Sunday, April 3, 2011

World Champions ? Well, Of Course !

Sometimes, just sometimes, things work out the way you want. Not exactly as planned - but you get the desired result. Twenty plus years as a fan, a supporter of the Indian Cricket Team means that I had seen everything - from the tremendous highs of incredible victories to the disappointments and despair from gut wrenching defeats. But nothing matches the feeling of becoming World Champions. Not sure - anything will ever be so good again.
Going into this World Cup - the feeling was different to all others in the past. A World Cup comes once in 4 years and in all likelihood this was going to be Sachin's last one. There are a thousand adjectives to describe him - GOD, legend, icon etc etc - but let me use a very personal word to describe him. He is my HERO. So, while it is a dream come true to see your hero lift the World Cup, it is also a frightening, devastating thought that he would end his playing career without winning the World Cup.A thought that has passed my through my mind many times. It is something very hard to reconcile with - but something one has to prepare for - not everyone gets all that they wish for.
So, as we entered the World Cup as favourites, all the pressure of "Do it for Sachin" (justified and unjustified at the same time), this incredible media hype, the first World Cup in the age of Twitter and Blogs and Facebook - with all the instant reaction and criticism - you can go from being a hero to a villain  or a joker in a matter of seconds - this was going to be a tournament like none before. And as the initial matches happened- a lot of folks came to the conclusion that we were a poor bowling side - a "painfully slow" fielding side and a batting side that frequently loses its way in the latter part of the innings. As things worked out - we had to go through the 3 time defending champion - Australia in the quarter final ; PAKISTAN and all the historical, political, emotional baggage they bring along with their sensational bowling, in the semis; and a wonderful Sri Lankan team in the final. And go through them - we did - with a combination of responsible batting, disciplined bowling, a fielding side which kept improving every day - reaching quite astonishing heights in the final and the calm leadership of MSD.
When I look back at these three games - we certainly had to do it the Tough Way. Perhaps you will agree - the tension before the Australia was of the type that we had never experienced before. The hype before the Pakistan game was equally unprecedented. So much so - that on the day of the final - it was only a little bit of anxiety and thoughts of what will Sreesanth do today that were bothering me :).
We discovered or should I say re-discovered new heroes for generations to come. Zaheer Khan led our bowling attack magnificiently. His opening spell in the final was splendid as was his ability to come on and take wickets at crucial moments throughout the cup. Gautam Gambhir - kept getting starts without really making the big ones - till the day of the final - where he played an innings of a lifetime. Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh - not in their top form - but still delivered absolutly massive moments of magic and inspiration at different times- but especially in the semi-final - Sehwag with his devastating little cameo at the top against Gul, Harbhajan to get rid of Akmal and Afridi at a critical juncture.
Other players chipped in as well - Kohli - consistent if not spectacular with the bat throughout - with plenty of significant partnerships, Raina - two clutch innings in the quarters and the semis, Ashwin - splendid against the Aussies, Munaf and Nehra - two top spells against Pakistan under immense pressure,
Which now brings me to the next two guys - the captain MSD and  the Man of the Tournament - Yuvraj Singh. Coming into the tournament - Yuvraj had not been in good form for quite some time - but MSD stuck with him - even if it meant sacrificing Raina in the starting 11 initially. Boy did he make it up with 15 wickets, over 350 runs and some fantastic fielding in the knock out matches. And what about MSD - a man who's every decision is scrutinised and debated in news rooms to board rooms, from drawing rooms to chat rooms - kept getting a few things wrong but most things right. He had a quiet World Cup with the bat though - which was reason enough for some folks to say that he would not be a deserved winner if he did not perform as a batsman. People criticise him, abuse him, ridicule him, but the dude remains himself. And as some of us know - the dude from Ranchi has balls of steel and he played a quite stunning innings to finish off the final. LIKE A BOSS.
Which brings me finally to Sachin. He batted throughout the tournament - as he is expected - he finished as the second highest run getter. But more importantly - he provided us with moments of joy and inspiration - moments that will remain our most cherished memories. And so when it finally happened, to see him being carried around the field by his team-matesto see him celebrate like a kid and with his kids, to see him pop the champagne, to see him kiss the cup that had eluded him for so long - was a feeling of ecstacy, a feeling of catharsis. And what was even more touching was to see the love that his teammates had for him - summed up best by this quote from young Virat Kohli - He's carried the burden of the nation for 21 years so it's time we carried him on our shoulders"
It is important to note - that this triumph is to be shared with the legends who just missed out - Kumble, Dada, Dravid, Laxman and Srinath. They are all builders of this current Indian team and so we must salute them as well along with our 15 champions. And also time for a salute to Gary Kirsten and his coaching staff. All proper Indian legends now. A job well done.
For my generation of cricket fans - the ones who were "born World Champions" (born between 83 and 87), this is the moment which repays the hours and hours that we have spent watching the telly. What a World Cup this has been ! We have experienced anxiety, nevousness, tension, relief, joy -in a cycle repeated time and again and again. We have beaten worthy opponents and beaten them well. It has been the journey of a lifetime.  And in the end - it had a happy ending.
So this is how good it feels to be World Champions ? Well, Of Course.
PS: The Cricinfo Gallery is a must watch, as is this blog post from Sidvee - describes what all of us feel in a far more eloquent way.

World Champions.
Thank you Team India. Thank you very much.

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