India give Tendulkar the victory parade he deserves
'Little Master' carried the weight of a nation on his shoulders, failed to deliver, but still ended up a winner, writes Mike Selvey
They carried Sachin Tendulkar shoulder high in triumph round the ground as the tumultuous noise cascaded down from the stands of Wankhede. A happy man. "Well," said Virat Kohli, the young blood who represents the next generation and who had helped hoist him, "he has carried India on his shoulders for 21 years, so it was the least we could do."
What a good answer. All India wanted this victory not just for themselves but for Sachin, and so it came to pass. But this was not the script as would have been written in the Bollywood studios of Mumbai. A win for India certainly, the first country to do so on home turf. But this was supposed to be the day of days for the 'Little Master' and a valediction for the great spinner Muttiah Muralitharan. No one mentioned MS Dhoni, except from his press conferences, few would have considered Gautam Gambhir to be a driving force behind India's success.
And no one thought to mention that Mahela Jayawardene, who has endured a modest World Cup by his standards, would be capable of providing a century of such precision and beauty that it scarcely deserved to be in a losing cause. Six World Cup finals have brought memorable centuries: first Clive Lloyd, then Viv Richards. Next it was Aravinda de Silva who gave Sri Lanka their own victory over Australia. And then came the Australians, Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist. None finished on the losing side as did Jayawardene. Not one of his previous 13 hundreds has resulted in Sri Lanka losing.
But that is what we got. Gambhir survived a single chance to long off when 30 and played beautifully thereafter until his ugly heave deprived him of a century when he was already celebrating in his own mind. Dhoni, promoting himself up the order ahead of Yuvraj Singh so as to preserve a left-right combination with Gambhir, was inspirational, his strong arm brutality, especially through the offside devastated Sri Lanka's bowling, his six into the hospitality boxes to finish the game utterly predictable as the punctuation mark that the adoring crowd demanded.
Tendulkar, carrying expectation like Atlas did the world, failed though, undone by the maverick Lasith Malinga. There were to be no more wickets for Murali the magician either, as he hobbled his way through the final overs of a stellar career. He tried to the end, as he always would, but there was no wicked turn or deception and the ball by now was sodden with the dewfall.
It was weary bowling, the body aching and the fizz long since gone from the champagne. He was battered off the back foot by Dhoni, who simply hung back and waited. There was almost cruelty in it. "Don't you know who he is?" one wanted to shout out, "Stop it now." He still had two overs in hand. Sad.
The personal dream of Tendulkar, and a little of that of the Indian nation until Gambhir and Dhoni came together, died after six overs and one ball of India's reply under the stark glare of the Wankhede lights. A 100th international hundred, in a World Cup final, in the city that raised him and nurtured his cricket career, from the precocious teenager breaking the hearts of schoolboy bowlers to the genius he has become: now wouldn't that have been something. The great and good of Mumbai society had come to witness what they believed to be a destiny.
But dreams have a habit of evaporating like the morning mist on the harbour. Parades are there to be rained upon and it was Malinga, Sri Lanka's Harpo Marx, dyed curls tumbling as if his head had burst open and the stuffing was coming out, who provided the cloudburst. The stadium had already been stunned into silence by the second ball of the innings, which skidded on to Virender Sehwag, beat him for pace, and struck his pad as his bat flailed around his front leg. He referred it (did he think there had been an edge?), but there had been none and it was a formality: Duck Soup for Sehwag.
Tendulkar started cautiously for this would not be an innings to rush.
There was time. He is meticulous in his preparation and would have played this innings over in his mind. Even before play, he was to be seen behind the stumps, gazing down the red-brown strip, going through his visualisation techniques. He looked in order as he punched a couple of rangefinders precisely through the covers off the back foot, before drilling Nuwan Kulasekara straight down the ground, holding the pose in the process, and then flaying him through point. Easy pickings for him. It looked ominous: 18 had come from 14 balls without blinking.
Then came Malinga once more. So low does his right arm get in delivery that even from the middle of the crease the ball is delivered from over the stumps. In Sri Lanka's quarter-final match against England, the umpire Simon Taufel, officiating yesterday and never seen on the field without a wide-brimmed hat, was not only asked to remove it, but furthermore, to hold it behind his back as it was acting as an inadvertent white sightscreen for the white ball.
Thus, Malinga creates his own angle, so that even a straight ball passing outside off-stump is in effect moving away from the bat. He does this at pace: upwards of 90 miles per hour. Such a delivery did for Tendulkar, who jabbed stiffly, with Kumar Sangakkara taking the edge low down. As Malinga performed an exultant celebration, even as far as deep square leg, the crowd was stunned into disbelieving silence. Men held their heads in their hands, women put hands over mouths as if they had seen a ghost.
On the big screen, they played replay after replay as if hoping that eventually he might middle the ball and send it skimming through the covers. But it always went to Sangakkara.
Sunday Indo Sport