Yuvraj Singh, Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan, MS Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir: The 5 architects of India's 2011 World Cup win
- As the country celebrates a decade of India's historic win on April 2, 2011, we look at the five players - Yuvraj Singh, Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan, Gautam Gambhir, MS Dhoni - without whom it couldn't have been possible.
April 2, 2021, marks 10 years since India lifted the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup, becoming the first team to experience World Cup glory at home. India broke Australia's streak of three consecutive World Cup wins – 1999, 2003 and 2007 – on the back of some scintillating performances throughout the tournament.
From beating Bangladesh comprehensively in the opener, to tying a nerve-racker of a contest against England to finally trumping Sri Lanka in the final, the night of April 2, 2011 – when MS Dhoni lofted Kulasekara into the stands at the Wankhede Stadium, backed by bone-chilling lines from Ravi Shastri on air – sent the entire country into euphoria. 28 years since Kapil Dev's Daredevils had done the unthinkable in 1983, history was created once again. And as the country celebrates a decade of India's historic win, we look at the five players without whom it couldn't have been possible.
1) Yuvraj Singh
The quintessential hero of India's World Cup win, Yuvraj Singh emerged as the single-biggest match winner for India during their 2011 World Cup campaign. In the build-up to the World Cup, Yuvraj endured a lean run in South Africa, scoring 91 runs from five matches at an average of 18.20. But that wasn't to deter the explosive left-handed batsman from producing the performance of a lifetime. After not getting the opportunity to bat against Bangladesh with India steamrolling them by 87 runs, Yuvraj, in his first match of the tournament, hit 58 off 77 balls against England, which ended in a tie. He followed it with consecutive half-centuries against Ireland and Netherlands as India registered comfortable wins.
His most impactful knock came in the next game, against the West Indies. With India at 2/51, Yuvraj walked out and creamed his maiden World Cup hundred, allowing India to post 268. It was prior to this very match that Yuvraj was coughing blood and did not know he was ailing. And yet, he carried on. Yuvraj followed his hundred with another equally enthralling knock. With India facing Australia in the quarter-final, and finding themselves at 5/187 in chase of 261, Yuvraj and Suresh Raina added an unbeaten 74 runs with the all-rounder remaining unbeaten on 57 off 65 balls with eight fours. The sight of Yuvraj spanking Brett Lee for the winning cover drive still makes for an emphatic image. Yuvraj was the joint-third-highest wicket-taker of the tournament too with 15 scalps.
2) Sachin Tendulkar
23 years and five World Cups later, the great Sachin Tendulkar finally realised his dream of winning the World Cup for India. In 1996 and 2003, when Tendulkar had racked up 523 and 673 runs respectively, his team fell short, losing in the semi-final and final of the two ICC World Cups. But this time around, the narrative changed, and Tendulkar was at the forefront of it. Not only was Tendulkar the second-highest scorer of the tournament behind Tillakaratne Dilshan, he was right up there among his teammates with 482 runs.
This was the time when noises surrounding his 100th century were picking up. After looking in brilliant nick against Bangladesh before getting run out, Tendulkar notched up his fifth World Cup century against England. Against South Africa, where India tasted their only defeat of the tournament, Tendulkar sizzled with yet another ton – and perhaps one of his most entertaining ones. With the crucial Q/F against Australia coming up, Tendulkar was determined not to get out early like he did all those years ago at the Wanderers, and formed a sedate opening partnership with Virender Sehwag, scoring 53. The chancy 85 against Pakistan wasn't his most polished knock by any stretch of the imagination, but it held the Indian innings together even when wickets were falling. In the big final, Tendulkar was dismissed cheaply, but it didn't matter as India's cricket icon would be rewarded by the moment he had dreamt of since he was 10 not long after.
3) Zaheer Khan
Eight years after bowling that dreadful first over that many believe, set the tone of Australia's 125-run thrashing of India in the 2003 World Cup final, Zaheer Khan redeemed himself and how? The then-leader of India's pace attack, Zaheer emerged as the leading-wicket taker of the tournament along with Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi. Zaheer, now a veteran, often provided India an early breakthrough, picking up a three-wicket-haul four times in the tournament, and his three-wicket-burst against England opened up the game when Andrew Strauss' team seemed to be cruising at one stage chasing 339.
Wicketless in his first spell, Zaheer, bowling the 43rd over, turned the game on its head, when he dismissed the set duo of Ian Bell and Strauss off back-to-back deliveries, putting on a fine display of reverse swing. In his next over, he foxed Paul Collingwood with a slower one to reduce England from 2/281 to 5/285. In the crunch final, Zaheer bowled three maidens before his figures were spoiled in the last two overs. Nonetheless, the left-arm quick was the real-showstopper with the ball in India's World Cup win.
4) Gautam Gambhir
People may remember Gautam Gambhir for his match-winning 97 in the final, but many tend to forget that after Tendulkar, he was the second leading run-scorer for India in the tournament, with 393 runs from nine matches. On the rare occasions that India lost an early wicket, Gambhir would come in and steady the innings. Three of his four half-centuries came against England (51), South Africa (69) and Australia (50), before the left-handed batsman saved his best for last.
Four years prior, when India were facing Pakistan in the final of the first-ever T20 World Cup, Gambhir held one end up, scoring 75 and allowing India to post a total. Here, with Sehwag and Tendulkar gone early and the score reading 31/2, Gambhir stitched a partnership of 83 runs with Virat Kohli, before being involved in a game-defining alliance with skipper Dhoni. Together, they added 109 runs batting 20 overs before a selfless Gambhir was bowled for 97. Dhoni finished the match off in style, but without Gambhir's genius, the result could have panned out differently.
5) MS Dhoni
Just as he always likes, the last one to take credit. MS Dhoni etched his name in the history books when joined Kapil Dev as only the second captain to lead India to World Cup glory. Four years after his effigies and posters were burned as part of public backlash following India's first-round elimination in the 2007 World Cup, Dhoni gave Indian cricket the moment that could match the impact of 1983.
Struggling for form the entire tournament, Dhoni pulled off a masterstroke, promoting himself ahead of the in-form Yuvraj in the final. This is when he had scores of 31, 34, 19*, 12*, 22, 7 and 25. In form or not, Dhoni proved why he was destiny's favourite child, cutting, pulling, smashing his way to an unbeaten 91. Less than five hours after the nation had its heart broken with the dismissal of Tendulkar, Dhoni, with his iconic six – that became the most prolific image of his career – fulfilled the dream of not only an entire nation but also his peers. India had come to a standstill, and the warriors, who had served Indian cricket for years, couldn't contain their emotions. What a moment, what a captain, what a win.