Sunday, April 3, 2011

India defies history to win its first World Cup in 28 years


India world cup
Members of India's team celebrate their World Cup final win over Sri Lanka in Mumbai. Picture: Getty Images Source: Getty Images
INDIA has won the World Cup for the first time since 1983 with a hard-fought, six-wicket win over Sri Lanka in Mumbai.
Gautam Gambhir made 97 and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni smashed an unbeaten 91 off 79 balls as India broke its World Cup cricket home ground hex.
Sri Lanka, which won the toss and elected to bat in the day-night final, rode on Mahela Jayawardene's 103 not out off 88 balls to pile up 274-6 in their 50 overs.
India, cheered by a sell-out crowd of 33,000 at the Wankhede stadium, surpassed the challenging target with 10 balls to spare.
The win bore little resemblance to the fairytale finish the Mumbai crowd had been hoping for; one in which Sachin Tendulkar saw out his final World Cup by hitting his hundredth century before his home town crowd.
Sri Lanka's veteran star spinner Muttiah Muralitharan - clearly battling injuries - also failed to fire in his final game before retirement.
Instead it was about two great South Asian teams giving fans a thrilling, edge-of-the-seat one day final and a deserved triumph for a cricketing nation which felt its time had come.
“(Tendulkar) has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years so it's time we carried him on our shoulders,” said Virat Kohli after a jubilant victory lap of the stadium, in which the team bore the diminutive star on their shoulders.
“To each and every Indian, who is in India or even abroad, this cup belongs to you guys,” added spin bowler Harbhajan Singh.
The finale gave Tendulkar, the world's most successful Test and one-day batsman, his first World Cup title in six appearances since 1992.
“I couldn't have asked for more,” said Tendulkar, who again missed out on scoring a landmark 100th international century.
“Winning the World Cup is the ultimate. It is the proudest moment of my life. It shows it is never too late. I thank my teammates who were fabulous. I could not really hold back my tears.”
A visibly relieved Dhoni, who was named man of the match, attributed India's first win on home soil to many months of preparation and a singular team goal in the face of intense expectation.
“Every time you turn on the TV you hear we're expected to win,” he said.
“Nowadays we get so much pressure that, if you ask some of the players, they're not eating well because of anxiety.
“We felt it through the tournament but I think everybody coped really well with the pressure and each individual stepped up to the occasion.”
It was only the third time in 10 World Cup finals that a side batting second had chased down the victory target.
With their victory, Dhoni's men emulated Kapil Dev's compatriots who won the 1983 World Cup by beating the West Indies in the final at Lord's in London.
Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara was typically gracious in defeat, congratulating India and thanking the home town crowd.
“It's been a great tournament but the way India played today they really deserved the tag of favourites,” he said.
“I think both India and Sri Lanka should be very proud of the cricket they played today and I would like to thank everyone who helped us to come all this way.”
The early omens were not good for India after a controversial decision by match referee Jeff Crowe to re-toss the coin amid confusion over visiting captain Kumar Sangakkara's call gave Sri Lanka the chance to bat first.
They took it, hoping to make the most of the flat hard pitch at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium.
India's bowlers came out fighting against a slow-to-fire Sri Lankan batting side, only to lose the momentum in a barnstorming final overs power play by the visitors who set a formidable 275-run target.
Zaheer Khan bowled three maidens in the first five overs before capturing a valuable early wicket in Upal Tharanga, who broke his bat with his first run and added one more to his total before he was caught by Virender Sehwag in the seventh.
Harbhajan claimed the second of Sri Lanka's critical top four batsmen 10 overs later with a leg-side delivery that flicked off Tillakaratne Dilshan's glove and hit the stumps.
It was Mahela Jayawardene who kept the Sri Lankans on track with two steady partnerships, adding 62-runs with captain Sangakkara and another 66 with surprise mid-order inclusion Nuwan Kulasekara.
The 33-year-old steered Sri Lanka through a run wonderland in the final overs, reaching his century with two successive boundaries off Zaheer Khan and ending the innings with a six.
The visitors' spectacular first innings closure spooked India, which entered the match as favourites but went into bat as marginal underdogs.
No host nation had previously won the World Cup, and by only the second ball India's chances of reversing that trend were looking grim when Sehwag was ruled lbw on the first ball he faced.
The wicket silenced the Wankhede Stadium but the real blow was just five overs away.
To the despair of the crowd, Tendulkar was caught for 18 after he was lured by Lasith Malinga into fishing at ball outside off stump, sending it into the waiting gloves of wicketkeeper Sangakkara.
At 2 for 31 India, were in serious trouble, but a determined Kohli and Gambhir brought them back into the game, adding a combined 83 runs before Tillakaratne Dilshan took a one-handed catch off his own ball to dismiss Kohli for 35.
It was Thisara Perera who finally broke the dogged partnership of Gambhir and captain MS Dhoni, who kept India up with Sri Lanka's run rate until Gambhir was clean bowled on 97, leaving India at 4 for 223.
India showed true grit under pressure, with Dhoni hitting two consecutive boundaries in the 48th over to bring India within 7 runs of victory before sealing his team's victory with a triumphant six over long on.
Yuvraj Singh, who was named the man of the tournament, partnered his skipper till the end with 21 not out.
For both co-hosts, the World Cup final held special significance.
It was the first major sporting event to be held in India's exuberant entertainment capital since the deadly November 2008 terror attacks on the city.
For the Sri Lankans it was their first World Cup since the Rajapaksa government ended the country's bloody three-decade civil war and vowed to unite the nation.
“It would mean everything to win it,” Sri Lankan captain Sangakkara said before the game.
In the end only one team could do so.
It wasn't a fairytale finish but for Mumbai and a nation still licking its wounds, it was more than enough.

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