2nd April 2011: That night at the Wankhede Stadium
There are some days and moments that remain etched in memory forever. Every person from all walks of life have that one date, that is extremely special to them. The mere reminder of that day brings back a flood of emotions. For fans of Indian cricket, the 2nd of April, 2011 is one such day. It is a night that everyone associated with the sport in the country will not forget until their last breath.
The venue was the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. The ground located on the edges of iconic Marine Drive was always a monumental sight of Indian cricket. However, the stadium had undergone a reconstruction ahead of the World Cup and was almost a new ground for everyone. While it did host a couple of games in the group stage, it was the first time that the Indian Cricket team was setting foot at the new-look stadium.
The ground's beauty took every fan's breath away. The historic site was replaced by a modern day architectural masterpiece. The three-year wait for the people of Mumbai was well worth it. For a game as big as a World Cup final, this was a fitting setting in India's financial hub.
India's run to the final was no easy one. Hosting the tournament, the Men in Blue started the competition as pre-tournament favorites. However, playing on home soil, the pressure on the team was at an all-time high. The group stages did not go as planned for Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men, as the game against England finished in a tie and a loss against South Africa followed. The concern around the nation was evident as in both games, India had failed to defend a score in excess a score of 300; where Sachin Tendulkar had scored a century.
This was particularly hurting because, in every way, that tournament was all about Sachin. His status in Indian cricket remains unparalleled. His records, achievements, and statistics speak for themselves. But above all that was the place he had earned in the heart of Indian fans. Nobody before earned that stature nor has anyone after him. It looks unlikely anyone ever will. Such was his importance to the country
Despite achieving everything possible in his career, a World Cup winner's medal was something that was missing from his cabinet. Despite being the tournament's all-time top scorer, he had never got his hands on the trophy in five tries. There was a tearful semi-final exit in 1996 and an agonizing defeat in final in 2003.
Coming into his sixth World Cup in 2011, the cricketing legend knew this was going to be his last attempt at the big prize. Almost every player spoke about 'wanting to win the competition for Sachin'. Even the general mood of the nation was one that desperately did not want Sachin to end his career without lifting the biggest prize in the game. It was only fitting that the final was in his home town.
With that spirit, India headed into the knockouts of the tournament. Their opponents were three-time defending champions Australia. While they were not as strong as earlier, the baggy greens were still a big threat in a match of this magnitude. At the Motera stadium in Ahmedabad, a fantastic century by Ricky Ponting set up a tough target of 261 for India.
Despite 50's from Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gautam Gambhir, India found themselves at 187-5 in the chase. A nations' dream was disappearing in front of their eyes. It looked India's journey in the tournament was coming to an end. However, the eventual man of the tournament Yuvraj Singh had different plans. The left-handed batsman scored a sublime knock of 57 runs to take India home with some solid support from Suresh Raina.
Having ended Australia's domination of the tournament, there was new-found hope and ecstasy around the country. India's next opponents were arch-rivals Pakistan at Mohali in the state of Punjab. The hype for the semi-final was unprecedented. The Prime Minister of both countries decided to make a trip to the stadium for the encounter. For almost a week, there was no other discussion among the common men of both nations as the fever of patriotism took over.
A blistering start by Virender Sehwag, a gritty 85 by Sachin, a late flourish by Raina, and a spirited bowling effort ensured a famous 30 run victory for India. Each of India's five bowlers chipped in with two wickets each to ensure India defended a target of 260 and booked a place in the grand final.
Ultimately came the day, every sportsman wishes to take part in. 2nd April 2011 was a date that the cricket community had bookmarked for a long long time. India's opponents in the final were co-host's Sri Lanka. If there was Sachin for India, there was Muttiah Muralitharan for the Lankans; who was playing his last international game. Mumbai was set for an exciting, emotional, and dramatic match of cricket. A billion dreams were one step away from coming true.
At the Wankhede, Sri Lanka won the toss and elected to bat first. Zaheer Khan took the new ball for India. That sight was bound to bring back painful memories from eight years ago for Indians fan. In the 2003 final, Zaheer conceded 15 runs off the first over; which laid the platform for Australia to demolish the Indian bowling attack.
However, this time, the left-arm pacer was a much more experienced bowler and it showed. He started the match with three maiden overs and a wicket in his fourth over. For large parts of the innings, the Men in Blue had things under control. However, the class of Mahela Jayawardene prevailed; as he hit an incredible century to take Sri Lanka to an extremely competitive total of 275. Never in history had a target this big been chased in a World Cup final ever before.
The Indian reply got off to the worst possible start. Lasith Malinga dismissed Sehwag in the first over and he also took Sachin's wicket shortly after. India was in deep trouble and their hopes of lifting the trophy were hanging by the thread. It was looking like the nation was going to suffer a huge heartbreak.
However, Gautam Gambhir was in no mood to give up and ensured the innings does not collapse. The left-hander played a skillful knock showing immense resolve and determination. He was eventually dismissed for 97 and the whole nation felt his pain in not being able to reach the three-figure mark.
Another significant contribution was from Virat Kohli. At the moment, he is the world's best batsman without a shadow of a doubt. But at that time, he was just a 22-year old trying to establish himself on the international stage.
Walking out to bat at 31-2 in a World Cup final is as daunting as it can get for a young player. Despite fans fearing the worst, Kohli showed his mettle and did not let the pressure get to him. He played with remarkable composure to bring India's chase back on track. While the scoreboard will show he scored just 35 runs; in the circumstances, it was an invaluable knock.
When Kohli's wicket fell, India's score was 115-3. At that moment, the match was evenly poised. With everything at stake, the Indian captain MS Dhoni decided to surprise the world by promoting himself ahead of the in-form Yuvraj Singh.
The decision was an extremely bold move as if Dhoni failed, it would have put the team in huge trouble and invited scrutiny; that he would have failed to move past for his entire career. But, he was not one to hide away from challenges and made the big stage his own. The Indian captain played an extremely responsible knock with some of his best shots on display. Experts have called him the 'the best finisher in the world' and he justified the tag on the biggest stage possible.
In the end, Dhoni completed the chase in his own trademark style. With India needing four runs to win, the boy from Ranchi swung his bat and tonked the ball over long on. That shot is a sight that is immortalized in Indian cricket's history books and arguably the most iconic moment in the game's history. The long wait of 28 years was finally over. For the first time since 1983, the men in blue could call themselves 'World Champions'. The team had lived up to the expectation of a billion people across the country.
Despite being superpowers in the game, India was failing at getting their hands on the illustrious trophy. Over the years, the nation had seen numerous traumatic moments in the World Cup. The relief of lifting the trophy after seeing everything possible over the years made this win even more special. For the majority of the nation; this was the first time they had seen their team triumph at this stage as they were not even born the last time around.
Players, ex-cricketers, and fans were crying tears of joy simultaneously. Even if for only a few days, the victory had bought the nation together and given everyone a common source of happiness. Every street, city, and state in India saw extravagant celebrations for long hours. Most fans of the sport will describe this as one of the best moments of their life.
The great Sachin Tendulkar's quest for his childhood dream was finally fulfilled. Him being given a lap of honor across his home stadium filled everyone's heart with delight. Virat Kohli famous words "Tendulkar has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years. It is time we carried him on our shoulders." summed up the emotions of everyone in India.
Even if the Indian cricket team wins the World Cup again, that night at the Wankhede Stadium is one that will remain special and whose significance is likely to never fade away. The national will forever remain thankful to Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his team to give them that moment. To those who witnessed it, the mention of the date 2nd April will always bring back a flood of joyous memories back.