x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

After huge expectations, India's World Cup celebrations just as big

Scenes of jubilation in India illustrate what winning the trophy means to both young and old.

Fans party in the streets of Mumbai following India's win at the Wankhede Stadium on Saturday.
Fans party in the streets of Mumbai following India's win at the Wankhede Stadium on Saturday.

Stepping outside the Wankhede Stadium at well past 1am, it was immediately obvious that the two-kilometre journey to the hotel would take a while.

Marine Drive, which runs alongside the stadium, had a tranquil Arabian Sea on one side and a heaving mass of blue-shirted frolickers on the other.

Some sat on the pavement, all passion spent. Others clung to lampposts or stood on top of the road divider, waving their tricolour flags and roaring with delight. "India, India", "Champions", "Sachin, Sachin", faces young and old living a dream.

The team was still in the dressing room, celebrating the biggest night of their lives. Everyone on the road wanted to know. "When will they come out?" they asked eagerly, prepared to camp out until dawn if needed.

The odd motorbike roared past, waving the flag, but for the most part traffic moved at a snail's pace. A group of youngsters commandeered a water carrier, climbing on to the roof to shout their slogans.

A few foreigners staying at nearby hotels looked on amazed at the throng that stretched at least a couple of hundred yards on either side of the approach to the stadium. "How big do you think the celebrations will be?" asked a friend who is based in Cape Town.

"Picture the mood in South Africa after the Rugby World Cup was won in 1995," I said. "Multiply that by about a hundred. You'll get the picture."

What was happening on Marine Drive was being replicated all across India, on the beaches of Goa, near the Fort in Trivandrum and next to India Gate in Delhi.

This is not the first time India have won the World Cup but for most fans the previous one is just a distant memory. Even in the present team, only Tendulkar is old enough to remember 1983 and what followed. For the likes of Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina, it could be a fairy tale.

Those celebrating on Mumbai's streets long into the night were almost all young. Some had memories of the heartache of 2003. Others had grown interested in the game thanks to the Indian Premier League. For all of them, victory on Saturday was a door opening into a new world.

On the road towards Churchgate, every coach was chased by fans in the hope that it might be the team bus.

As the night wore on, realisation loomed that there would be no serenading the team. Police barricades had already been erected around the team hotel - The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower - ensuring that most fans could not get to within a few hundred yards of it.

When the team eventually made their way back, after a decoy run or two, they made their way up to Souk, a restaurant that offers stunning views of the harbour and the Gateway of India. The party went on until long after dawn, and after a long lie-in, they spruced themselves up and went over to the governor's residence to meet the president of India.

MS Dhoni, whose captain's innings sealed victory, has already tonsured his head as part of the celebrations. In the days ahead, thousands will surely join the bald-is-beautiful crowd.

For now, most who were inside the stadium or on Marine Drive early on Sunday morning will just echo Natalie Merchant's lyrics from These Are The Days: "Never before and never since, I promise, will the whole world be warm as this."