An Indian cricket fan’s memory of 2011 World Cup Final

The party began only after the coveted trophy was won on April 2, 2011, in Mumbai. But for a month and a half, the world cup fever gripped India, the party atmosphere seen at every Indian venue and in every match featuring MS Dhoni’s devils. The 10th edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup was a proper gauge of how cricket is followed and literally worshipped in countries like India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the three countries who hosted the quadrennial tournament.

14 teams participated in the 2011 Cricket World Cup and were split into two groups of seven each. Hosts India were in group B, which included Bangladesh, South Africa, England, Ireland, Netherlands, and the West Indies.

Historically, India have been better defenders of totals than they have been chasers of totals. Yes, under Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy and thereafter under Rahul Dravid, MS Dhoni and now Virat Kohli, India have become efficient at chasing down totals. These days, no total seems to faze them, particularly if Kohli is holding the innings together and he has a reliable batting partner, like Kedar Jadhav was in an ODI against England in 2017.

But, over the course of their 2011 World Cup campaign, India’s batting line-up faltered in every group match bar one, against Bangladesh in the inaugural match of the world cup. While batting first, the Dhoni-led India failed to bat out their 50 overs on three (England, South Africa and West Indies) of the four occasions. The good starts provided by Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar weren’t capitalised on by the middle and lower middle order, and India looked highly susceptible to a capitulation later on in the innings. This propensity of theirs cost them against South Africa, who beat the hosts in Nagpur, and England, who eked out a tie in Bangalore. These were India’s two most significant group matches, and they had come out second best in both of them.

The Indian batting line-up picked its game up in the quarter-final against Australia, but had faltered again, against Pakistan in the semi-final. Fortunately, Pakistan themselves were a lot more susceptible than India to batting collapses and have been poor chasers till date. So India’s less-than-competitive total of 260 batting first in Mohali proved sufficient and ensured their passage into the ICC CWC 2011 Final against Sri Lanka at the Wankhede Stadium.

2011 ICC Cricket World Cup Final

I had watched the entire world cup at home, gathering with five or six other family members and cheering India on. And, on April 2, 2011, we did not change our way of egging Team India on and hoping that Dhoni and co. lift the world cup.

All of us wanted India to bat first and post a good total which could then be defended by the bowling attack led by Zaheer Khan. No matter how comfortable you are with chasing totals, in a high-pressure match involving emotions, batting first is the right way to go.

But then there was confusion with the toss… largely because Jeff Crowe, the match referee for the final, hadn’t heard Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara’s call correctly. Therefore, Dhoni not once but twice flipped the coin, and Sangakkara called heads again the second time and heads came up again, with Sri Lanka gaining the option to choose to bat or bowl first.

We said to ourselves that the portent wasn’t right on that April 2 afternoon.

The Indian bowlers, though, made a great start, keeping Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga on a tight leash. Very early in the innings, Zaheer removed Tharanga, who edged through to slip and Sehwag took a great reflex catch standing at first slip.

The Sri Lankan innings didn’t gather momentum until after the 40th over. Sangakkara’s men kept losing crucial wickets at regular intervals and for India, the match seemed to be going to a plan.

While the wickets fell regularly, Mahela Jayawardene, who had a good batting record against India and whose second-highest ODI score (128) came against the Men in Blue, was holding one end and all he needed was a batsman to give him company.

On a good batting pitch, Sri Lanka had not even reached 200 at the end of 40 overs. And though they had Jayawardene still in the middle, he had no recognised batting partner with him for the last 10 overs.

However, the stylish right-hander gained an advantage with Nuwan Kulasekara’s arrival at the crease.

With Kulasekara at one end from the start of the 41st over, India made the mistake of concentrating on bowling to a supposed tail-ender.

In 2011, you had 20 overs of powerplay: the mandatory 15-over powerplay at the start and the five-over batting powerplay, which the batting side could take whenever they wanted to.

India, by not looking to dismiss Jayawardene, played the match into his and Sri Lanka’s hands. The Lankan lions had the batting powerplay up their sleeve and they hadn’t taken it until after 40 overs, and understandably so because Jayawardene did not have a specialist batsman to bat with.

Kulasekara is good with the bat and his batting skills proved handy on the day of the final. In harness with Jayawardene, the seamer rotated the strike well and stuck with the premier batsman until the powerplay was taken.

Jayawardene was able to unleash himself now and with seven fielders inside the 30-yard circle, the stylish right-hander played his favourite strokes (inside-out over extra cover, uppish cut over point and crisp drives through point and cover, among others) and gained maximum reward.

