***Disclaimer- this is veryyyyy long***
March 2003- 11th grade exams had just gotten over. It was the first World Cup I was seeing in full consciousness (vague memories of the 96' India-Pakistan match were somewhere in the back of the mind) India was to play Pakistan in the group stages. I was very excited and made everyone dress in blue for the occasion, and dressed myself in an orange kurta, white salwar, green chunni and bangles to match. The Pakistani innings was a blur of runs. I remember a feeling of gloom settle in during the break before the Indians were to bat. I remember Sehwag practically killing the famed Pak bowlers, and then getting out. I remember Sachin hitting Shoaib Akhtar for boundary after boundary, and the image of Wasim Akram clapping his hands, inspite of himself, at the beauty of Tendulkar's batting. I remember how happy the Pakis were when Sachin got out. And I remember how happy India was when we finally beat them. What.a.match.
The quarters and the semis are a big blur now...but that World Cup final will forever haunt me. I remember all of us gathered at my aunt's place, the boys in sahara india t-shirts, and me in my tricolour outfit. That first over when Zaheer Khan handed over 18 runs to the Aussies- heart breaking. I don't think I saw that match in its entirety, but it was a very upsetting experience. And I hoped some day, some World Cup final would be different.
2007- I honestly don't remember watching a single match of that World Cup. Maybe it was the time difference, maybe because it happened at a time when I was too caught up in my own life/studies to bother about the men in blue. Looking back, I am glad. 2003 was tough enough, but the baggage of 2 world cups would have been difficult to carry.
But I remember the 2007 T20 victory, and how awesome it was. And how much fun it was to win a World Cup...the format notwithstanding.
2011- It had been 8 years since 2003. I wasn't 16 anymore, thus wasnt as "carry my heart on my sleeve" with respect to cricket. The fun of cricket had somehow faded, what with some match or series or tour happening ALL the time. I saw the group matches off and on, and got irritated by how difficult every win seemed to be. "Does this look like a team which could win the Cup?", the mother constantly asked. No, was the reply from every person. I saw South Africa beat India in the group stages, and wonder when our bowling would finally win us matches.
It was only when India was due to play Australia, that I started paying close attention. But I didn't watch the match in entirety. It was only the 2nd half of the Indian innings which I saw ball-by-ball. The brother refused to let me get up from my seat at the back of the room, and it was only when we needed 4 runs to win, that I came near the television screen, and shouted when we finally won. We had beaten the Aussies, and we were going to face our archrivals in the semis.
I missed the first innings of the semis too. I was tempted to sit at home, but partly out of superstition (since I missed the first innings of the India-Australia match) I went out. I wanted India to beat Pakistan, for tradition's sake, if not for the Cup. And beat it did. A fantastic match by every account, it justified every bit of the hype it had generated for the past week. Our bowlers did an awesome job (imagine no extra till the 37th over!) and good ole' misbah got out when trying to hit a six, a la T20 final 07. Sheer awesomeness. Pakistan was defeated. We had attained nirvana- we could lose the cup and still be a happy lot of people.
The run up to the finals was insane. The media hype was unprecedented. Records were quoted every second, and the importance of this match was stressed upon- how a host country had never won the Cup at home, how it was Tendulkar's home ground and how wonderful it would be to see him make that 100th ton. How we hadn't won a cup in 28 years. Madness. I wanted to run out of the house for the first innings, out of superstition. What if I saw the whole match and India lost? Did I want to take that chance? But at the end moment, I couldn't bring myself to miss the first innings. This was the finals- it deserved my full and complete attention! By coincidence, I was wearing a green tee and blue jeans...and was tempted to throw an orange chunni over it- but I stopped myself when memories of another world cup final when I had dressed to the occasion came rushing back. "Don't do so much drama...be nonchalant- that's how we'll win" the mother said. Fair enough, I thought.
The Sri Lankan innings started off pretty well. Wickets weren't falling as often as we would have liked, but the runs were less. Awesome awesome fielding and bowling (Sree's stupidity notwithstanding) It was only in the last five overs that heartbreak happened. And then it was over. India had to make 275 to win. 5.5 per over.
