As the ball sailed into the stands, an entire nation erupted into unbridled joy. It was April 2nd, 2011 and MS Dhoni had brought the World Cup home.
It was a momentous feat for an Indian team who crossed every hurdle to be crowned world champions and 10 years on, the feeling has stayed with many of us.
Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh was part of the core team that won the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 at the Wankhede Stadium. He believes that the 2003 team of which he was part of, was also determined to win the title, but is happy that the Indian team showed the pluck to win it eight years later.
"The best moment I remember is when we had the Cup in our hands. It was a long wait. We had worked throughout our career to achieve this. We did all the hard work to get that Cup in our hands. When the Cup is in your hands, we forget all the matches played and won and how well we competed against the other teams," recalls Harbhajan in the course of an interaction with Sportskeeda.
Here are a few excerpts from his exclusive interview about the 2011 World Cup
Q. What are your memories of the 2011 World Cup win?
A. I remember everything. I feel like I lifted the Cup just yesterday. Every cricketer has a dream, and that’s being part of the team winning the World Cup. For me it was a different experience altogether. It’s not easy to get that kind of happiness. And nothing can be better than winning the World Cup at the Wankhede Stadium ten years ago. It's difficult to describe the feelings in words.
Q. Did the 2011 win compensate for the 2003 loss against Australia at the Wanderers in Johannesburg?
A. In 2003, we were all shattered after losing the final. We had worked very hard to get there (to the final). Australia outplayed us in the final. That innings from Ricky Ponting (140 not out) and also from Damien Martyn (88 not out); they took the game away from us. So, when the dream came true after eight years (in 2011), especially holding the Cup, we all felt good. So much work had gone in the eight years from 2003 to 2011. When you are playing as a team, the individual effort is not important; it’s always the collective effort. Small contributions matter the most in such big title wins, like taking a brilliant catch or affecting a run-out to change the course of the game. Or even bowling a brilliant spell without taking a wicket but putting pressure on the batsmen.
Q. The team got a good start against Bangladesh in Mirpur, facing a blip on the way to the semi-finals by losing to South Africa at Nagpur?
A. Even in 2003 we had a good team. We played brilliant cricket in South Africa. In 2011, we were very confident about our game and game plan. We knew the conditions better than the others. We also played in front of the home crowd and got the extra motivation. We were really getting pumped up by the crowd support. This aspect is always special, but which we don’t talk much about it.
Q. The semi-final against Pakistan at Mohali was hyped up as usual. What strikes you most about that semi-final?
A. I remember that game very well. I did not sleep at all before that game. There was a lot of pressure on each and every member of the team. It was a big game for Mohali. In such matches, you always think about what will happen should something go wrong. We would not know how the crowd would react to unfolding events. That match will be among the top three pressure games I have played in. When the match started there were hiccups, we did not get food. We had to enter the ground to warm up before the food arrived. There was security because the Prime Ministers were to come.
Q. Would you say that India’s top six in the line-up was the best in 2011 with Sachin Tendulkar (482 runs), Virender Sehwag (380), Gautam Gambhir (393), Virat Kohli (282), Yuvraj Singh (362) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni (241).
A. Even in 2003, we had a very good batting line up. We had a brilliant team. In 2003 the team we had was the best and in 2011, the team we had was the best. I don’t want to compare the two teams.
Q. Sachin Tendulkar did well in 2003 and 2011.
A. He is Sachin Tendulkar for the reasons we all know. He loves batting and we were happy with the way he scored all the runs. But we were on the back foot when he got out in the final against Sri Lanka.
Q. So what was the feeling in the dressing room when Sehwag and Tendulkar got out quickly? Gambhir and a young Kohli showed a lot of gut and sound defensive technique to bail the team out of the woods?
A. The team and the players were full of confidence. Gambhir and Kohli had that sort of confidence and they believed that if they were in the middle, they would win the game. Yes, we were concerned about both Sehwag and Tendulkar getting out early. But we were confident that someone would put his hand up.
Q. When Gambhir and Kohli began to stitch a partnership, the nerves would have calmed in the dressing room.
A. We wanted someone to play out the overs and that was a brilliant (83 run) partnership between Gambhir and Virat, he batted so well to make it 35. It was such an important knock. That partnership gave us a breather before Dhoni played the blinder.
Q. Another important happening was Zaheer Khan (21) and Munaf Patel (11) taking 32 wickets and Yuvraj (15) and you (9) taking 24 wickets. The pace and spin combinations worked well for India.
A. Zaheer and Munaf were brilliant. No one is talking about Munaf’s performance throughout our campaign. Zaheer bowled with a lot of responsibility, and a lot of courage in pressure situations. Zaheer and Munaf made things easy for the spinners. Whatever Yuvi touched was turning into gold. He took a lot of wickets.
Q. Another important aspect of the 2011 World Cup was that seven (Tendulkar, Gambhir, Yuvraj, Kohli, Dhoni, Harbhajan and Zaheer) of the team members played nine matches each and two (Sehwag and Munaf), played eight each. There was stability in the team.
A. We have to give credit to Dhoni and the coach Gary Kirsten and the senior players to make sure that the core group remains the same right through the tournament. We never felt, at any time, that too many changes had to be made. It was all left to Dhoni and Gary to decide the playing XI. But there was a lot of discussion in the team. Everybody had a point of view. Sometimes eleven minds were thinking differently. We had a lot of respect for each other’s opinion.
Q. Most Indians remember the final winning shot, a six, by Dhoni. Do you?
A. Those moments get frozen in your mind. Dhoni’s six and also the 1983 moment when Kapil Paaji lifted the Cup at the Lord’s balcony. Those are the moments we play for. They inspire people. Kapil Paaji lifting the Cup in 1983 inspired all of us to become like him and his team and take it forward. If the 1983 Indian team had not won it, probably we would not have had the `laalasa’ (desire) to say: We should also do it!
Q. It would have taken a long time for the team to cover the short distance from the stadium to the team hotel that night. Marine Drive was packed with fans celebrating.
A. Well, we were not in a hurry to go anywhere that night. It was our night to celebrate and that’s the moment you live for and play for. We lived it like there was no tomorrow. It took us a long time to get back to the hotel. There was celebration at the hotel too. It continued.
Q. So you were a World Cup finalist in 2003 and winner in 2011.
A, I wish we had won the 2003 final. But there are always reasons for things to go in a particular way. We were fated to win it later on. But we learned a lot in 2003. We did not know how to play the final then; in 2011, we knew how to play the final in tight and pressure situations and what the decision-making process should be, that we should not make mistakes for small things. We learned a lot in defeat in 2003.
Q. Mahela Jayewardene scored a wonderful century. He became your coach at Mumbai Indians.
A. He played a brilliant knock for Sri Lanka. But in the end, left-hander Thisara Perera hit some outstanding shots against us. He got 22 runs in no time. That knock took their total to 274. A total of 240 would have been easy to chase. But we got the job done to win the big prize.
That brings us to the end of the exclusive chat and for cricket lovers around the world, Harbhajan Singh is and shall always remain "The Turbanator".