2011 WORLD CUP FINAL
Updated: Oct 20
All roads led to Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium on the morning of Saturday, 2 April 2011. The final of cricket’s tenth World Cup was a day-night affair, with the game slated to start in the afternoon, but they who loved cricket did not care. They formed serpentine queues in the early hours of the morning itself. Those who had managed to acquire a ticket considered themselves blessed; those who did not have one, were also around and willing to spend any amount to gain access to one of cricket’s foremost shrines.
India, one-time winners, and one-time runners-up, were to take on Sri Lanka, also one-time winners, and one-time runner-up, in the summit clash of a tournament that had been contested between fourteen teams in three countries, for nearly two months. There was another attribute the two sides had in common – they were led by wicketkeeping all-rounders, two of the greatest ever. Kumara Sangakkara was in charge of Sri Lanka, while India were skippered by Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Nobody begrudged the two teams their respective spots in the final, as they had been consistency personified right through the tournament. A pulsating encounter was expected, with the Sri Lankans keen to go the distance after reaching the final in the previous World Cup in 2007, and the Indians eager to show the world that their first-round exit in 2007 was an aberration.
The climax of the 2011 World Cup began on an anti-climactic note, with a ‘re-toss.’ The coin dropped and Dhoni was declared the winner of the toss. He chose to bat, only for Sangakkara to intervene and argue that it was he who had called correctly. The referee called for another toss and this time, Sangakkara won and elected to bat – always the smartest thing to do in a final. He obviously wanted to avoid ‘scoreboard pressure.’
Sri Lanka needed a good start, but they did not get it, courtesy Zaheer Khan. Eight years previously, Zaheer had opened the bowling for India in the 2003 World Cup final and conceded 15 from his first over, enabling the Australians to get off to a runaway start. This time around, he bowled beautifully, dismissing Upul Tharanga and denying the batters room and latitude. When Zaheer’s first spell ended, his figures read an extraordinary 5-3-6-1.
The Sri Lankan innings progressed in fits and starts, with the Indian bowlers and fielders giving nothing away. And then, Mahela Jayawardene decided to assert himself. He batted so well that even those who were supporting India, either in the stands or on television, were forced to applaud his mastery. The Indians wilted in the final stages and Thisara Perera finished his team’s innings with a six off the last ball.
Little did people know at that stage that the second innings of the game would also end with a six.
The momentum was with Sri Lanka during the break; a score of 274-6 was formidable in a World Cup final. Not only did the Indian team need to begin well, but they also needed to handle their nerves, playing as they were on their own soil.
They started disastrously when Virender Sehwag fell leg-before off the second ball of the innings. Gautam Gambhir, the new man in, looked positive, as did Sachin Tendulkar, who was playing his sixth and most certainly, his last, World Cup. The capacity crowd at the Wankhede had just about regained its voice when it fell silent. Tendulkar nicked one to Sangakkara, and Lasith Malinga, the bowler, ran around the ground, ecstatic. That brought in the young Virat Kohli to the crease.
A battle of attrition ensued, between the rampant Sri Lankans and two batters intent on getting their innings back on track. Gambhir and Kohli displayed assurance and resilience in a third-wicket stand, which ended in dramatic fashion. Kohli was caught-and-bowled spectacularly by Tillakaratne Dilshan.
When that happened, all eyes in the Wankhede turned to the Indian balcony. Yuvraj Singh, who had had a fabulous tournament with four individual awards to his name, was expected to come in, but he did not. Dhoni, the skipper, decided to promote himself. It was an audacious move to say the least. Dhoni had not been in the best of form with the bat and he knew the implications of failing in a final. But then, leading by example was second nature to him. He reasoned that Yuvraj, despite his incredible run with the bat, was tentative against Muttiah Muralitharan, Sri Lanka’s spin warhead, who was operating at the time. Dhoni was a lot more comfortable against Murali and hence decided to go in himself. He also wanted to keep a left-right batting combination going.
What followed was a match and tournament-winning stand, with Dhoni and Gambhir getting more and more assertive as the target drew closer. Dhoni batted as only he could, while Gambhir proved himself for the second time in a World Cup final. Three years previously, he had been the highest individual scorer for India in the final of the inaugural T20 World Cup, with an innings of 75 against Pakistan at the Wanderers, Johannesburg. He was only three short of a hundred at the Wankhede when he was bowled, but the breakthrough came a little too late for the Lankans. It was appropriate that Yuvraj Singh, the Player of the Tournament, was in the middle when India scaled the summit. Only four were required when Dhoni deposited a Nuwan Kulasekhara delivery into the stands over long-on.
28 years after winning the World Cup for the first time, India had conquered the cricketing world again.