Young Virat Kohli carries Sachin Tendulkar on his shoulders during the lap of honour after Indiaâ s epic win over Sri Lanka in the World Cup final © Getty Images
Young Virat Kohli carries Sachin Tendulkar on his shoulders during the lap of honour after Indiaâ s epic win over Sri Lanka in the World Cup final © Getty Images

 

By H Natarajan

 

Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan – Unknown

 

We Indians are amazing lot. We lavish praise on our heroes, but are as quick in savaging them at their next moment of failure. The shelf-life of reputations is sometime just one ball! There is no margin for failures; no allowance for the heaps of good done in the immediate past… this is their idea of living in the now!

 

Hours before the floodgates of happiness opened on Saturday night at the Wankhede Stadium, the Indian team was subject to a familiar routine condemnation – the damnation cutting across geographical and social divides of the country, across age groups, across gender and, most importantly, across IQ levels. Is this what they mean by cricket being a great leveller! Obviously, not! But that’s how it seems.

 

Sri Lanka had taken the Indian bowling to the cleaners at the death. A total of 275 had never been chased in a World Cup final. India had to do now under lights and the intense pressure of unforgiving home crowd.

 

The first step towards ‘Mission Impossible’ was a handsome start. All eyes were on Virender Sehwag to give the team a flyer. But Sehwag was gone second ball for duck! That was a devastating blow – a hit in the solar plexus. And when Sachin Tendulkar became the second Indian wicket to fall with the Indian score on 31, the nation went into a collective maun vrat (vow to be silent). In their mind, it was the end of India’s dreams to win the 2011 World Cup. In boxing terms, it was the mandatory count after the canvas kiss. The knock-out would soon follow. The sight of Lasith Malinga was as terrifying as Mike Tyson at his savage best in the ring.

 

Soon the stunned silence gave way to anger…and the flow of familiar smses… India throwing the match away because of selling themselves to the bookies… abuses that targeting not just the players but their family members…

 

I also found a few erudite friends giving up hope. All I told them was the game was far from over. We needed to be patient. This was widely-accepted as the strongest batting line-up in the world, and yet we were giving up after the loss of just two wickets! In fact, the man who won India four Man of the Match Awards in this World Cup was still in the pavilion!

 

Champions don’t give up easily. It’s when the going gets tough, that the champions unleash the steely quality in them.

 

When India won the World Cup in 1983, there was a point in time when 3/4ths of the Indian body was beyond the exit door. India were 17 for the loss of Sunil Gavaskar, Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Mohinder Amarnath, Sandeep Patil and Yashpal Sharma – the top five of the Indian batting line-up. Later, it was 78 for eight (Roger Binny and Ravi Shastri). It took the self-belief of one man and the support of No. 10 (Syed Kirmani) to change the script in dramatic fashion in this unforgettable game against Zimbabwe. Kapil Dev’s magnum opus 175 not out not only turned a near-certain defeat into victory but energized the team to win the World Cup in a week’s time.

 

On March 22, 1985, India were bowled out for 125 by Pakistan at Sharjah. And playing in the very hostile atmosphere of Sharjah was very difficult for India. But India fought back brilliantly to bowl out Pakistan for just 87.

 

Of course, the carping critics would say that cricket has changed a lot since 1983. Fine, but what about the 2002 NatWest final against England at Lord’s? Batting first, England had demoralized India by piling up what seemed a match-winning total of 325 for five in 50 overs. Openers Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly gave India a solid start with a 106-run stand. But as so often in this World Cup, India lost five wickets for just 40 runs. Even as the knives were sharpened and abuses were showered, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif defied the English attack to add 121 runs for the seventh wicket before Yuvraj was out. India still needed 59 runs. With just three wickets in hand, England still looked the likely winners. But Kaif stood like a rock till the end and, with the help of the tail, scripted one of the finest comebacks in one-day international history.

 

No match is won till it is lost. Less than five months back, Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga scripted a sensational fightback against Australia. Sri Lanka were 107 for eight chasing 240 when Malinga joined Mathews to add 132 runs for the ninth wicket. That partnership obliterated the 27-year-old 9th-wicket ODI record set by Kapil Dev and Syed Kirmani in the 1983 World Cup. Self-belief is the key to such turnarounds.

