Six weeks of world class cricket ended yesterday afternoon with India captain Dhoni’s resounding six, to give his nation a six wicket win over rival hosts Sri Lanka and Indian batting legend Sachin Tendulkar a heroic send off in his sixth and final World Cup. If that isn’t a fitting conclusion, I don’t know what could be.
A sensational end to the tournament for India, who claim their second World Cup triumph, the last coming back in 1983, but condolences must be extended to their opponents, who suffer the heart break of a second consecutive Final defeat.
It wasn’t the easiest of starts for the Sri Lankans either, having chosen to bat first after winning the toss. The previously assured Upul Tharanga strangely contrived to get out on just 2 runs off 20 balls, while the loss of captain Sangakkara in the 28th over left his team still short of a competitive innings on 122-3.
However, Mahela Jayawardene formed a potent partnership with Kulasekara to put the co-hosts back on track, he hitting an unbeaten century off fewer than 90 balls to leave India a required 275 to claim the title.
And their own innings suffered an early setback, as Virender Sehwag was lbw and out for a duck. The stage was set for the man of the hour, as Tendulkar, searching for an incredible 100th international century in his home city of Mumbai, stepped up to the crease.
Some might say he bottled it. I like to think that he refused to hog the spot light on such a momentous occasion for his country. Either way, the record-holding batsman (30, 000 international runs by the way!) was edged out for a lowly 18 and dismissed in front of a somewhat subdued Indian crowd.
Time for a hero. Captain Dhoni complied.
A fourth wicket stand between him and Gambhir proved the winning combination. Gambhir, who incidentally had been dropped on 30, made the Sri Lankans pay for their error, contributing 97, before allowing Dhoni to finish with a flourish and send the fans into raptures.
So, one cricketing legend was allowed his fairy tale ending, as the curtain fell on Tendulkar’s World Cup career. He admitted to ‘tears of joy’ at the close of play. Maybe more like tears of relief after his own anticlimactic innings. The India team would have expected big things from the batsman with over 18, 000 ODI runs to his name. Can you blame them?
Meanwhile though, while we’re yet to see whether the ex-India captain can reach an unprecedented ‘century of centuries’, in Internationals, a fellow professional on the wrong side of yesterday’s proceedings has sadly ended his international career in disappointment.
Muttiah Muralitharan, widely considered the greatest bowler in Test and ODI history, officially retired from the international game after the Final. The Sri Lankan Spin Genius finished the game on 0-39, which does not reflect the skill and quality of this bowler. A man who was the first to reach the 800 wicket milestone in Test cricket. And a man with over 500 in One Dayers – also a record. Despite his failings in his last international, he’ll surely be recognised and distinguished throughout the cricketing world for years to come.
Which could bear witness to some interesting changes in the game. In the aftermath of India’s celebrations, the ICC has today been considering reducing the number of teams eligible to compete in the next World Cup. As few as ten teams may be clashing down in Australia and New Zealand come 2015, which to my mind would make perfect sense.
Six weeks of world class cricket is tremendous fun… but it’s a marathon that does the game no favours in appealing to a wider audience. The round robin format is laboriously dragged out and not until the knockout stages do matches become the pulsating spectacles they can be. I think this may be why football’s counterpart is such a successful product. The group stages last no longer than a fortnight and precede a possible four knockout rounds for those nail-biting supporters.
If cricket is to attract anything near that amount of interest in Europe, then the ICC’s announcement this week could prove pivotal in the future of the sport.