Aspirations are lovely. But confirmation is beautiful. It is now confirmed that Mahendra Singh Dhoni leads a world champion team. For a nation that looks for heroes (and villains) to form snap judgements, Saturday’s World Cup final at Wankhede Stadium provided a refreshing and glorious change.
There was a phalanx of heroes, led from the front by the Indian captain and ably supported by a team that went beyond the players and included coach Gary Kirsten and Team India’s support staff. And it was apt that the match that decided who were world champions was the finest game of the Cup. It is worth noting that in the after-match celebratory photographs of Team India with the ICC World Cup trophy, the skipper was nudged into the side of the frame. What makes Dhoni such a tremendous leader is that he knows when to take centrestage and lead from the front — on the pitch — and when to let his teammates bask in their collective glory — in the celebrations.
The question mark that hung over the Indian team lifting the World Cup was always about its ‘completeness’. No one doubted India’s batting prowess. What raised concerns was whether India’s bowlers and fielders would be able to take advantage of a batting line-up that was as ‘wide’ as it was ‘deep’. In past World Cups, the ‘depth’ was seen as being an automatic ticket to glory. But giants of the game such as Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag were there four years ago; they were there again now. What made the vital difference was the fact that the Indian team was one cohesive unit that was more than just a sum of its parts. And this was evident throughout this tournament and never more than in Mumbai on Saturday evening.
What we saw in the final was a distillation of the World Cup itself. Sri Lankan skipper Kumar Sangakkara led a team that was precise, talented and on a roll. The 275-run target, fuelled by a glorious 103 not out by Mahela Jayawardane, was a challenging one for India. But if India was such a great batting team, it was reckoned they would reach it. And they did. The Indian innings showed something that may still be eluding the India supporter: that Team India is not just Tendulkar and Sehwag with a supporting cast of nine other players. If anything, the failures of the legendary opening batting pair helped to drive home this point. Gautam Gambhir showed a firm head on his shoulders and a fine grip on his bat with his 97. Yuvraj Singh continued his incredible World Cup streak and showed that a man had stepped in for the youngster that he was. But it was the captain — so refreshingly different from the mental make-up and expectations of all those cheering on India — who showed grit, temperament and the sheer beauty of a well-paced innings that was never shorn of excitement despite its display of control and lack of ‘flash’. Dhoni and his boys, under the shine of Kirsten, have done something that we thought would have been easy to do much earlier. This team just showed that it knew the difference between wanting something and getting it. And with Dhoni we were witness to steely resolve flashing a smile.