SK Elite: When MS Dhoni batted against odds and critics to make 1.2 billion dreams become reality
Let us take a look at one of the best innings played by an Indian batsman in the history of ODIs.
Dhoni finishes off in style. A magnificent strike into the crowd. India lift the World Cup after 28 years. The party starts in the dressing room and its the Indian Captain who has been absolutely magnificent in the night of the final
Words that will keep reverberating in the ears of all the Indian cricket fans till their last breath.
April 2, all roads in India led to the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai as hosts India took on co-hosts Sri Lanka in the final of the 2011 World Cup. India went into the tournament as one of the favourites and they lived up to the tag as they lost one match in the group stage and in the knockouts, they just brushed aside their opponents, Australia and Pakistan.
Not once had a host country gone on to win the World Cup and all odds, including the expectations of over 1 billion people, were against the Men in Blue.
The nightmarish extravaganza
Virender Sehwag kick started the tournament by driving Bangladesh's Shafiul Islam through the covers for a boundary off the first ball of the tournament. Since then, there was no turning back as each and every single member of the team contributed to the team's success.
Sehwag got the team off to a great start, Sachin Tendulkar was consistent throughout the series, Yuvraj Singh's all-round show, Harbhajan Singh weaving his magic, Zaheer Khan running through the opposition, silent contributions from the likes of Virat Kohli, Munaf Patel and Gautam Gambhir, everyone contributed to the team's success. Even the likes of Ravi Ashwin, Suresh Raina and Ashish Nehra, who didn't play all the matches, did a job for the team when needed.
All the team members contributing to the team's cause will always please the captain. But, it is not the same in this case. Skipper MS Dhoni had a forgettable tournament as he looked off-colour throughout the tournament. Though the team was on a winning spree, a lot of critics pointed their fingers at MS Dhoni and urged him to step up.
The group stages got over, he didn't make a notable contribution with the bat. In the quarter-finals, he was dismissed cheaply and in the semi-finals, he got out for just 25 after getting his eye in.
The pressure was mounting on the skipper.
The stage was set for the big match and fans started filling the Wankhede Stadium to support the home team. Without a doubt, this is a high-pressure match and there was a big confusion even before the first ball was bowled.
Once the captains walked out to the middle for the toss, Dhoni tossed the coin and his Sri Lankan counterpart, Kumar Sangakkara called, but the match referee Jeff Crowe said he had not heard Sangakkara's call the first time and forced Dhoni to toss it again.
This time, the Kiwi heard Sangakkara's call (heads) and it turned out to be heads. Putting runs on the board in a pressure match is always safe. The Lankan skipper, without any hesitation, chose to bat first.
India were expected to make a change to the playing XI that faced Pakistan in the semi-finals as pacer Ashish Nehra injured his finger while fielding in the semis. Everyone thought off-spinner R Ashwin, who had a couple of very good outings in the tournament, will replace the pacer. When Dhoni said "Sree (Sreesanth) comes in place of Ashish" at the toss, the fans were in for a shocking surprise.
Well begun is half done. But ...
India were off to a brilliant start as Zaheer Khan, who conceded 15 runs in the first over of the 2003 World Cup final, started off with two maiden overs. The Lankan openers found it difficult to get going against the veteran and the left-armer struck in his fourth over as he removed Upul Tharanga for just 2.
The Lankans were 31/1 after the first ten overs with Zaheer conceding just 10 runs in his five overs. Sangakkara and the highest run-getter in the tournament, Tillakaratne Dilshan, steadied the ship as they put on a 43-run partnership before the latter got out. Sangakkara was joined by Sri Lanka's most experienced batsman, Mahela Jayawardene in the middle and the duo added 62 for the third wicket before the skipper perished with two short of a deserved fifty.
Jayawardene continued to punish the Indian bowlers as he reached his fifty. His partnerships with Thilan Samaraweera and Nuwan Kulasekara put his team in a comfortable position. Soon after, Jayawardene reached his century and Thisara Perera's cameo towards the end pushed the final score to a competitive one.
Sri Lanka reached 274 for the loss of six wickets in their 50 overs, thanks to Jayawardene's unbeaten 103 off just 88 balls. Zaheer, who started off on a good note, conceded 50 runs in his next five overs and Sreesanth, who replaced Nehra ahead of Ashwin for the final, failed to complete his quota as he conceded 52 runs in eight overs.
Sri Lanka were the favourites to defend the total and win the World Cup. Even history was against India as the batsmen who had scored a century in the World Cup final always ended up on the winning side.
When the Indians usually switch their television sets off...
A good start from Sehwag and Sachin would have seen India cross the line with ease. However, the unthinkable happened as Lasith Malinga dismissed Sehwag for a duck off the third ball of the innings. All hopes rested on the bat of Sachin Tendulkar and the Willow had lived up to the expectation on most of the occasions in the previous 22 years.
Is there a better way to reach your 100th International century in a World Cup final than doing it on your home ground?
Once again, Sachin gave the fans a lot of hopes by playing his signature shots, signs that indicate the touch he is in. When he was looking good, though, Malinga silenced the Wankhade Stadium. It was a sombre moment for everyone, and even a pin-drop could have been heard at the venue.
Sachin, who waited for 22 years to win a World Cup for his country, made a slow walk back to the pavilion after he was caught behind for 22. When two stalwarts walk back to the dressing room, you can't really blame the fans for becoming pessimistic in the blink of an eye.
After the master-blaster's dismissal, a majority of the Indians usually switch their television sets off. But, this time, it wasn't the case as the fans, just like the little master, waited for a miracle to happen for India to create history. As Sachin was walking back, his heir apparent Virat Kohli walked out to bat.
