Thoughts on the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup

28 years after Kapil Dev led an unfancied India to a sensational World Cup triumph at the Lord’s 25th June 1983, M. S. Dhoni led a thoroughly efficient Indian outfit to repeat the feat.

When Kapil won:

  • I was as old as my son Aikataan is at present: not yet 5.
  • Colour TVs weren’t in vogue in India. You had to place an order for one and it could take up to a few months to get one, as my father found out when he tried to buy one before the LA Olympics in 1984.
  • The only sport where India had previously made a mark internationally was hockey, where it had won the Olympic gold medal 8 times (3 times as British India, including Pakistan). This happens to be a record not yet broken.
  • ODI matches in cricket had 60 overs a side and they were played in whites with a red cricket ball.
  • Cricket World Cups were named after their chief sponsors. The 1975, 1979 and 1983 trophies were called the Prudential World Cup, the 1987 trophy was called the Reliance World Cup, in 1992 it was the Benson & Hedges World Cup and in 1996 it was the Wills World Cup. Only from 1999 did the trophy start being called the ICC World Cup.
  • India were beyond rank outsiders, quite in contrast to being the favourites this year. In fact David Frith, the founder-editor of the Wisden Cricket monthly had claimed he would eat his words if India won the World Cup. He famously kept his word.
  • Broadcasters were too few and Kapil’s breathtaking knock of 175* against Zimbabwe was lost forever due to a BBC strike.
  • The Man of the Match for the Finals took home £600. In contrast the BCCI has promised $200,000.00 to each member of the winning team this year.
  • There was no concept of a Man of the Series.

I haven’t a recollection of the 1983 World Cup (we didn’t have a TV then), and I am pretty sure Aikataan is too young to have a recollection of his parents celebrating this World Cup. One of our lighter moments throughout the World Cup was getting him to say “India will win”, or “India has won”. Whoever the opponent – Australia, Pakistan or Sri Lanka, he was always giving two thumbs down to India and saying that the other team would win. The superstitious lot that we are, whenever India’s fortunes were on the downturn my wife and I prodded him for his opinion as to who the winner would be. He would promptly answer “Sri Lanka” and immediately there would be something good happening for India.

I was particularly keen on India doing well in this World Cup. Apart from the inducement of experiencing my country win a global event in a sport that I hold dear, I also wanted to see my sports hero Sachin Tendulkar get that one piece of silverware missing from his trophy shelf. For all the talk about cricket not being a global sport I am sure it has the second highest number of followers after football, given the populations of India (1.21 billion), Pakistan (175 million) and Bangladesh (150 million). Though the fact that the majority of the fans are spread across just 3 countries, the number is nothing to scoff at. In fact Indians and other Asians across the world form the cricket teams in upcoming countries.

So it was with great excitement and trepidation that I followed the cricket last week. And what a week it was! I didn’t sleep on the night of 27th March because I had some work to complete, and the night of 28th I slept little on account of the same work.

Then came the big night – India vs. Pakistan on 29th night (30th March in India). And what a night it was! The match did show what nerves can do to players at the highest level: Tendulkar, after a fluent start looked completely clueless against the spinner Saeed Ajmal and offered no less than 4 chances to fielders. And the Pakistani fielders duly obliged him by dropping the catches! Eventually Tendulkar fell for a very chancy 85, and for once most fans (including Indians) were happy that he didn’t get to a century, because the 100th international 100 deserved a better batting display. A little noticed fact though, was that he was very good against the best Pakistani bowler on display, Wahab Riaz. Riaz got the better of 5 Indian batsmen in the eventual analysis, but rarely managed to threaten Tendulkar. The shot in the arm provided by Suresh Raina ensured that India reached a somewhat defendable though definitely sub-par 260, and after that India’s bowling attacked. In a remarkable display each of the 5 frontline bowlers bowled well and got 2 wickets, and what seemed like too small a total initially ended up being 29 runs too much for Pakistan. India’s record in World Cups stayed intact. More importantly in the ODI World Cups Tendulkar has been a member of the victorious squad each of the 5 times and has been the Man of the Match on 3 of those occasions!

