Indian cricket has been “coming of age” ever since its first Test win, in 1952. Yet its glorious moments were upsets, surprises, triumphs of hope over expectation. By 2011, things had moved on. What the nation demanded was the World Cup, and with a dainty bat-twirl suffixed to a huge straight six, Mahendra Singh Dhoni delivered it. To those who pointed out, correctly, that superpower status in the boardroom rang hollow without silverware, this was a moment of Indian cricket learning to walk the talk.
In supervising a World Cup victory with a limited bowling attack, Ian Chappell observed, Dhoni proved himself to be one of the great modern captains. But this moment belonged to Dhoni the batting captain and batsman. India were chasing in the final, and as Indians know well, what can be worse than chasing in a World Cup final? Chasing in the 2003 final, they fell a mere 125 runs short. Heavens, even Clive Lloyd’s West Indians faltered in the chase of 183 in 1983.
At 114 for 3 in pursuit of 275, the highest winning target in a World Cup final if they were to get there, it ought to have been the form-man Yuvraj Singh who came in. But a combination of Muttiah Muralitharan and an instinct for the big occasion prompted Dhoni to stride out himself in his shoulder-rolling manner. Some two hours later, he smacked Nuwan Kulasekara over his head for the title. Then, with the dramatic minimalism that is its own form of hamming, came the perfect pause and the light 360-degree vertical spin of the bat. Job done.