Some say that this past Saturday was one of the happiest days of the planet.
About one-fifth of the world’s population was celebrating. All at the same time.
48 hours after the event, it remains at the back of my mind… images of how it all happened, how it all came together, that final six, the sense of relief, the sense of euphoria at watching it happen the way we’ve dreamed of.. for a long, long time.
Seeing as I was born in 1983, and was about 2 months old when India lifted the cup all those years ago.. I have had to be content with my uncles regaling me with how they followed the game on radio/TV. How that 183 seemed like a total they were never going to be able to defend. How Kapil’s catch happened. And how their excitement mounted when they realized that India might actually (and finally did) beat one of the all-time great cricket teams. I’ve watched reruns of that match on ESPN countless times, having already read reams about how it happened. I knew exactly what was going to happen in the match and when: Srikkanth’s cameo, Sandhu’s ‘magic’ delivery, Richard’s destruction, Dujon’s fightback, Amarnath’s spell.
Since those obsessive days, my love affair with Indian cricket has waxed and waned. While still in India, it was an obsession. 1996: dreams died with a ridiculously horrible pitch where the ball literally spun like a top (Tendulkar a lone gladiator, Kambli crying, and one of the earliest displays of crowd madness). 1999: the effect of bad performances at the start overshadowing some brilliant performances that came too late. Then 2003: where we first seemed unprepared, then unstoppable.. but were finally annihilated. Come 2007, came frustration with a team I could see was singularly sub-par. That didn’t stop me from following their progress (as underdogs, once more) in a T20 world cup.. at a time where T20 was still an unknown insanity.
By this time, something fundamental had changed within me. I kept tabs on victories and defeats, on the rise of IPL, on the rise of India as a team to the top of the table in many forms of the game.. but not obsessively. It seemed as though there was no point: too much heartbreak had happened, too much cynicism had set in. A defeat was no longer the end of the world. A win was not the best thing ever since sliced bread.
Except when it came to Tendulkar. That one man, that one obsession lingered. Cricketing history was rewritten when he took guard, and he appeared to be The One Man who could never stop. For all of us who have watched that epic innings at Sharjah.. we wanted him to get everything he ever dreamed of. Just for the sake of the attitude that was epitomized by that day in 1998. And we knew the biggest of his dreams was winning the World Cup for India.
2011. Despite coming into the tournament at the top of so many tables, and, on paper appearing to be a truly world-class team (yet again).. there were niggling issues. The Indian bowling looked – dare I say it – weak during the round-robin stage. The middle/lower order seemed non-existent. Matches that should have been won were drawn. Or lost. It seemed we were in for a disappointment once again, probably around the semi-finals. Tendulkar reigned at the top of the batsmen table yet again. But in what was most likely his last Cup journey, it seemed he would have to live without attaining the one desire he had always had.
But then all at once, everything was clicking and firing the way it should. Quarter-final, semi-final.. and then the big day. His 100th hundred lay in the balance, and the way he was playing it seemed as though it had been saved for this occasion. And we would get to watch a childhood idol live his dream: get the World Cup for India.
Then he was dismissed.
It was not fair. He should get to do it for his country. This was what we have wanted to see for more than 10 years. What he has always wanted to do. Unbelievable that the game could be so cruel.
But what followed was the stuff legends are made of. The team rallied. The team played up. A captain’s innings, a new generation of cricketers.. all stepped up to the plate and delivered in a way I have dreamed of for 20 years.
When that final hit was sent soaring into the stands, we were yelling in joy. We had finally won the damn World Cup in a game that people tried to write off multiple times, but in reality were hoping against hope that they would be proven wrong. We are Indian cricket fans after all, we love and hate the team to extremes.. all at the same time.
But the moment that brought a lump to the throat, goosebumps, and the sense that my heart was going to burst with emotion was when he, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, got to lift the Cup and parade around the ground. He had finally achieved what he had always wanted to do. For all of us.
It wasn’t the team that I had followed obsessively years ago. Hell, I barely knew the stats/styles of half the players in the team. There was just that one player to represent the generation of cricketers I grew up with (one of whom defined the new attitude of Indian cricket, and now sat in the commentary box). There were the teams which seemed to exist only because of Tendulkar, teams that finally seemed like they could do something without Tendulkar, and now, finally, the team that did it for Tendulkar.
It was ours. The cup was ours. At home, under circumstances that never happened before in a World Cup final. The so-called impossible had been done, and the man who had defined Indian cricket for his career was right there.
And I got to watch it happen. Finally.