x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Dhoni leads by example as resilient India win World Cup

Sri Lanka are hit for six by 'Captain Cool', while big-hitting Gambhir says Indians did it for Tendulkar.

Yuvraj Singh congratulates captain MS Dhoni after India win the World Cup.
Yuvraj Singh congratulates captain MS Dhoni after India win the World Cup.

MUMBAI // After hoisting a six far back into the pulsating stands of the Wankhede Stadium last night, MS Dhoni shuffled back a few steps and, with a minimum of fuss, picked a stump out of the ground to add to his souvenir collection.

It was impossible to tell from his demeanour that India's "Captain Cool" had just started the biggest party in the history of cricket, and sparked pandemonium all over this vast country.

It meant India's golden generation collected the most prized medal in cricket, and that Sachin Tendulkar is able to add "World Cup winner" to his endless list of achievements in the game.

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More on the World Cup final

The mayhem of Mumbai on World Cup final day
A fitting climax to a special cricket World Cup final
Lasith Malinga can only temporarilu silence Mumbai crowd
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The Mumbai master had to defer to his heir as the most popular player in the sport as Dhoni piloted his nation to victory over Sri Lanka with an innings which would have made Tendulkar himself proud.

For so long, it seemed as though Dhoni, and the next in line to his captaincy, Gautam Gambhir, were going to take the hosts to the title.

They were coasting before Gambhir attempted to hoick his way to a century, only to end three runs short when he was bowled by Thisara Perera.

His departure might have prompted a collapse, given the situation. This match had been billed as the most important in the sport's recent history - at least the most important since India's semi-final victory over Pakistan.

Despite the gravity of the occasion, Dhoni was coolness personified as he and Yuvraj Singh, the player of the tournament, marshalled the Indians through the jitters.

The final six was the exclamation mark on a brilliant, undefeated innings of 91, and meant India became the first Asian nation to win the World Cup twice.

"I had a point to prove, not to other people, but to myself," Dhoni, who had been criticised for his relatively modest contribution to the World Cup with the bat before last night, said at the post-match presentation. "I got the runs I wanted to."

The stump which Dhoni plucked from the ground will probably be worth a handsome sum in years to come.

Not that he needs the money. Dhoni overtook Tendulkar some time ago as the game's most bankable player, but Tendulkar still has the monopoly on the nation's hearts. For now.

"We played for him," Gambhir said of Tendulkar in a televised interview. "Beating Australia and Pakistan and now this is a dream come true."

Tendulkar was paraded around the ground on the shoulders of his teammates, who physically jostled over the chance to carry him around the boundary rope.

All the while, Dhoni calmly brought up the rear of the celebrating caravan of players, with the odd congratulation from the likes of Virender Sehwag.

"The team stuck together," Tendulkar said. "We have had rough times, but we have stuck together and proved a lot of people who doubted us wrong. It is a great honour to be part of this team."

India's success meant Mahela Jayawardene and Muttiah Muralitharan were cruelly denied at the World Cup's final hurdle for the second time in four years.

Having been acclaimed by his captain, Kumar Sangakkara, as Sri Lanka's finest batsman ever, alongside Aravinda de Silva, earlier this week, Jayawardene clinched his claim to greatness with a top-class century.

De Silva, now Sri Lanka's chairman of selectors, scored a decisive century when they won the 1996 World Cup, and Jayawardene followed his mentor's lead 15 years later.

Centurions rarely finish on the losing side in finals, and Sri Lanka will have thought Jayawardene's effort had paved the way for success when Lasith Malinga then fired out India's superstar openers early on.

Sehwag fell to the second ball of the innings, then Malinga broke a billion hearts soon after when he had Tendulkar caught at the wicket, 82 runs short of his hundredth ton in international cricket.

This was a match of farewells. Gary Kirsten was in charge of his final match as India's coach, having led for three highly successful years.

Trevor Bayliss, the understated Australian coach, is also moving on to new pastures after confirming Sri Lanka as a major force on the world stage. However, the most emotive goodbye was that of Muralitharan, whose records as an off-spinner are likely to last every bit as long as Tendulkar's ones with the bat. However, he finished wicketless in his final appearance in international cricket.

"With the batting India have, anything under 350 seems like it is not enough," Sangakkara said. "The only way you can beat them is to get seven wickets straight away and we were not able to do that."

pradley@thenational.ae