 

It was apparent quite early in the Sri Lankan innings that the ball was not coming on to the bat. I had then posted my thoughts on the cricketcountry fan discussion page that when it was time for India to reply, Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli would have critical roles to play under the circumstances.

 

India would have to show faith in singles and twos – a mantra that was radically opposed to the plethora of dashers in the line-up who believed in dealing in fours and sixes. It was almost like asking splurging millionaires to eschew the comfort zone of first class air travel and opt for an arduous road journey by bus! But that was the need of the hour. Air travel could have taken India quicker to the desired destination, but there was also the risk of not reaching there at all. The road journey was slow and painful, but held greater promise in reaching the final destination.

 

India had two of the finest navigators for this kind of travel in Gambhir and Kohli – the calm influencers. Two batsmen whose approach is solid, secure, frills-free and risk-free. Chugging along the road required patience and India had the men for the job.

 

After Kohli stitched a meaningful partnership with Gambhir, an out-of-form Dhoni promoted himself ahead of the in-form Yuvraj Singh. Another decision which could have received much flak had things gone wrong. But Dhoni has the courage of his convictions – some radically opposed and shocking to conventional thinking. But he has never hesitated in daring to think differently, even if it meant going against popular opinion. He seems to backs his instincts more than others’ logic and more often than not gets it right.

 

The Indian captain’s decision to come ahead of Yuvraj was probably to replace a right-hander with a right-hander than have two left-handers, which would have allowed the bowlers to settle down. It’s also possible that he felt that he was a better choice to handle the spinners than Yuvraj. Made eminent sense.

 

Right through the championship, Dhoni’s captaincy had come under fire – for his sustained belief in Piyush Chawla in the face of repeated failures, for his ignoring Ravichandran Ashwin and many more strategies. That he was not getting runs, did not help his cause. But, as he said, nobody was going to ask about his promotion or why Shantakumaran Sreesanth and not Ravichandran Ashwin. Victory is a great eraser! Not only he got runs, but masterminded India out of serious trouble to World Cup glory. The Man of the Final Award was acknowledgment of his effort.

 

At the post-final ceremony, the Indian captain reminded me of Rudyard Kipling’s famous lines of treating triumphs and disasters as imposters. There was both dignity and humility in his words in his moment of triumph. He knew how dramatically things could have been different and how his decisions would have been pilloried had he not taken control of the situation and won it for India. Talk about leading from the front!

 

India entered the 2011 World Cup as favourites, but right from the first match against Bangladesh it was apparent that India’s bowling would struggle. If Bangladesh batsmen provided a strong – though futile – response, then England almost overcame India’s mammoth total, falling one run short of victory. The Indian batting was also beginning to disintegrate and doubts were expressed if the team would even qualify after its loss to South Africa. How could the team make it with just one world class bowler in Zaheer Khan and a batting that was losing its famed and feared strength?

 

But it helps when the team is led by someone as calm as a Buddhist monk. In Dhoni and coach Gary Kirsten the team was blessed to have two men who would not be disturbed by any situation. They lifted the team… the mental strength was beginning to show. And the team peaked at the right time to win three back-to-back high-pressure matches – against champions Australia, arch-rivals Pakistan and the steely competitors Sri Lanka. None of the matches were easy, but it was the mental strength of the team that saw them tear through the barriers in the mind. And the team’s fielding was simply brilliant – not seen such athleticism as a unit in years.

 

At the end of it all on Saturday night, the team had given Sachin Tendulkar the biggest gift he wanted so badly – to be part of a World Cup winning Indian team. The one elusive honour in a Riplesque career. That’s the promise they had made before the start of the World Cup and it was now fulfilled.

 

The articulate Virat Kohli summed it best after hoisting the great man on his shoulder: “Sachin Tendulkar has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years. It was time we carried him. Chak de, India!”

 

(H Natarajan, formerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of  the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/H.Natarajan and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/hnatarajan )