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A billion dreams realised

Posted in ICC Cricket World Cup 2011

It started amid so much noise that no-one could hear the toss, and ended with a roar that probably carried as far as Delhi.

India’s World Cup final triumph in Mumbai tonight sparked what will surely be the greatest celebration in sporting history.

In beating Sri Lanka by six wickets under the Wankhede Stadium floodlights, India fulfilled the dreams of a nation for whom cricket is life.

For proof, look no further than the fact an India fan committed suicide after his team lost the last World Cup meeting between these sides in 2007.

Emotions could not be more different tonight, and the tears that streamed down the faces of several India players as they danced on the outfield after the game were borne of unadulterated joy.

There was a healthy dose of relief, too, at the realisation that they had completed, in wonderfully thrilling fashion, the task that more than a billion Indians expected, nay demanded, of them. To misquote Winston Churchill, never before has so much been expected of so few.

Co-hosts and tournament favourites; Sachin’s World Cup swansong (we feel we know him well enough now to call him by his first name); his march towards 100 international hundreds - for much of this competition it appeared India’s passage to World Cup glory had been scripted by a force higher even than Tendulkar.

A few taps of the keyboard are woefully inadequate to describe the pressure India were under in this tournament. Only those who have been there can truly know what it is like.

The manner in which India handled that, and saw off the rest of the cricketing world in the process, is beyond compare.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the coolest customer in the Wankhede Stadium tonight, admires the six that sealed India's memorable triumph

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s unbeaten 91 off 79 balls tonight was a microcosm of India’s tournament: calm, assured and founded on an unerring belief that all would be well in the end.

Having whittled down a target of 275 with the clinical efficiency of a surgeon at the operating table, Dhoni broke with habit by launching Nuwan Kulasekara for six over long-on to seal victory with 10 balls to spare. It was the exclamation mark this match, and the World Cup as a whole, deserved.

Holding his pose as he watched the ball sail into the crowd, it was almost as if Dhoni did not want to spoil the aesthetic of the moment, in much the same way Mohammad Ali, wrist cocked, watched George Foreman hit the canvas in Zaire in 1974.

A smile slowly crept across Dhoni’s face, and within moments he was in the midst of Yuvraj Singh’s bear hug. Seconds later he was buried by a swarm of delirious team-mates.

India may have the odd, how shall we say, abrasive character in their side, but those with a heart made of anything other than granite cannot fail to have been lifted by the jubilant scenes on the outfield.

To a man, the players dedicated India’s victory to the fans inside the stadium and beyond, and in return were showered with adulation as they completed a lap of honour.

Wrapped in an Indian flag and beaming broadly, Tendulkar - in his 38th year and his sixth World Cup - resembled a kid on his father’s shoulders as he was carried around his home ground by team-mates who clearly worship him as much as the public do. Their adoration is in no way misplaced.

This is likely to be remembered as Tendulkar’s World Cup. He may have failed with the bat tonight - that there was no hundred was the only deviation from the plot line in this Indian fairytale - but 482 of the most exquisite runs at 53.55 over the last six weeks served as a graphic illustration of his enduring quality as a cricketer and as a person.

He will play on beyond today, and few who saw him flinging himself around the field this afternoon could predict with any confidence when this man’s passion for the game will ebb sufficiently to persuade him to stop.

Sachin Tendulkar

Sachin Tendulkar is hoisted aloft as India complete a lap of honour in Mumbai that can rarely have been as richly deserved

Muttiah Muralitharan’s time, on the other hand, is up, and entirely of his own choosing. This represented the final match of a quite remarkable international career that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Tendulkar’s.

Murali failed to add to his 534 ODI wickets this evening - to go with the 800 he took in Tests - and it is an unavoidable fact of sporting life that one of these two greats (and I don’t use the word lightly) had to finish on the losing side.

Spare a thought also for Mahela Jayawardene, who has only a loser’s medal to show for crafting one of the finest centuries this or any other World Cup has seen.

The quality of cricket matched the occasion today, of that there can be little doubt. Quite how long the Indian party goes on for is open to debate.

One thing is for sure: they will make themselves heard.

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