And then India came to bat. And Sehwag got out in the 2nd ball. Tragic. And then Tendulkar got out at 18. Wankhede, and all of India fell silent. The two star batsmen gone. Was the Cup gone as well? "Sri Lanka has the cup", said the father. My hopes fell and my heart sunk. It was excruciating to see each ball after that. And when Kohli got out, hopes which had started to rise a tad bit, fell deep into an abyss once more. When Dhoni walked in, the father said "Why is he here?" He hadnt made more than 34 runs in the entire series- would this match be different? Ball after ball was bowled, runs were made, close calls occurred. It was T.E.N.S.E.
The who's who of India was watching- the richest, the most powerful, the most glamourous. But it was an event which made every single human being watching an equal. It didn't matter whether you were sitting in the VIP box, or the normal stands, or watching it in your home, or listening to the radio. Ranbir Kapoor wore the same Sahara India t-shirt which your average Mumbaikar was wearing. Nita Ambani had her head in her hands, Aamir Khan refused to let the frown leave his face. Rajnikanth looked solemn. These were people who had everything, the world at their feet, the power over their own destiny and the money to buy whatever they wanted- but that day, they were at the mercy of the men-in-blue.
Slowly slowly the runs were getting made. But the cup seemed very distant. At one point the mother (who was relegated to the back of the room, since it was 'lucky') said "Everyone said Pakistan should be beaten. They said the final doesn't matter." But it did! It so did!
The brother remained expressionless through the match, the father kept trying to sleep but couldn't catch a single wink. I tried to ease the moment with my star gazing "Look Shashi Tharoor! Look Rahul Gandhi!" But I could just as well have been talking to the walls. It was only when we needed 87 to win from 88 balls, did the brother say his first words in god knows how long.
When Gambhir went out for 97 (heartbreaking), and Dhoni made his 50- a nation felt their pain and joy, but was still waiting to see the result. Will we celebrate at the end of the night or go to sleep in a state of sadness?
As the gap between the runs and balls decreased, increased, decreased and increased, over after over, emotions were on a roller coaster. We were afraid to hope, afraid to jinx the good luck. It was only when 6 were needed from 11 balls, that the sound of a cracker being burst in the vicinity was heard. And when Dhoni hit that six, the brother started shouting, and I crossed my fingers, hoping against hope that it wasn't a catch...it was only when the mother finally got up from her seat and hugged us, did I realize what had happened- WE HAD WON THE WORLD CUP!!! The fireworks started in abundance, the tv screen was a haze of visuals- yuvi and bhajji had tears in their eyes, sachin had the biggest smile on his face...and dhoni, oh dhoni, had a strange look of peace on his stoic face.
I can watch those visuals again and again, for the rest of my life- dhoni's eyes focused on the ball as he hit the six, not an inkling of a smile on his face and that huge grin when yuvraj hugged him, tendulkar being carried around the field- tricolour wrapped around his shoulders, kohli saying "he's carried the burden of the country for 21 years, it was time for us to carry him", zaheer khan saying "we did it for this special man standing here", the boys hugging each other over and over again, gary kirsten standing up the moment dhoni hit the six- hands up in the air, that pure unadulterated joy on each face in Wankhede...and on the faces of each individual in the world who rooted for the men in blue.
I have no words to explain what it feels like. As Tendulkar said "This cup doesn't belong to the 15 of us. It belongs to the whole nation" So so true. There is a certain pride on every face on the roads, a certain feeling of accomplishment. It was a collective victory for all of us, the rarest of rare occasion when practically every Indian was on the same side. Watching the highlights gives me goosebumps, seeing the photo of Tendulkar holding the cup- gateway of India in the background chokes my throat. I am not a die-hard cricket fan, but I am an Indian- and this one was for every Indian.
I am so glad the people born post 1983 have their own set of world cup memories now. I wrote this looooong post, because I never ever want to forget this World Cup. I want to hang on to every memory, because it all adds up to the happiness that I felt when Dhoni hit that six. I feel proud of the fact that years done the line, I will tell people about this match and say "Arrey, I saw the whole match when India won the Cup in 2011- it was brilliant!" This one, is my World Cup.