Monday, April 04, 2011

India's cup of Joy!

I was eight years old when Kapil's devils conquered the world in 1983 June. We had no access to television and so had not seen that triumph which changed Indian cricket for ever, for better. However, I heard tales of that conquest, that glory from my uncles and close relations who were privileged to be part of the moment through black and white television. Images of Kapil holding the Prudential Cup on the Lord's balcony were enduring. I had read and later seen on TV the catch that Kapil took of Richards, the gentle medium pace bowling of Jimmy, the brief destruction unleashed by Chikka. These all formed the joys of my childhood and school days. Obviously that set up the expectations. So World cup after World cup, it was disappointment. Kolkata-1996 and Jo'burg-2003 were like salt on the wound. Add to that, the mind boggling Sachin Tendulkar who is link back to our school days not being part of a World cup winning team was also rankling me and many of my friends - as much as it was rankling him.

In that backdrop, Wankhede 2011 was incredible. I loved everything about it and the run-up to it. I had lately started to follow the game passively and catch up with the youtube moments later. However WC2011 was different. I followed it actively, although I didn't bunk office to catch the matches, I made sure to catch live action on TV after work. I was caught-up with Cricinfo, I was tuned to twitter, I followed it on facebook when I was not watching. I had a sense of belief, as my cousins say, 'deep in my heart', that this team India has got what it takes to go all the way. I am glad, nay, overjoyed that all that time I spent refreshing the internet browser, watching action on TV and also those prayerful moments, of which there were many, came to fruition on 02nd April 2011 at Wankhede. The atmosphere all over for the knock-out phase was thrilling, exciting, goose-bump-raising. All the scientific training I received and rational thinking just disappeared as I started praying and was quite unambiguous in what I asked - the world cup for India. I kept pestering the Gods and summoned all of the known Gods for help at Wankhede while we were chasing. In the last ten overs of our chase, the prayers as also the superstitions reached a crescendo. I didn't want to change my seat, lest it may cost us a wicket. The superstition was also vindicated when I did move and we lost Gambhir raising some nervous moments. You may say I was like a planet whose configuration inevitably mattered to the team's fortune! But I am sure Iwas not alone. Wherever there was an Indian fan following the game on the planet, the condition must have been the same. The prayers were as much to win the world cup for the country as also for Sachin Tendulkar. It was a self-less prayer - the man who gave joy to the nation for 21 long years deserves this, a sentiment shared by Virat Kohli after the match. I guess this prayer was a clincher! Having 'pulled it off', I did thank all the Gods who had made this possible and then reflected on the performances and the preparation of the team that made the triumph possible.

First up, take a bow Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the able leader. He had made all of 150 runs coming into this all important match. Almost every fickle fan spoke of how he has been sorted out and not the destroyer he used to be. Growing is part of all life, except that of the fickle fan. In that context, it took lot of courage and extra-ordinary self belief from the India captain to complete a chase that was just put back on the rails by the youngsters after the early jolt. The cynic may still say he was lucky. To that I'll simply say, what the hell, don't they say fortune favours the brave? It showed his tremendous character in the face of what seemed to be an up hill task. MSD the destroyer had just come out of hibernation, in a much smarter avatar.

More importantly, it was MSD, the captain that impressed me through out the tournament. Playing Piyush Chawla in place of Ashwin in the group stage invited criticism. But if Piyush had a role at all in this campaign, that was the only time. So was Yusuf Pathan who is like a lottery ticket that has more chance of going the other way. In the middle of the campaign it was found that we were struggling to complete playing fifty overs and add those valuable 10-15 runs to the total and quickly Raina was brought in, again just in the right time. Ashwin was unleashed on home turf and was a run away hit. He played an excellent role in what I think was the most important match - the QF. So dropping him for the semi final clash against Pakistan was ridiculed and riled at. But to me, it showed there was a method to the whole campaign. The method could be right or wrong, but there needs to be a method and accordingly a preparation. It also showed the greater goal the team had - that of winning the cup. It also takes courage to admit that it was a misreading of the pitch that prompted the selection of Nehra over Ashwin. But again, doesn't fortune favour the brave?

When Ponting and Steve Waugh conquered the world, their teams consisted of extremely skilled men who could win the match on their own on any day, in both batting and bowling. But Dhoni didn't have that luxury, especially in the bowling department. That puts in perspective how Dhoni managed to marshall the resources he had with him. It is not an easy task at all to be captain of Indian cricket team. To Dhoni's immense credit he held his very own and carried the team in the face of all the criticism and free 'expert' advice that was on offer all the time. But it would be wrong to say all the ideas of the India captain were only his own. Execution and accountability was his own but the ideas were obviously influenced by the team and to a very great extent by a non-Indian.

Take a bow, Gary Kirsten. The extra ordinary, lime light avoiding coach of the team for the last three years who reminds me a lot of John Wright in his work ethic. The results during the reign of these two coaches have been very similar. During Gary's reign as coach, India not only reached the numero uno status in the Test cricket, it also retained the status when it had the danger of losing it while playing against Australia and South Africa. Team India had become a force to reckon with in Test cricket. And now the team has conquered the ultimate title in the ODIs. What shone through in Kirsten tenure was the vision he had for the side in Tests and ODIs and summoning of the wherewithal to achieve that vision. His captain and his team subscribed to that vision and responded beautifully. Kirsten didn't achieve these results by fluke. He achieved it, aided by an excellent support staff, by managing the bodies of the players, exciting their minds, lifting their spirits and inculcating in them a great sense of belonging to the team and achieving for each other. One particular re-iteration of Guru Gary comes to mind - Don't attribute to malice what can easily be attributed to stupidity! It is a profound teaching in the context of a team game. It is a highly heterogeneous team with players from different languages and cultures. Uniting them under a vision and for a purpose is something we don't often see in our great country. I hate to mention Greg Chappel in the same paragraph, but bright stands brighter under contrast. Gary brought back a struggling Gambhir to the team and made him a match winner and Greg Chappell ensured a shining Irfan Pathan totally got derailed early in his career. The team will miss Gary Kirsten. But I am sure he will go back with lots of satisfaction and come 2015, South Africa may look up to him to realize their dream of the World cup.