With the flurry of boundaries in the last 10 overs, Sri Lanka started to worry India. And, having looked like they would probably reach only 250 in their 50 overs, Sri Lanka made a highly competitive total of 274, thanks to Jayawardene’s century, and cameos from Kulasekara and Thisara Perera.

This was the final of a world cup and invariably, you would rather defend 274 than chase it down, even if you have an experienced Sachin Tendulkar to bank on, an explosive Virender Sehwag who could get the team off to a blazing start, a great player of spin in Gautam Gambhir to see off Muttiah Muralitharan, and a great finisher in Dhoni.

Having conceded close to 100 runs in the final ten overs, India made an unenviable start to their 275-run chase. Sehwag was trapped in front by Lasith Malinga on the third ball of the Indian innings. Needing 5.50 runs per over, India badly needed Sehwag to provide them with a good start and thereby bring the required run-rate down.

Imagine the tension and negativity which gripped the entire country when the Nawab of Najafgarh was dismissed with a nought on the board.

In the immediate aftermath, Sachin Tendulkar played two of his trademark strokes off Kulasekara’s bowling, with the straight drive, in particular, standing out. The Bombay Bomber was in the zone and in a great batting rhythm.

With a mountain to climb, the day wasn’t getting any better for India, though.

Tendulkar’s Mumbai Indians team-mate and Sri Lanka’s trump card on the night, Malinga struck again and this time, the biggest of the lot.

When Dilhara Fernando clean bowled Sachin Tendulkar at the Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad in the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup, we had thought that Tendulkar would bow out of the sport without a world cup winner’s medal. But he enjoyed some of his great years as an international cricketer after the ninth edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup. And the good batting form he enjoyed was vital in his going on to play the sixth world cup of his career.

Tendulkar had been in good form throughout the ICC CWC 2011, making two 100s and two half-centuries, which helped India qualify for the final by beating Australia in the quarter-final and Pakistan in the semi-final.

Therefore, his wicket was a huge loss to India and put Sri Lanka in a great position. India had lost both their openers for only 30-odd runs.

I still believed in the Indian middle order comprising Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni and a young Virat Kohli at that time, to carry the Men in Blue across the line.

In 2009 at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, against a largely similar Sri Lankan side to the one they faced in the 2011 world cup final, India had chased down a 300+ total. Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli starred with centuries, to lead India to a comfortable victory. On that night too, Sehwag and Tendulkar had failed to provide India with a good start.

This match was fresh in my mind while Virat Kohli walked in to bat at the fall of Tendulkar’s wicket in the final. So, I told my relatives who were watching the match with me, that we should believe in the Gambhir-Kohli duo.

What India needed after Tendulkar fell was a partnership, and the runs weren’t quite important. And Kohli and Gambhir provided India what was the need of the hour: stability to the innings. Gambhir mixed caution with aggression quite well, and India stemmed the flow the wickets.

After this duo settled in, the runs started to come freely and India made a lot more runs from overs 11-20 than they did in the first 10 overs.

The match was nicely set up going into the last 30 overs.

Tillakaratne Dilshan was a handy off-spinner who wasn’t entirely a part-timer considering the number of overs he used to bowl those days. And Sangakkara went to him, to get a breakthrough.

Dilshan delivered, removing Kohli just as India’s No. 4 was getting into his groove. Dilshan’s delivery angled into middle and leg stump wasn’t designed to cause danger, but Kohli hit the ball in the air, and straight down, and the Sri Lankan off-spinner flew acrobatically to his right to take a fantastic catch.

What followed formed “the most important” dimension to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 final, changing its course completely.

Contrary to a popular expectation, MS Dhoni walked in at No. 5 at the fall of Kohli’s wicket, ahead of Yuvraj Singh.

Dhoni’s was a huge call (to promote himself to No. 5) and according to the then coach Gary Kirsten, it was entirely Dhoni’s decision.

What a masterstroke it proved to be!

With a left-right batting combination in place, the Indian innings prospered. What was the striking aspect of the Gambhir-Dhoni partnership was the ease with which they manoeuvred Muttiah Muralitharan, who went wicket-less. Gambhir and Dhoni didn’t look to play out Muralitharan, again contrary to expectations, but looked to score off him.

Sangakkara played his cards quite well, but he was unable to stem the run flow while Gambhir, who is a great batsman against spin, was in the middle. The Delhi left-hander ensured that India never fell behind the eight ball and the required run-rate didn’t get out of hand. He had to take risks, and on the night, his risks paid off.

