After Kapil Dev's India brought India into the map in 1983 with the unlikeliest of victories at the Home of Cricket, the nation went crazy. It found new heroes, people to believe in and mortals to idolize but the wait for another such moment was long coming. While the enthusiasm only grew, the pain of missing out was outgrowing the cherishable moments.
Sourav Ganguly's band of boys came close two decades later but the dream remained unfulfilled despite a sensational tournament as India was annihilated by a team led by Ricky Ponting at Johannesburg in the summit clash. Four years later, it got worse. Knocked out and humiliated in the Caribbean, India perhaps suffered their worst ever fate in the World Cup. It was seen as India's last big chance to win as the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid were reaching towards the fag end of their international career in limited-overs cricket. But, the anti-climax was heartbreaking.
However, post that India won the World T20 in South Africa and a young side led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni was slowly building the shattered hopes back series by series and before you could realise, it was 2011 -- a World Cup year and in the sub-continent.
With Sachin Tendulkar still around and India a settled unit, this was India's biggest opportunity again. One that they couldn't afford to miss and one...they didn't.
The expectation as many of the World Cup-winning players said was high. Wherever they went, people only had one thing to say 'Iss baar Cup ghaar aayega, naa? [This time the cup will come home, no)] Naturally the pressure was more and with Tendulkar playing his last big tournament and now trophy to show despite all the plaudits, the motivation was a tad bit more.
Pitted in Group B along with Bangladesh, England, Ireland, Netherlands, South Africa and West Indies, the road to the knockouts was more or less certain. And it became even more evident with the way the tournament began. Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag looked in ominous form and with the likes of Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh also firing, India were the side to beat. Barring a tie against England and a loss versus South Africa, Dhoni's men dominated the group stages and finished second behind the Proteas with four wins in six games.
The task was uphill from here on.
With Australia in the quarters, nothing but 'A' game would have sufficed but the team was on a roll and the players backed to the T, nothing was far fetched now. But, it didn't start the way it should have. Ricky Ponting scored a fighting century and took Australia to 260/6 at Ahmedabad. While the task was not herculean, batting second at Motera and with such pressure, it was always going to be difficult. But, fifties from Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh along with useful contributions from Kohli and Suresh Raina meant that India cruised through to the semis, where India went on to meet Pakistan.
India-Pakistan semi-finals. A blockbuster.
Days of build up, sledge-fest from both medias and jibes from public, a World Cup semi-final couldn't have been any bigger. Mohali was going to be box-office.
But, with India winning all matches against their arch-rivals in a World Cup and in the form of their life, it was a tough task for Shahid Afridi's men. And, that is exactly how it turned out to be.
Tendulkar dominated with the bat providing the public immense joy in what was his last match against Pakistan in a World Cup and then the bowlers running through Pakistan with Misbah-ul-Haq the lone man standing -- India won by 29 runs and off they were to the final, where Sri Lanka was going to be their opponent -- a team with immense confidence and experience of the conditions.
It was another gem of a contest. April 2, 2011 -- the date was set and Wankhede was ready. Dressed in Blue -- mostly the lighter shade, the country was getting ready to celebrate their biggest son and end their 28-year long wait.
— ICC (@ICC) April 2, 2018
It was a sultry day in Mumbai but breezy and that was enough to provide some respite. Kumar Sangakkara won the toss and elected to bat first. The start wasn't great for the Lankans as they lost Upul Tharanga early but Tillakaratne Dilshan and Sangakkara steadied the ship but before the former could launch, he was sent back by Harbhajan to much of the crowd's joy. In walked Mahela Jayawardene and his eyes were set on the prize. Crips drives and swift running, Jayawardene showed no signs of fatigue and marched registered a famous hundred and with some lusty blows from Thisara Perera, Sri Lanka posted a daunting 274/6 on the board.
The momentum was with Lanka but the nation believed in the Master. But, it was not the day for miracles. Sehwag and Tendulkar were sent back to the pavilion early by Lasith Malinga and Wankhede was stunned. India on the backfoot but out came a determined Kohli. Unfazed by the occasion and tailored for the stage -- Kohli was up for it. Along with fellow Delhiite Gambhir, he built a solid stand and brought India back in the game as Indians believed again. But, after scoring 35, he handed a catch straight back to Dilshan and Sri Lanka were back in it. It was time for Yuvraj to come as Wankhede erupted for the man in form to walk in but surprise surprise...out came MSD.
That was a decision nobody understood and many debated but little did they knew that the man, who had a disastrous tournament with the willow, saved the best for the last.
Dhoni in typical fashion along with the grinding Gambhir slowly and steadily took India closer. Gambhir brought up his fifty by milking it around and Dhoni took care of Muttiah Muralitharan, a genuine threat to India's quest for the cup. India got closer and closer but it was a World Cup final after all and how could there be no drama? Gambhir, who looked ever so responsible on the day, looked to hook a good length delivery from Thisara Perera and missed it. The ball hit the stumps and off he went for 97 in the 42nd over.
India still needed 52 off 52 balls and it was on Dhoni now to take his team home and script history. He stuck on and it was India's game with Sri Lanka desperately trying to make a comeback. It was a matter of one more wicket and Wankhede upped its game as 45,000 people stood up and 'Vande Mataram' echoed around the stadium. People who didn't believe, believed again and the once who did, just got their chins up. Dhoni upped the ante and took on the bowling and there was only one result possible from here on.
India were cruising and Kulasekara was handed the ball in a desperate attempt to get a wicket but Mahi was having none of it. 11 balls were remaining with four to get and cometh the hour, cometh the man. Out came the helicopter and the ball sailed over long-on head for a six! "Dhoni finishes off in style, a magnificent strike into the crowd...India lift the World Cup after 28 years," screamed Ravi Shastri as the fireworks were set off and Wankhede erupted.
And fittingly enough, India's man of the tournament and perhaps one of its greatest warrior Yuvraj was there to see it from the other end and on he went rushing to hug his partner, who perhaps gave a pose for the cameras that will be remembered for centuries to come.
The celebrations started in the field as well as players everyone lifted Sachin on their shoulders and did a lap of honour around a stadium that 45,000 in it but looked like 90,000. Nothing could have been more perfect for the man who had given Indian cricket his all. What a sight it was.
As things settled and sense regained, we all realised that India had won a World Cup after 28 years and the wait by the look of things on the night before...was worth it.