Sunday, 3 April 2011

Dreams are made of these....

"Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane." - Red to Andy Dufresne in the classic 'The Shawshank Redemption', 1994.

India started the day with hope. Zaheer Khan was un-hittable by the Lankans, and the fielding made one suspect that coach Kirsten had injected some South African genes into the Indian team. What had been injected though was much simpler and much more visible: desire. The Indians were leaping, diving, running as if they had to train with Usain Bolt and the Sri Lankans found the going tough in the initial few overs. Visions were raised of a bowling choke, leading to a sedate chase. Then Dilshan and Sangakkara built a stand, after which Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene got the scoreboard ticking over much more regularly. Sangakkara went, and Mahela - who had started the World Cup with a 100 off 80 balls against Canada, before losing his form, decided the final would be the perfect place to recapture it on the way to a 100 off 84 balls. Sri Lanka scored 63 runs off the final five overs of the innings, turning a average-competitive total into a very tough one. Hope, that had been steadily growing in Indian fans' hearts, must have done a quick about-turn and headed straight into insanity territory.

The scene had to be seen to be believed. It was midnight, there wasn't any store open and yet there was a teeming, swaying, gathering mass of humanity. Men and women, old and young, inebriated and sober, on vehicles and on foot - all bound by one fact and one only: They had discovered the Indian in them.

Roads that had never seen this kind of movement at this hour were jam-packed. Vehicles were stuck, moving 10 metres in half an hour, but that was alright - no one was trying to get anywhere, everyone simply wanted to be a part of the festivities. At one point, I thought I should ask the group of people I was with to get back inside the car because I had spied a police car coming from the distance. Then I paused - there was a hand that was coming out of the police car as it neared a throng. That hand was raised in an unmistakable gesture of high-fiving the revelers. There wasn't going to be a crime committed today - not for the next two hours. Not when the country was in the throes of a collective happiness the like of which it had never seen. Tonight, the police were part of the delicious madness. I didn't get back in my car - I waited till I could bump hands with the man behind the wheel of the police vehicle.

Sri Lanka had ended up with a very good total, it was true. No batsman hitting a century in a World Cup final had ended up on the losing side - this was also true. No side playing the final at home had won the World Cup, yes. And no side had chased as many as 275 runs to win in a World Cup final. Yet hope had not completely disappeared. After all, no chasing side had a set of openers like Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar did they?

As it turned out, after just 6.1 overs India didn't have them either. Sehwag had gone off the second ball of the innings, trapped plumb in front by Lasith Malinga. He took with him a sizeable chunk of hope and one needlessly wasted review. However, Tendulkar was still there, and it is an axiom of an Indian fan's life that as long as he is there at the crease, hope is never fully banished from the heart. For 13 glorious balls he made us believe. It was written - he would get to his 100th century while anchoring India's chase and bringing home the trophy that he most wanted and yet had never got, in front of an adoring home-crowd. God had rested on the 7th day, in twice the number of balls, the God of Indian cricket chased a ball from Malinga that was going away and had to leave to stunned silence.

31/2 in 6.1 overs with the two principal match-winners back in the pavilion. Bye-bye hope, welcome Insanity.

There was a man in a corner waving a giant India flag. He didn't look like he had come with anyone else, and yet he was bear-hugging every body within arm-reach. He was draping the flag over someone else, and high-fiving every passer-by on vehicle. There was a man on a motor-cycle. He didn't have anyone riding with him. And yet, from a moving vehicle he found the energy and the insouciance to holler a 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' and exchange fist-bumps with whoever seemed to be passing him. There is a pedestrian, but he's not on the footpath. He's in the middle of the road. And he spontaneously starts a chant of 'Sachin...Sachin'. what feels like 50,000 voices immediately join in. They might have come alone, but there was nobody who was alone on this night.

Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli. Two Delhi boys. Two future India captains maybe. Also most importantly, two men with limitless stomachs for toughing it out and who had the cojones to probably think to themselves, "So what if Tendulkar and Sehwag have gone? We are still there."

They dusted off the early dismissals and focussed on the task at hand: how to get India to 275 in little steps. Gambhir looked fluent from the start, Kohli first settled down and then started opening up. Visions of this match cropped up. Irresistible parallels were drawn - India chased a much higher total in that match and the combined score of Tendulkar and Sehwag was 18 then too, as it was today. Would Kohli and Gambhir repeat their heroics? Kohli, it turned out, would not. 114/3 in the 22nd over, and India was once more on the back-foot. Out walked MS Dhoni, ahead of the in-form Yuvraj Singh. He had - he said later - a point to prove: to himself. And he backed himself to prove it. It was a courageous decision on the part of a man who hadn't been scoring too many runs so far, knowing that if it back-fired, he would have had to face a barrage of questions.