The 22-year-old, who has already made a name for himself in run chases, looked good during his stay at the crease as he put on an 83-run partnership for the third wicket with his Delhi teammate Gautam Gambhir before he was done in by Dilshan's brilliant athletic ability.
Enter Y?u?v?r?a?j? ?S?i?n?g?h? MS Dhoni
India needed 161 runs to win off 28 overs and everyone expected India's best player in the tournament, Yuvraj Singh, to walk in to replace Virat Kohli. To their surprise, skipper Dhoni walked out to bat.
A lot of eyebrows were raised as Dhoni had managed only 150 runs in eight innings in the tournament with an average of 25, numbers that are below par for a frontline batsman. Seeing Muttiah Muralitharan bowling from one end, the skipper stepped up and decided to walk in as he was comfortable facing the Lankan wizard, thanks to the Indian Premier League and Chennai Super Kings.
With India's chase going out of hand, MS Dhoni, who was already facing a lot of criticism for picking Sreesanth and coming out to bat ahead of Yuvraj in spite of being out of form, had put a lot of pressure on himself as a failure could even see him losing the captaincy and maybe his place in the side.
Dhoni struggled to get bat on the ball and was lucky that Kumar Sangakkara failed to collect the ball as he dragged his foot out of the crease trying to drive Dilshan.
In the meantime, Gambhir crossed his fifty and looked set to take India home.
Cometh the hour, cometh the Champion
Dhoni's first run came off the eighth ball he faced as he whipped a Dilshan delivery to the deep square-leg fielder. The pressure was mounting on Dhoni as he managed to score just 13 runs off his first 24 balls and the required went above six.
But, handling pressure is a tough task only for normal human beings, not for someone like Dhoni, who had the gall to give Joginder Sharma the ball in the last over of the 2007 World T20 final when premier spinner Harbhajan Singh had an over left up his sleeve.
When things seemed to fall apart, the Indian skipper shifted his weight to the back foot and punched a Muralitharan delivery through the covers for his first boundary. That boundary eased the nerves and after that, the Indian skipper took centre stage.
Dhoni started doing what he does the best, manipulating the field and calculating a run chase. Soon, he reached his 6000th ODI run before going down due to a back pain. It was just a matter of moments before a determined Dhoni stood on his feet and continued from where he left off.
Just like his first boundary, Dhoni punched Murali through the covers to reach his fifty. He didn't even realise that he reached the milestone as he was focused on getting the job done. When Gambhir congratulated him, his bat slowly went up to acknowledge the crowd and his teammates. This brought the equation down to 71 runs needed off 12 overs.
He continued to dominate Murali and had a small set back when Gambhir was castled by Perera for a stroke-filled 97, missing a deserved ton by three runs. Dhoni was joined by Yuvraj Singh in the middle with the Indian team needed 52 runs off 52 balls.
Yuvraj looked in good touch as he pulled Thisara for a boundary off just the fourth ball of his innings. A couple of overs later, Dhoni smoked a six off the same bowler over the backward point region and got the equation down to 36 runs off 41 balls.
There was a small mix-up between both the batsmen and the right-hander was lucky to continue as his bat just crossed the line when Chamara Kapugedera's throw disturbed the stumps at the striker's end.
The finisher does it with flair
With 27 runs needed off the last five overs, Indians were left with no other option, but to take the batting powerplay and Dhoni and Yuvraj pounced on the field restrictions.
22 runs were scored in the first two overs of the batting powerplay and India needed just five runs to win in the last three overs. An Indian win was all but confirmed as ICC even sent out a tweet revealing Yuvraj Singh as the Player of the tournament.
Yuvraj took a single off the first ball of the 48th over and with 2 runs needed off 17 balls, Kulasekara ran onto bowl with a little hope of a Sri Lankan win.
He bowled it in the slot just outside the off stump, which was right there in Dhoni's arc. His eyes opened up and little he knew that it could be an iconic moment for him and his team. Dhoni had a wild swing as the ball hit the sweet part of the bat and sailed over the long-on boundary to the joy of Indian fans and players.
Against all odds, India created history and became the first team to win a World Cup at home and the only team to have won a 60-over World Cup, 50-over World Cup and a 20-over World Cup.
When Dhoni answered his critics in style
Dhoni, in spite of having a poor run in the World Cup, decided to step up when he spotted a possible threat in Muralitharan and promoted himself ahead of an in-form Yuvraj Singh.
Had he failed, it could have been different. But, he made a big statement by letting his bat do the talking at the grandest stage of all while his critics kept questioning his decisions.
"I took quite a few decisions tonight, if we hadn't won I would have been asked quite a few questions — why no Ashwin and why Sreesanth. Why no Yuvraj and why did I bat ahead of him? That pushed me and motivated me to do well. The pressure had got to me in the previous games. In this game, I wanted to bat up the order and (coach) Gary (Kirsten) backed me and also the senior players. I had a point to prove to myself," he said after the final.
Still, one can find few fans cribbing about how Dhoni stole Yuvraj's limelight on the night of the finals. There might be few scenarios on what might have happened if Yuvraj had come to bat ahead of Dhoni, what if Dhoni had played Ashwin instead of Sreesanth etc. These are just imaginative scenarios and the reality is Dhoni came out to bat ahead of Yuvraj, he did the job for the team, won the World Cup for the country.
"When I die, the last thing I want to see is the SIX that Dhoni hit in the 2011 World Cup Final," said India's legendary batsman and a World Cup winner himself, Sunil Manohar Gavaskar.
Not only Gavaskar, a majority of the Indian cricket aficionados would want to see Dhoni's historic shot before they have their last breath.
Thank you for the memories that will last forever, Mahendra Singh Dhoni.