For former national selector Surendra Bhave, Friday marks the 10th anniversary of India’s second men’s ODI World Cup win. On April 2, 2011, M. S. Dhoni launched Nuwan Kulasekara into the stands over long-on to end a 28-year-long wait.
Needing 275 to win, India lost Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag early, but Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli revived hopes with a third-wicket stand of 83. Then, Dhoni promoted himself ahead of the in-form Yuvraj Singh and pulled off the highest chase in a World Cup final. Not only did this win change the course of Indian cricket, but it also reaffirmed the country’s status as the undisputed nerve centre of world cricket.
‘Sea of blue’
Bhave, who was a member of the selection committee that picked the 2011 World Cup squad, recalled the thunderous applause and peals of joy that enveloped Mumbai on that fateful night.
“I think Chika [K. Srikkanth, then chairman of selectors] received a call saying that our cabs were not going to be able to pick us from the stadium. With India winning the title, they had blocked out Marine Drive on either side for normal traffic. It was wonderful to get out of Wankhede and walk with people for a while,” said Bhave. “These kinds of humbling experiences stay with you. After walking for 10-15 minutes, a taxi driver, a Chika fan, picked us up and dropped us at the hotel. Once we got there, we switched on the TV and realised that Marine Drive had turned into a sea of blue!”
While the focus remained riveted on the World Cup win, it emerged that Yuvraj, the Player of the Tournament, had been troubled by bouts of coughing and vomiting during the tournament. He was later diagnosed with cancer and underwent chemotherapy in the U.S.
Bhave lauded Yuvraj’s toil and tenacity. “What stood out was Yuvraj’s performance. Amazing, isn’t it? No one knew at the time that he was putting up with a medical hindrance… To have come out with four Man of the Match awards speaks volumes about his contribution,” Bhave said. “With the World Cup happening in India, Yuvraj, with his slightly unorthodox bowling style, was an ace up our sleeve. His batting was something else altogether… Whenever Yuvraj got it right, he was a couple of rungs above everyone else in white-ball cricket. And he was the kind of player who revelled on the big stage. We, as selectors, knew he would bowl well on Indian pitches.”
‘The extra glue’
The process of whittling the list down to probables began during Australia’s tour of India in 2010-11. “It was the President’s XI game in Chandigarh at the Sector 16 ground (September 25-27, 2010),” recalled Bhave. “Head coach Gary Kirsten spoke to the selection committee and the specific work on World Cup probables started. In the lead-up to the World Cup, say, six months before, we had a topsy-turvy performance… But we are all glad that the fans got behind the players… The players kind of knew that it was going to be Sachin’s last World Cup, so that might have provided the extra glue you need to bind the team together. All of us had this feeling that something special was about to happen and it was amazing to see our premonitions come true.”
Gautam Gambhir’s gutsy 97 lay the foundation for India’s chase. – GETTY IMAGES
A steely 97 from Gambhir kept India’s innings together in the final. The southpaw struck nine fours in a 122-ball innings. “Gauti was a different kind of player. He sometimes gave you that early thrust in the power play… But in the middle overs, he is so deceptive,” said Bhave. “If you had Gauti batting for 20-25 overs in a 50-over match, then you were guaranteed to get a big total more often than not. His skill against spin bowling – stepping out and putting it over extra cover – that made sure no two spinners could bowl in tandem and tie India down.”
IN PICTURES – India’s 2011 World Cup triumph
Gambhir’s indomitable spirit was matched by Dhoni’s chutzpah. The Indian skipper, who had promoted himself to No. 5, hit a rollicking 91 that included eight fours and two sixes. He targeted the extra cover boundary, scoring six of his eight fours through that region. Bhave gave an insight into Dhoni’s game plan that night: “He targeted very different areas against Murali (Muttiah Muralitharan). That was also one of his strengths as a batsman: He would target zones where you would seldom have a boundary rider. He hits that square cut and it passes the extra cover on the left side and the sweeper cover has no chance to intercept the shot. That’s how much power he generated.”
It was also a special moment for Tendulkar, who finally won the World Cup in his sixth attempt. “It was fulfilling to see Sachin win the World Cup. Look at what he did for Indian cricket and there are no bigger rewards in cricket than winning the World Cup and the man richly deserved it.”
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