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'Sangakkara was right when he said, "Both Sri Lanka and India can be very proud."'

Apr 3, 2011 1:32:22 PM- transcurrents.com
Cricket may be, as the sociologist Ashis Nandy wrote in 1983, “an Indian game accidentally discovered by the English,” but India took a long time to take control of it.

by Huw Richards

For Sachin Tendulkar, it was “the proudest moment of my life.” For his India teammates, it was a chance to pay back the sport’s living legend for all the other times he has had to carry his team.


India's Yuvraj Singh hugs captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni after they beat Sri Lanka in the ICC Cricket World Cup final match in Mumbai on Staurday ~ pic courtesy: Vivek Prakash/Reuters ~ via NYTimes.com ~

But most important for India, the six-wicket victory Saturday in the World Cup final confirmed that it, incontestably, has become cricket’s dominant nation, on and off the field.

The triumph over Sri Lanka in Mumbai was very different from India’s previous victory in 1983. That was a bolt out the blue, when India killed the giant that was the West Indies team, one that was among the greatest in the game’s history.

This, by contrast, caps off India’s climb to the top of cricket’s geopolitics. India has for some time been the game’s economic powerhouse.

Now it sits atop the sport as the top-ranked team in five-day tests and as the holder of the Cup, which is played under the one-day format.

It was a triumph richly deserved.

“The way they played they deserved the title of favorites,” said Sri Lanka’s captain, Kumar Sangakkara. “Congratulations to India — you were the better side.”

India is not as complete a team as Australia was when it won the previous three World Cups, but that is no criticism — few teams ever have been.

But India’s frailties meant that its progress was genuinely exciting, unlike when Australia won, which felt like a procession.

No team before Saturday had successfully chased as many as 275 to win a World Cup final, or emerged victorious after an opposing batsman has scored a century, as Mahela Jayawardene of Sri Lanka did. India lost not only Tendulkar but his flamboyant opening partner, Virender Sehwag, but it was taken home by Gautam Gambhir, who scored a superbly composed 97, and its captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who promoted himself in the order and justified it with a ferocious 91 not out, including the final six that brought victory.

“Tendulkar has carried the burden of nation for 21 years,” said Virat Kohli, a rookie teammate. “It was time we carried him.” They did exactly that, carrying Tendulkar on a victory lap around Wankhede Stadium as the crowd cheered on India, the first home team ever to win in 10 World Cup finals.

Perhaps, though, it was as well we did not get the full fairy-tale ending of a Tendulkar century, which would have been his 100th in all international cricket. That would have overshadowed India’s long climb to the top.

Cricket may be, as the sociologist Ashis Nandy wrote in 1983, “an Indian game accidentally discovered by the English,” but India took a long time to take control of it. It played its first international matches in 1932, but its all-time record in five-day test matches remains well below .500, and its all-time one-day record is not far above that.

In spite of its massive population, for many years it suffered from a lack of effective pace bowling and a failure to develop talent outside the big cities. Tendulkar — the teenage prodigy who not only exceeds expectation but plays on into middle age and handles ridiculous celebrity with ego-free equanimity — has been the face of India’s transformation, but its truer symbols may well be the admirable left-arm paceman Zaheer Khan and the small-town boy Virender Sehwag. The rise of the one-day game after 1983 produced players who added aggression to the traditional technical strengths of Indian cricket, and in recent years coach Gary Kirsten, who now returns to South Africa, brought focus and consistency to the team.

Tendulkar said of the coaches, “They worked on the mental side to deal with the expectations, and that really helped.”

The self-belief, he said, had always been there, “but in the last year we have been consistent as well.”

The loss Saturday was tough on Sri Lanka, the runner-up for the second tournament in a row, and on its bowling genius, Muttiah Muralitharan, who in his last international match before retirement went wicketless.

Maybe Sri Lanka did not help itself. To leave out spin bowler Ajantha Mendis, the most economical bowler in the tournament, was baffling.

But Sangakkara was right when he said, “Both Sri Lanka and India can be very proud.”

This was not just India’s World Cup, but Asia’s. The continent did not just play host to the tournament, it dominated it.

All six players on the shortlist for the best player of the tournament played for Asian teams. (India’s flamboyant all-rounder, Yuvraj Singh, won it.) So did seven of the eight highest run-scorers and five of the eight top wicket-takers, while another, South Africa spin bowler Imran Tahir, was born in Pakistan.

The historically great Australian team that won the previous three World Cups delayed the rise of Asia, but it could not stop its culmination. Australia’s opponents in those three finals had been — in sequence — Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka. That trio also made up the final three in the 2011 tournament once the last non-Asian contender, New Zealand, was eliminated in the first semifinal last Tuesday.

That Bangladesh — a co-host along with India and Sri Lanka — could not convert home-field advantage and recent improvements into a spot in the playoffs was deeply disappointing, but hardly an injustice. That was in keeping with a tournament where justice was generally achieved, with more right than wrong being accomplished.

But it was played in front of large, passionate crowds — not least in Bangladesh — and on playing surfaces that generally gave both batsmen and bowlers a chance. “We need more of that elsewhere, with pitches that do enough to keep bowlers interested,” England’s former captain, Geoff Boycott, said in an interview with BBC.

The system of umpiring reviews prevented the occasional howler, but more often it showed how good the top umpires are by confirming their correct calls.

There were more shocks and cliffhangers than in recent World Cups, with a disproportionate degree involving England, which to its own bafflement found itself reincarnated as the tournament’s great entertainer.

Matches like India’s three playoff matches contained enough ups and downs to suggest that the 50-over, one-day game still is a happy compromise of the sport’s other two formats, the five-day test and the shorter Twenty20, which can be completed in an evening’s worth of play. And while this was overwhelmingly Asia’s tournament, there were other teams with reasons to be cheerful. New Zealand lived up to its tradition as a feisty overachiever. Ireland continued its advance and served up the most spectacular single display of batting pyrotechnics, by Kevin O’Brien against England.

Saturday, though, was India’s day, with the promise of more Indian days to come. ~ courtesy: NYTimes.com ~