Dhoni began slowly, but the slow start to his innings didn’t affect India because Gambhir was settled and took the calculated risks at the right times. Back in 2011, Dhoni was on top of his game, and even after a slow start, you could rely on him to provide a grandstand finish to the innings. So, the way he started his innings on that April 2nd didn’t concern us.

Gambhir’s 97 was out of the top-drawer and even today, the quality of that knock is hard to overlook. Gambhir was an underrated batsman in a batting line-up which featured superstars like Sehwag, Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, and Dhoni. But if not for Gambhir, India might have struggled to chase down 275, even if you take into consideration that Yuvraj had been in great batting form and was having a great 2011 world cup.

After a slow start, Dhoni reduced the gap between runs scored and balls faced, before eventually overtaking the runs-to-balls contest.

Against the run of play, Gambhir played a shot he didn’t have to, against a young Thisara Perera, and saw his stumps shattered. He was dismissed for 97, and the debate regarding whether his 97 or Dhoni’s 91* was more vital, is likely to have no end.

Gambhir’s dismissal brought the match back in the balance, and the general consensus was that the diminutive Delhi left-hander didn’t have to play the shot he did. And, despite playing an eventually match-winning knock, Gambhir made the entire nation nervous again.

Yuvraj joined Dhoni in the middle and played merely a peripheral role, which is all the pugnacious left-hander had to do, as India nudged closer to Sri Lanka’s 274 and the required 275.

Dhoni was unlikely to make a century. But as India started to get into a comfortable position and brought the runs required to less than the number of balls left, we all thought that the skipper would hit a six to win India the world cup after 28 years.

And fittingly, with four runs required, Dhoni sent a Kulasekara delivery sailing into the stands at the Wankhede Stadium, to win India their second world cup and send the nation into a state of delirium.

Sachin Tendulkar had become a world cup winner… in what was his sixth world cup!

Dhoni built a legacy for himself and began a fresh era in Indian Cricket which we are living currently, even if he is no longer the captain.

Read: How MS Dhoni Lost His Mojo as an International Skipper?

WOW, what a great day April 2, 2011 was!

What’s your memory of the great day? Share in the comments section below.  

6 comments

  1. Great memories!!!! Just great memories!!!! Whether you are a cricket fanatic or not in a country like India the historic sporting moments are always celebrated in a loving way. Nothing exaggerated about this. These are mere emotions and love towards the nation. And coming to the moment of winning the World Cup as correctly mentioned by you we were looking solid and confident from the beginning of the tournament. No pressure on a single player like Sachin Tendulkar as it used to be in the previous WCs. In every means this was the team to lift the cup. The good thing was they just didnt believe that they can do it but they also executed it well. Of course it was a great achievement for so many players, to start with Sreesanth was just picked for 2 matches the 1st match and the Final. The dream run of an all rounder like Yuvaraj Singh perfectly sinking in at the right time. The Master showing his class with 100s in the big games with the likes of SA and England, ironically we lost to SA and such a huge total match with England ending in tie. Not to forget Munaf Patel/s and Ashwin’s contribution. And last but not the least THE CAPTAIN MSD, you cant get leaders like him all the time. So much of memorable moments, wonderful innings, great spells, awesome sporting gestures. How rich or how poor you are these are the moments shapes you as a person and make you believe in your dreams and to follow your passion. And Virat Kohli rightly said in moment, ‘Sachin carried the burden of the nation for 20 years and its time we carried him’ was the perfect note for such a dedicated sportsman and the legen Sachin Tendulkar. Good one Suhith, for every cricket lover 2-4-2011 is a day as close to their birthdays.

    1. Well narrated, Charles!

      I think, winning the 2011 world cup was a result of a team effort: you had players contributing to the team’s cause in one match or another, and although we weren’t convincing with the bat until the semi-final against Pakistan, Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni delivered masterclasses on the night of the final, to make us proud.

      And yes, Sachin Tendulkar finally sported a world cup winner’s medal round his neck.

  2. Wow……got a feel of watching d match again live, a fine article rendered beautifully,

  3. @ Gokul – You are right, even I watched the match after reading this article. Its like going back in time. Though we knew the result I couldnt help watching the episode till the award ceremony and the celebrations after that. Thank you Suhith for kindling the memory nerves of this great great event of our lifetime.

    1. I am glad that I have been able to provide you a proper recap of what (April 2, 2011) will always be a momentous day in the history of Indian Cricket.

      Thank you for reading.

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