It didn't backfire. Dhoni didn't allow it to. Gambhir and Kohli had taken India from despair to uncertainty. Dhoni and Gambhir took them from uncertainty to looking increasingly likely winners. Gambhir had already got to a superb fifty, and during the course of the stand Dhoni joined him. "We see your Mahela," the Indian fans seemed to be saying, "and we raise you a Gautam." The stand had crossed the century mark, and Gambhir was nearing his own. He would have got it too, except for a rush of blood that saw a fairly straight 'you miss, I hit' ball from Perera duly miss Gambhir's flailing bat and head for his stumps. Nevertheless, with 97 off 122, while chasing in a World Cup final, Gambhir had entered the pantheon of the select few who have played great World Cup final knocks.

Out walked India's World Cup talisman - Yuvraj Singh. The game was in the balance, with India having a slight advantage. Recognizing the moment and realising that he needed to seize it, MS Dhoni turned it on. He had been scoring at almost a run-a-ball until Gambhir's dismissal. After Yuvraj's entry, he unleashed a brutal square-cut for six. When Malinga came back for his final spell, there was one quiet over, after which he was taken for 11 runs, with 9 of them coming off Dhoni's blade. With that, India's required rate was 5 runs to win off 12 balls.

Grown men are not supposed to dance like this. Since when did the streets of a city become a post-midnight celebratory meeting place? And India will not be allowed to forget this party. 1983 exists as televison recording. 2011 will half be remembered by the street videos. For every man who is dancing, there is one taking a video - on a cellphone, on a camera, on possibly other sophisticated devices whose names I don't know. Yes, India will not be allowed to forget this party - there are just too many recordings of it!

However, perhaps I should pull my friends - respectable, intelligent, mature men in ordinary lives - away from the throng where they are dancing without a care in the world, without a music beat to be heard and with only the accompaniment of a thousand screaming voices? I would, but I find that I'm part of the throng. My voice is contributing to the collective roar. My two left feet are dancing in wild abandon.

5 off 12, becomes 4 off 11 with a single and MS Dhoni is back on strike. He finishes it in the way only he can. Ice-cold eyes, even cooler head and a mighty swing over the sight-screens. He's had a previous highest of 34 in this World Cup, and he ends it by scoring 91 not out off 79 balls. For the first time after 28 years, a nation erupts with joy.

O Captain, my Captain! Our fearful trip is done, The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won. [Link]

The events of the night play back in memory. The first of many re-runs. The men who have won the Cup will be over the moon. And I'd wager that the men who might not have been a part of the winning squad, but who had just as much of a hand in bringing India to this summit on this day, will be just as happy. I raise a silent toast to Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid. To Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. To John Wright and Javagal Srinath. And of course to Gary Kirsten, Paddy Upton, the rest of the support staff and the entire Indian team of today. And to Sachin Tendulkar. You beautiful champion - who cares if you did not score runs. You had a date with destiny and you kept it.

The images continue to flash: There was emotion on the field from MS Dhoni. There were tears from many Indian players and millions of fans. I had walked out in the streets after the win. I was greeted, hugged, and fist-bumped by people I did not know. The last time I had greeted and hugged so many strangers was at my wedding.

Eleven men have won a trophy in a sport that only 10 countries in the world play at any sort of competitive level. But don't tell me that it's 'just a game'.

"Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." - Andy Dufresne, in reply to Red. From, 'The Shawshank Redemption', 1994.

This post was first published here. Images courtesy Cricbuzz.


Vivek Sharma said...

Lovely post.. absolutely lovely.. impossible to not be emotional while reading this. The non-linear writing is effective, very.

Identity Masking said...

Hey mate, nice post, acknowledged it on GB too..thz is Arvind from Hyderabad and i liked ur articles on VVS Laxman too, and more than that, today was a special day for all of us.. and liked the style of your write up, more like the GodFather part 2 movie, a nice interwove of past and present...

Cheers mate

Saurabh Somani said...

@Vivek Sharma: thank you
@Identity Masking: thanks Arvind.

Eternally Confused!!! said...

A very apt and emotional post ... That choking feeling in the throat of winning the cup came alive through your words !!!

K!ts said...

Amazing post.. loved the way the real and actual emotions are conveyed.
And yess, the streets went crazy! I dont even remember the last time streets were so full and EVERYONE was a part of the festivities.. Even 50-year old aunties were doing garba on the streets!! :)
India can never stop thanking this team enough!!

Saurabh Somani said...

@Eternally Confused, K!ts: thank you :)

Anonymous said...

Great post! I want to see a follow up to this topic


Gaurav Mehta said...

Read it again after you posted again. This article almost makes me forget the agony of past few months, almost!!

Having said that, absolutely classic article. This shall go into Somani's 'Hall of fame'

Gaurav Mehta

Saurabh Somani said...

@Gaurav Mehta: Thanks Mehte :)

@cewitail: the follow-up seems far away now!