. World champions.