Dhoni and co dared to dream
The cynics outnumbered the believers. The decibel notes from the critics were getting noisier and more vocal. Dean Jones came up with his now classic prediction: "India winning the World Cup? Tell Dhoni he is dreaming." He reckoned that with the bowling and fielding they had the Indians had no chance of winning. It was a view that was shared by a number of others.
And yet when it all ended six weeks after it started the World Cup was India's. Yes, the same team that didn't seem to have a chance because of their weakness in bowling and fielding emerged champions and Dhoni was able to join Kapil Dev. The legendary cricketer had complained more than once that it was lonely at the top and longed to have company. Now he has someone worthy to share the pedestal with him.
Self belief is one of the most enduring of all qualities when it comes to sport. Yes, Dhoni was dreaming of winning the World Cup along with Sachin Tendulkar and several other players. There is nothing wrong with dreaming. Only when you have dreams can you realize them. And the same Indian team with certain inherent weaknesses went on to win the biggest trophy the game has to offer. Put it down to self belief. The cynics said the team would crumble in the final following two successive high octane clashes with Australia and Pakistan that must have drained the players. But these boys were made of sterner stuff. At crucial times the seemingly weaker links performed above their level; at other times the batting, bowling and fielding all clicked and the result was that it was Dhoni and his boys who lifted the trophy at the Wankhede stadium on a memorable Saturday night.
Ah yes, Saturday night! It was on another Saturday night back home when another Indian team rewrote the history books 28 years ago. "Kapil's Devils" they were christened by a suitably impressed British media and what they achieved was something quite matchless. In 1983 limited overs cricket in India was still in its infancy. Test cricket was still very much the name of the game. After two World Cups and a few ODIs around the world the Indians had yet to come with the intricacies of the limited overs game. They approached it like a Test match. Little wonder that Sri Lanka then only an associate member had shocked India in the 1979 World Cup - the first major upset in the competition.
And at the other end was the spectrum were the all conquering West Indies, undisputed champions in the game, twice world champions and just a match away from a third title. What happened at Lord's that sunny June day has been well chronicled. The result - India winning sensationally by 43 runs - altered the face of Indian cricket and perhaps the sport itself.
Of course there is the other angle too. With no high expectations the Indians were able to play freely. In a tension free atmosphere, bereft of any media hype - television was only in its infancy and restricted to Doordarshan while the press itself adopted a more controlled and balanced approach - the Indians had everything to gain and nothing to lose. There were no nationwide signature campaigns wishing the team good luck, no Bollywood stars involved, no corporate sponsors and no big money.
These days the scenario has changed in more ways than one. Limited overs cricket - be it Fifty50 or Twenty20 - has been the staple diet for Indian cricket fans. The Indian team is not any more a bunch of no-hopers. Over the years it has transformed itself to a world beating combination with victories in major tournaments and a No 2 ranking in ODIs. But with all this the expectations are sky high, the media hype is unbelievably over the top and the pressure is outrageous. Certainly a combination of all this led to India failing to win the World Cup over the years though they were finalists in 2003 in South Africa. At home the pressure is even more intense and that is why the Indians stumbled at the semifinals stage in 1987 and 1996.
If anything the pressures went to the limit and beyond this time around and Dhoni has admitted that the team members felt it throughout the tournament. He may call it anxiety not pressure but just as a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet whether it is anxiety or pressure it was a burden that the team was carrying. And to emerge triumphant after all this has to be one of the great triumphs in the history of the game.
A triumph for teamwork is one of the oldest cliches in sport but in reality this Indian team symbolized this. There were batting heroes, bowling heroes and fielding heroes. Then there was the back-up staff headed by the amiable Gary Kirsten. Spare a thought too for the selectors who picked the winning team. Ultimately however the buck stops with the captain and if Kapil Dev is rightly given the credit for the unexpected triumph 28 years ago, then this is another feather in Dhoni's multi decorated cap. If the captain is made the scapegoat for a debacle should he not be given due credit for a major triumph?