Next was the even bigger night – India vs. Sri Lanka on 1st April night (2nd April in India). The build-up to this match seemed anti-climactic compared to the semi-final, but the angst was definitely there. What if India was drained before the finals due to the really tough tournament it went through? What if India underestimated Sri Lanka? After all India did lose to New Zealand in the ICC Knockout finals in 2000 after beating the much tougher Australia in the quarter-finals and South Africa in the semi-finals. What if the Indians got overawed yet again a la 2003? Say nothing about India’s record against Sri Lanka in the World Cups, where Sri Lanka led the head-to-head 4-2 (SL won in 1979, twice in 1996 and once in 2007, India won in 1999 and 2003). Sri Lanka was a no-fuss team that batted well (3 amongst the top 5 scorers this World Cup), bowled well (Lasith Malinga and Muttiah Muralitharan had been fantastic in the tournament), fielded fantastically (easily the best fielding unit in the sub-continent), never attracted any hype and had the uncanny knack of reaching the semi-finals or better at World Cups (the only time since 1996 that they missed out was 1999).

With the stage all set the match began in confusion. It is not often that you see the toss mired in controversy, and the re-toss because of Jeff Crowe not hearing Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara’s call just made Crowe’s record as the Match Referee read an unenviable 2 controversies out of 2 in World Cup finals. My heart sank when Sri Lanka won the toss and elected to bat. Sri Lanka’s mantra has traditionally been, bat first then choke the opposition, and they certainly had the bowlers to do the job and the history to support them. After all, in the 9 previous World Cups only twice had chases been successful. In 1996 a buoyant Sri Lanka beat Australia while chasing a target of 242, while in 1999 Australia pulverized a shambolic Pakistan into submission by scuppering them for 132 and easily knocking off the runs.

This match itself was pure gold though, and completely worth the $50 I paid for watching it. It had everything a cricket fan could wish for: controlled bowling by the Indians, hitherto unseen acrobatics while fielding (which, admittedly had been getting better with every match since the quarter-finals), a fantastic batting innings by Mahela Jawawardene, a late charge by Thisara Perera, sensational bowling by Lasith Malinga to rock India’s top order, a standing ovation from the crowd on probably a legend’s last World Cup innings reminding him that he was worth a lot more to them than the 18 runs he scored in the finals, misfielding by Sri Lankans, a tight chase, a change of guard for Indian cricket where the “Young Turks” whom Sourav Ganguly started grooming came of age and won the cup, and finally, a captain’s knock if any by Dhoni, on par with Aravinda de Silva’s 107* in the 1996 finals and Ponting’s 140* in 2003 and Gilchrist’s 149 in 2007.

Fittingly a tournament that began with Virendra Sehwag’s imperiously crunched boundary through the covers against Bangladesh ended with Dhoni’s thunderous wallop over long-on for 6, followed by a twirling of the bat so reminiscent of a supreme warrior stylishly sheathing his sword after a magnificent kill.

Fittingly the best two teams of the tournament played out a well-contested finale featuring the highest successful chase in a World Cup final, the highest successful chase by India in any World Cup match and the only time a centurion finished on the losing side of a World Cup final match.

Fittingly, much like Roger Federer’s cathartic French Open triumph in 2009, everyone including his opponents wanted Sachin Tendulkar to be a part of a World Cup winning team, and his team with no insignificant help from the great man himself delivered the goods to finally bring to fruition a dream that has lasted 22 years. Virat Kohli’s tribute to Tendulkar was telling: “Tendulkar has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years. It is time we carried him on our shoulders”.

For me a lot of things stood out in the tournament.

  1. The English Team

    You have got to feel for them. Each match they played was close. They played badly against the weaker teams and very well against the better ones, ensuring that each match was a nail-biter. Who can forget their matches against Netherlands, India, Ireland, South Africa, Bangladesh and West Indies? I was pretty sure that they were destined to win the tournament… till they bucked the trend and lost to Sri Lanka.
    The Wow: Tying with India, and beating South Africa
    The Oops: Losing to Ireland and Bangladesh (no disrespect to these teams)

  2. The Pakistani Team

    If any team exemplified the term “underdogs” better than Pakistan, I am to learn of it. Plagued by problems on the field and off it before the tournament began, even they could be forgiven for thinking that they stood no chance. But they probably felt like the cornered tigers of Imran Khan’s 1992 team and turned in a bunch of spirited performances. True to Pakistani style they crumbled against New Zealand and stuttered against Canada, but they did beat the last two champions Australia and Sri Lanka in the league phase. They did flounder against India in the semi-finals and that was the last mistake they made.
    The Wow: Shahid Afridi’s consistent bowling to become the tournament’s joint highest wicket taker and the only person to bag 4 hauls of 4 wickets in a single World Cup, Afridi’s speech after the match thanking the Indian spectators and apologizing to his country.
    The Oops: The same Afridi’s remarks upon returning to Pakistan stating that Muslims and Pakistanis have much larger hearts than Indians. I didn’t call him an airhead without reason.