When India were tottering at 31/2 and the Lankans made a mini victory lap at the Wankhede, it would have been normal for many teams and especially the earlier Indian teams to wilt. Not this team. They had been 'plotting' the final for one and a half years, it seems. So I'm sure they had plans up their sleeve. It was quite be-fitting that two youngsters Gambhir and Kohli stood up to the occasion and laid the foundation for the chase. Kohli has now starred in both U-19 world cup and the seniors world cup wins and he can learn a lot from Sachin to keep a level head in this phase of his career. Gambhir has also been the architect of India's T-20 world cup win and again here, he reserved his best for the biggest occasion. He owes a lot to Gary and one of my friends saw Kirsten himself in the batting of Gambhir. I'm not surprised.

The unbelievable Yuvraj Singh!! He has been Dhoni's go-to man throughout the tournament when we needed breakthroughs. Whether it is with Australia or Pakistan or other teams Yuvi has got those vital breakthroughs in the right time. Along with that, he has batted superbly through out. He is our all-rounder who brought a great balance to the team composition. Lately Yuvi has been looking fragile and I reckoned that is why we haven't seen him devouring the ball at point while fielding. But yesterday between them, Yuvi, Kohli and Raina built an impregnable wall and the greatest proof of that was the score of 32/1 that SL managed after the first 10 overs. Yuvi gave us glimpses of Jonty Rhodes yesterday. The bird's eye view camera angle of his dive at the ball which also captured his shadow on the ground will remain etched in the minds of cricket lovers.

Raina has been a great finisher against both Australia and Pakistan. The fact that we came this far is in good measure due to him. Dhoni used the ICC rules and Raina's fielding to the fullest extent even in group stage. But Raina's contribution with bat in the QF and SF reminded me of what Laxman does for us in Tests. Of course the inimitable Viru Sehwag failed to last long in most games but the starts he and Sachin provided in most games had wrested the initiative from the opposition and laid a good foundation more often than not.

Zaheer lived up to his billing every bit although he was a bit off colour in last two games. He was our lynchpin. He knew it and he played the role to perfection. His craft and wile was an indispensable part of our campaign and triumph. Munaf ably played a second fiddle and was a kind of metronome, stifling the batsmen for width. He was impressive in most parts.

Then of course, there is the peer-less, age-less Sachin Tendulkar. He was carried on team mates' shoulders on a victory lap at Wankhede! Kohli said it ver well - He has carried the burden of the country for 20 years, it was time we carried him on our shoulders! Not only the master, most of us were deeply touched by this love and respect he commanded from his team. He is competing and often out-shining youngsters half his age in most games. Lately he has batted the way he has always wanted to, thanks to the team which doesn't depend entirely on him. He should go on as long as he enjoys it. India is supremely blessed to have this once-in-a-century cricketer. If anything, he can only become more relaxed and hence more dangerous after the adding the world cup glory to his already towering achievements. He is one cricketer whose various innings I have discussed with my high school mates, my college mates, my research colleagues, and continue to discuss with fellow professionals. Simply mind boggling. Go on, you phenomenon!

So the reason this blog got so lengthier is that every one in the 15-member team had a role to play at some stage or the other. You may not see that happening often. Indians were stretched in almost all games, but were never out played. They won those stretches because they had the elasticity.

The triumph underlies beautifully the planning and role assignment that happened going into the world cup. It is a wonderful case study of team effort. It is case study for able leadership and planning. The cynic may yet say they were lucky, but again lady luck loves the prepared souls. That this team was well prepared is quite apparent, at least to me. Go India, this is your moment in the Sun. Enjoy it to the fullest!


Ravi said...

Ah. Brilliant post. In a way our post match conversation was a gist of everything you have described here. And you were right on your money by attributing the length of this post to the brilliant team effort that brought us this glory!

bsn said...

I did not know you have such a great passion for Cricket my dear Dr Ramesh. The blog is a superb piece and what all is read in the newspapers is no match to what you wrote. It was written with a sense of immense feeling what we call ANUBHUUTI. No need to tell I really enjoyed reading and at once my feeling of joy of our boys achieving the rare feat became not doubled but many fold.

Anonymous said...

Very nicely written. One additional thing that comes to mind is about the process that has been going on for the last several years. The contributions of Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxsman and Sourav Ganguly must be taken into account to understand the position of confidence that this team has. Successes overseas were very much instrumental in increasing the confidence of the team. But like I said in the beginning these are additonal things. Congrats to the team India and all its fans across the globe who spent so many sleepless nights and decided not to follow cricket again, yet started watching as soon as there was another interesting match coming along. -Kaushik.

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Love to blog. Every time I turn joyous or in extreme pain, I blog. Huge believer of 'charity begins at home'.