Nuwan Kulasekara was about to bowl the second ball of the 49th over. MS Dhoni was on strike. In the Wankhede stadium, emotions were going overboard. The team was preparing for something special. Kulasekara bowled a length ball outside off, Dhoni unleashed the helicopter shot and sent the ball soaring into the stands at long on. The moment had arrived. The nation of a billion erupted in joy. Players like Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh shed uninhibited tears of joy. With one glorious hit, Dhoni sealed the final against Sri Lanka by six wickets and gave India their first World Cup title in 28 years. The joy and emotion of the Indian cricket team was shared by a billion who celebrated into the long hours of the night. April 2, 2011 was etched as one of the golden days of Indian cricket, to go with June 25, 1983 where Kapil Dev's team had put the nation on the cricketing map by beating the mighty West Indies in Lord's.
The 2011 World Cup was a journey filled with plenty of emotions, twists and turns. For close to one year, India had put in solid performances in home and away tours. Heading into the World Cup, India were the favorites considering that they were playing at home. However, till then, no nation had won the World Cup in their own conditions. In the first match against Bangladesh at the Sher-e-Bangla in Mirpur, Virender Sehwag set the tone with a brilliant 175. Virat Kohli contributed with a 83-ball hundred as India started the campaign on a great note with an 87-run win.
Sachin Tendulkar showed his genius in the clash against England at the M Chinnaswamy stadium with a brilliant 120 as India reached 338 all out. However, Andrew Strauss produced a great knock of 158 to put England on course. Zaheer Khan took three wickets and Munaf Patel, Piyush Chawla took two wickets apiece as the match ended in a dramatic tie. India won comfortably against Ireland and Netherlands, with Yuvraj Singh taking five wickets against the Irish.
Tendulkar scored his 99th international ton by hammering 111 and was backed up by fifties from Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. However, India suffered a collapse of nine wickets for 29 runs as they were restricted to 296 all out. Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis hit fifties and it took an aggressive 18 off 7 balls from Robin Peterson to help South Africa win by three wickets.
In the last league game against West Indies in Chennai, Yuvraj Singh's 113 and Zaheer Khan's three wickets gave India momentum heading into the quarterfinals, where they were going to face reigning world champions Australia.
India gain momentum
In an emotionally charged encounter against the mighty Australians, Indian fans were waiting with anticipated breath as to when will India break their 24-year-jinx against Australia in this marquee event. Ricky Ponting put Australia in a good position with a magnificent century but Yuvraj took 2/44 as Australia posted 260/6. Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir put India in the hunt with brilliant fifties but once they fell, the pressure was on India. However, having contributed with the ball, Yuvraj slammed 57 and Suresh Raina hit a vital 34. When Yuvraj cracked a full ball from Brett Lee through extra cover for a boundary, India had finally won against Australia in a World Cup after 24 years. The image of Yuvraj sinking to his knees and roaring in joy by waving the bat became one an iconic image in the World Cup.
The semi-final was against arch-rivals Pakistan. The tension was palpable. Tendulkar survived four dropped chances and an LBW appeal from Saeed Ajmal as he scored 85. Raina chipped in with 36 but Wahab Riaz was the star with 5/46. Misbah-ul-Haq scored a fifty but India's bowlers worked as a unit, with Zaheer, Ashish Nehra, Munaf, Harbhajan and Yuvraj taking two wickets apiece as India prolonged Pakistan's pain in the World Cup.
Crescendo of momentum in final
The toss for the final resulted in some confusion but in the end, Sri Lanka batted first and they were boosted by a brilliant knock of 103 from Mahela Jayawardene. Some late hitting from Kulasekara and Thisara Perera helped Sri Lanka reach a formidable 274/7. In response, Lasith Malinga removed Sehwag and Tendulkar cheaply and the hearts of the Indian cricket fans sank.
It took some brilliance from Gautam Gambhir to steady the ship. Gambhir shared a 83-run stand for the third wicket with Virat Kohli and despite Kohli falling caught and bowled for 35, Gambhir still held firm and he found valuable support in Dhoni, who promoted himself up the order. Gambhir and Dhoni started to turn the tide. Every over, Gambhir and Dhoni ensured that India were never out of the game.
Gambhir's aggression and Dhoni's calmness gave India hope. The left-hander did not bother about his milestone as he pushed India towards victory but he missed his century when Thisara Perera bowled him for 97. Yuvraj joined Dhoni and the partnership guided India over the line in grand style.
Following the celebrations, the entire team carried Sachin Tendulkar on the shoulders and did a victory parade in the entire Wankhede stadium. Virat Kohli said a defining moment which highlighted that the change of guard from the old to the new was underway. “He has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years on his shoulders and it is about time that we carried him on our shoulders,” Kohli said.
The celebrations and the joy for the Indian cricket team and the fans lasted for many days and months. April 2, 2011 was indeed a golden day in more ways than one.