  3. The Indian Team

    I loved them. Enough said.
    The Wow: Joint highest wicket taker (Zaheer Khan), second highest run-scorer (Sachin Tendulkar), best all-rounder and Man of the Series (Yuvraj Singh) and the champions. Not as dominant as the Australian team of 2003 and 2007, but efficiently effective nonetheless.
    The Oops: The unexpected batting collapses against all and sundry, the fielding in the preliminary stages. Luckily both came through in the crunch situations.

  4. The End of Aussie Dominance

    The last time Australia did not win a particular match against an opposition team in the World Cup was the 1999 semi-final, where it tied against South Africa. And the last time they actually lost a match was against Pakistan in the same tournament. Though the causes were natural, the washed out match against Sri Lanka this time was a portent of things to come. And sure enough, it was Pakistan again that halted Australia’s unbeaten run, terminating a remarkable reign stretching almost 13 years and spanning 34 matches across 4 World Cups. If Australia thought they could be redeemed by winning the Cup, that wasn’t to be as India asserted itself in a close quarter-final, thereby booting Australia out. For the first time since 1992 Australia failed to reach the finals (or even semi-finals) of the World Cup.

  5. The Chase by Ireland

    This has to take the prize for being the biggest upset of the tournament. By dint of his sensational batting Kevin O’Brien simply pulled the rug from under England. Who would have thought that 327 runs wouldn’t be enough to defend for an Ashes winning English bowling attack? O’Brien’s 50-ball century was the fastest of any World Cup by a distance, and along with Ross Taylor’s scarcely believable 131 against Pakistan and Ryan ten Doeschate’s outstanding 119 against England, it was one of the standout innings of the tournament.

  6. The Choke by South Africa

    This really shouldn’t have made the list because it has become so commonplace. Any team facing South Africa in a knockout game in a high profile tournament can assume it has won before a ball has been bowled. Such is South Africa’s propensity to choke. This time New Zealand administered the last rites, though it must be said that England had proved it could be done in the league stages. It is no surprise that the internet was overflowing with pithy epithets such as “Choke Africa” or “South Africhoke”.

  7. Legends Will be Legends

    Tendulkar, Muralitharan, Ricky Ponting and Brett Lee all showed why they are held in such high regard. While statistically Lee probably doesn’t belong in the same bucket as the other three (if Glenn McGrath or Shane Warne were playing they would be more deserving of the term “legend” most would say), it would be churlish to deny the lionhearted Lee his well-deserved glory. 13 wickets in 7 matches at 18.07 per wicket with a strike rate of 25 balls per wicket and an economy of 4.32 would have put much younger bowlers to shame. Muralitharan didn’t have the dream farewell he hoped for. He went wicketless in the final that Sri Lanka lost, but he still finished among the top wicket-takers of the tournament. And Ponting in a show of defiance kicked indifferent form to be Australia’s only batsman worthy of note in the QF match against India.

All in all this was an immensely satisfying tournament. Contrary to expectation the matches weren’t run feasts and skilful bowlers of both, the fast and the slow variety showed what good bowling was all about on the so-called unfriendly sub-continent pitches. Teams like Ireland and England made the cup a lot more interesting in the initial stages resulting in close matches. The fact that there was nothing to separate the top 6 teams in the World Cup should give a pretty good picture of the whole tournament. After all, South Africa, India, England, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia each lost just one match in the league stage.

My only rather infinitesimal regrets: Tendulkar didn’t get his 100th international 100. And he didn’t get 18 more runs, which would have made him the only player to score 500+ runs in a World Cup in three different decades let alone three different World Cups. As things stand he finished at 400+ runs in a World Cup in three different decades, with 523 in 1996, 673 in 2003 and 482 in 2011 – a stupendous achievement glorifying the longevity, consistency and brilliance of a superlative athlete. While I have no doubts that he will get to 100 international centuries and 50 ODI centuries, I guess this will be Tendulkar’s Bradman moment: the small imperfection in a peerless career. Not that the great man minds it too much himself.

For now, I am content with being very happy for my team.

7 Responses to “Thoughts on the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup”

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  2. Well written. Kohli couldn’t have said it better 🙂

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  5. 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup was really a prodigious achievement for India and Indian Team as well and it also strengthens my belief that positive things happen if you think positively. But this world cup should not be the last one for Sachin.

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