Cricket: Dhoni moves up order and into folklore
Published 04/04/2011 | 05:00
Regeneration is never slow in India and in a swanky hotel lobby where terrorists held brief but bloody dominion in 2008, cricket fans thronged in the early hours of Sunday to chant the name of their latest hero, MS Dhoni, who has taken their country to the top of the world in both main forms of the game.
India's captain, who scored an unbeaten 91 from 79 balls, had just played the innings of the tournament to enable his team to beat Sri Lanka in the World Cup final.
Cricket folklore is littered with game-changing decisions, but Dhoni's promotion of himself to No 4, after a mediocre run with the bat, will become the stuff of legend.
There were sound reasons for having a right-hander to combat the turn all three of Sri Lanka's off-spinners were getting, but to promote yourself ahead of Yuvraj Singh, the man of the tournament, takes chutzpah as well as self-belief -- characteristics which shaped the innings that followed.
Dhoni also overcame what could have been a niggling distraction when he lost the toss on a traditionally bat-first pitch in controversial circumstances, the initial spin of the coin being declared null and void after it became unclear who had won.
Despite this controversy and the cruel fact that cast Mahela Jayawardene's sublime century on the losing side, there can be little doubt the best team won, if not perhaps in the manner expected in a city used to writing fantastical scripts.
Sachin Tendulkar, the home-town hero, was expected to play the starring role as he sought a 100th international century, but he was eclipsed by Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir, after fast bowler Lasith Malinga found the edge of his bat early on.
Tendulkar's dismissal for 18 was preceded by the loss of Virender Sehwag, India's game-changer, after Malinga threatened to ruin India's parade by having him lbw with the second ball of the innings.
Their faith already stretched after Sri Lanka had made 274, almost 50 runs more than had ever been successfully chased before at the Wankhede Stadium, the groans from the crowd were audible as their star duo went early.
Sri Lanka's total had been possible only after Jayawardene's superlative innings.
Never can a one-day hundred have been so caressed. There was only one false stroke, a thickish edge for four off Munaf Patel, and only one slog, which went for two. Otherwise, this was from the batting textbook, albeit one bound in silk and velvet.
Against most teams, Sri Lanka's total would have been more than enough to give them a second World Cup, but India caused them to change tactics.
Why else would you make four changes to your team, only one of them enforced by injury?
It suggested they had a special plan, though that never looked the case once they set about defending 274 with only Malinga and a half-fit Muttiah Muralitharan posing any threat.
As it was, Murali signed off his international career in subdued manner after going wicketless and failing to complete his 10 overs. With the ball gripping and turning, run-scoring without taking risks should have been difficult, but Kumar Sangakkara set bewildering fields that allowed India's batsmen four easy singles an over, and pressure was never built.
It might have been different had Nuwan Kulasekera not dropped Gambhir when he was on 30, after misjudging a catch at long off, but once Dhoni strode purposefully to the crease and began to hit the ball with such decisive power and purpose, you sensed it was always going to be India's night. (© Daily Telegraph, London)