Gary Kirsten enjoying Team India’s win © Getty Images
Gary Kirsten enjoying Team India’s win © Getty Images

 

By Jamie Alter

 

Somewhere over the past three seasons, India crossed the line. They stopped being just a group of outstanding players with impressive numbers, but prone to frustration. They started looking much more like a force of inevitability.

 

A process that began under Sourav Ganguly and John Wright and had started to fade under Rahul Dravid and Greg Chappell was resurrected and then taken to new levels by Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Gary Kirsten. There were hiccups, sure, but the progress was unmistakable. The ICC Twenty20 triumph, the CB Series success, the Test championship, the Asia Cup. This side had begun to believe they were champions.

 

Those of you who mistook this as misplaced arrogance and doubted that this Indian team still didn’t have it in them to click at the final hurdle – and there were plenty of reasons in the past to believe this – the final pieces of evidence were placed before you on Satuday night at the Wankhede Stadium.

 

We’re coming, India warned, and we’re coming hard.

 

From expectant beginning to euphoric finish, this Indian cricket team has come a lifetime in 43 days. It lived up to expectations and its billing as tournament favourites. After 28 years, they ended the wait. The nation celebrated like never before, from Mumbai’s glitterati to New Delhi’s diplomats, and the players let their hair down. Sachin Tendulkar cried tears of joy, resembling a boy much younger in years and freed of a burden weighing him down for years. Harbhajan Singh wept as he kissed the national flag. Virat Kohli, tasting success in his first World Cup, hoisted Tendulkar on his shoulders and spoke of the need to do so.

 

This team buried the mistakes of the past and gave rise to new ones. Steered by a resolute leader in Dhoni and an inspirational coach in Kirsten, and the pair’s faith in each other, India refused to be bogged down by expectancy and injuries and a shaky bowling attack and an allergy to the batting Powerplay. By the time they reached Mumbai, having knocked aside Australia, the defending champions, and Pakistan, the storied arch-rivals, in the knock-outs, the belief had soared to new levels. The stage was set for their biggest act yet, the one that will become their legacy.

 

The self-belief was immense. India took the field each day believing that they could defeat the opposition. They were, in a sense, the new Australia. Teams had always spoken of how they could never take India lightly, but this was something else. There was fear in the opponents’ eyes, even if they fancied their chances against India’s bowling.

 

There were many players in the heroic act. Virender Sehwag started the campaign with 175 and the win over Pakistan with a mad-dash 38; Tendulkar finished the highest run-scorer, unsurprisingly. Gautam Gambhir contributed starts to almost every game and stepped up in the final with 97; Kohli marked his World Cup debut with a century and was always in the middle of things; Yuvraj Singh overcame poor form, rode his luck and made the most of his breaks to finish as Man of the Tournament; Dhoni kept his cool, marshalled the players and saved his best for the final; Suresh Raina got two innings and proved immense; Zaheer Khan was outstanding until his last five overs of the tournament and finished the team’s highest wicket-taker; Munaf Patel and Ashish Nehra played their parts in their own frustratingly unique ways.

 

Aside from the big names, it was the performance of what Nasser Hussain termed the ‘critical masses of this team that was instrumental. Kohli’s form over the past year forced his inclusion for every match and he didn’t disappoint. Raina was shoved onto the bench when the tournament began but when he got his chance, he leapt up and performed. Nehra was castigated for conceding 16 off the final over against South Africa but returned to claim two for 33 against Pakistan. Ravichandran Ashwin spent more time carrying drinks but when he was called on he held his nerve. The fielding clicked when it most needed to – in the final it was outstanding – and the bowlers kept it together for the most part.

 

Paddy Upton, the team’s mental conditioning coach, spoke of how the unit planned the World Cup final a year ago. This was the formula. Winning became a habit over the past two years, home and away, and the scales of the best Test team in the world seeped into the limited-overs mentality. The quality was there, the belief and confidence needed shaping. That is where Kirsten and Upton and the backroom staff must be commended. Their role in making this team a thoroughly confident team has been immeasurable. This side has the look of champions, and rightful champions.

 

India’s rise has been impossible not to notice, and Saturday night was proof that this is how it works for a team that was supposed to win the World Cup.

 

(Jamie Alter is a freelance cricket writer, having worked at ESPNcricinfo and All Sports Magazine. His first book, The History of World Cup Cricket, is out now. His twitter feed is @jamie_alter)