What a night! A night to beat all other nights hollow! A night when the Men in Blue took centre-stage, with a performance none can find flaws in. It was incredible to see a team which was faltering during the World Cup, gain momentum and produce a less than a perfect performance, but still good enough to stun Australia in the quarterfinal, a doddering performance to stamp out Pakistan in the semifinal and come back strongly to reduce Sri Lankan grit to dust in the finals.
The night was incredibly perfect, as the calm, cool and collected captain MS Dhoni received the Man of the Match award and the flamboyant Yuvraj Singh the Man of the Series prize, but I could not help but feel sorry for the man of the moment Gautam Gambhir for not getting a share of the recognition with Dhoni. After all, his innings is what made the huge task look so surmountable in the first place.
And to think that like millions of fans, my quaking heart reduced me to a morose, depressed fan through the day. While my head insisted I overcome my sense of loss and prepare to sing paens to Sri Lanka, looking up each time to see Mahela Jayawardhane hit a four, reducing Indian bowling and fielding to naught. The heart triumphed and I decided to leave office to grieve in private, heart sinking to my knees, darkness enveloping me as Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar fell, even as Lasith Malinga rose to demonic proportions and I prepared for the inevitable.
When I reached home an hour later, Gambhir was still batting and all I could hope for was a decent loss, bracing myself for the crumbling middle-order, which we have all been witness to. Much later, he was still at the crease, raising his bat to acknowledge his fifty. While my heart recovered a little, the head kept saying `Don’t be silly, the target is still a long way off’.
But Gambhir’s 50 and the calm demeanour made my heart believe, maybe there is a miracle waiting to happen here and like a numb, defeated soldier I got up to pray my hardest in years, to beg God to give this incredible team a win. I believed throughout that it truly deserved it and I could possibly not be so wrong.
Though Team India was not performing to potential, it had still managed to tumble its way into the final, triumphing over Australia (when I thought team India was still finding its footing and it seemed too early to face Australia, after all an early knockout a very `real’ possibility) and quelling Pakistan’s rising strength in a thrilling semifinal. On the contray, Sri Lanka had an easy run up to the final, a no result thanks to rain against Australia, beating the West Indies in the quarter finals and then quelling New Zealand a team certainly not worthy of a semifinal place.
Gambhir’s steady and responsible partnership with Virat Kohli pumped my heart back to life, my voice rising in decibels as I cheered him, praying for them to keep going, as the target diminished at an agonizing slow pace of only a run or two off a ball. But what the heck, Gambhir and Kohli knew and the Indian fans knew that it was not a time to hit the big fours…not yet anyways.
And then Kohli fell, to a incredible return catch by Tillekeratne Dilshan and as I watched Dilshan pump himself, my distressed heart nose-dived again. With just 114 on board, the challenge seemed huge. But I am glad Gambhir did not think so and went on stoically. At this point it was a respite to see Mr. Calm himself walk in, instead of the not so bratty now Yuvraj, whose knocks would have lifted the innings but could have also plummeted hopes further.
A miracle still seemed a long way off, as millions of fans sympathised with the captain, as he tried hard to keep the sweat off his eyes, frequenting removing the helmet and adjusting, as he steeled himself to a long innings, which had evaded him through the entire run of the World Cup. I fell in love with the man twice, first when he lay sprawled on the ground, as his physio helped him stretch and release the pain and pressure, only to resume. The second time was when on the last ball, he focused on the ball, his bulging eyes not blinking once, as he hit a massive six to finish off the Sri Lankan challenge. While Yuvraj screamed, the captain simply tucked his bat under his left arm and looked to remove the stumps.
For a second, it seemed so unreal and I switched to victory mode, only when Yuvraj hugged Sachin like a kid and Harbhajan Singh’s tears rolled down, to be soon joined by mine, as an incredible World Cup season ended for me too. A month and a half of making sense of a World Cup, came to an end for me, which has been boring in most parts, only a few games worthy of a World Cup performance, most featuring team India .