x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

The architects of India as world champions: Dhoni, Kirsten and Tendulkar

A cool captain at the helm, a strong support from the back and an idol to emulate was the perfect recipe cooked over time to satisfy India's millions of cricket fans.

Sachin Tendulkar is lifted up by Virat Kohli on shoulders during a lap of honour after their six wicket victory. Harish Tyagi / EPA
Sachin Tendulkar is lifted up by Virat Kohli on shoulders during a lap of honour after their six wicket victory. Harish Tyagi / EPA

Before the World Cup started, India were hailed as the favourites but batting collapses were still a sore point and slowly doubts started creeping in.

To underline the team effort though, Yuvraj Singh showed up at the big stage when it mattered while openers Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar played their bit.

And when Mahendra Singh Dhoni lofted Nuwan Kulasekara for the winning six against Sri Lanka in the final last night, he stood gazing at the ball as it flew through the Mumbai night sky, soaking up the sweet moment and the reward for four years of hard work and the introduction of a work ethic and team bonding not seen in previous Indian teams.


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Four years ago, the team was in ruins after crashing out in the first round of the World Cup in the Caribbean, with fans baying for the cricketers' blood.

But the transition in the next four-year cycle has been outstanding, the picture completed with the six-wicket victory at the Wankhede Stadium, when Dhoni anchored the run chase with his knock of 91.

The three characters who stand out for India in the transformation of the team's approach are Dhoni, low-profile coach Gary Kirsten and the indefatigable Sachin Tendulkar.

If Dhoni has marshalled his resources well, Kirsten has been the facilitator of systems and Tendulkar the biggest inspiration for younger players.

These three have transformed the team into a powerful unit that has done well in different conditions around the world and also come back from the brink to achieve impressive victories.

Tendulkar, who has played with many top players in his 21 years of international cricket, said Saturday he was enjoying playing like never before.

"This team shows a lot of self belief and is extremely consistent," Tendulkar said after the victory. "It is a great honour to be part of this team."

The Indian team, already enjoying top ranking in Test cricket, is now also atop the one-day table.

In the past few years, India has come back undefeated from Test tours of Australia and South Africa, won a Test series in New Zealand as well as one-day series in Australia and Sri Lanka, all considered difficult feats for any team.

But the one event that triggered the cycle was the Twenty20 World Championship victory in South Africa four years ago, which offset the despair of the 2007 World Cup and refreshed the side.

Dhoni gave the first glimpse of his charismatic qualities as a leader of a young team and slowly took over as captain of one-dayers and Test matches too.

"Whatever we were doing on the field we had a long-term goal," he said. "Just by having a target in mind doesn't mean you will win the World Cup.

"We prepared well for the World Cup, we tried to keep each and every individual fit. We tried to keep the best XI in the best form.

"We peaked at the right time, we wanted to win it for each other."

Dhoni conceded the other day that he does not believe in too much planning and likes to give players freedom as well as responsibilities. "I don't even attend the bowlers' meeting. I'm happy to let them come up with strategies and keep that out of my mind," he said about the Zaheer Khan-led attack.

But Dhoni, like most others, accepts that South African Kirsten's contribution has been immense, specially in removing the insecurities that have dogged players in the past.

"Everyone knows what he has done for the team. He knows our players very well and is probably the best thing to happen to Indian cricket," Dhoni said of him.

Supporting Kirsten has been South African Paddy Upton, credited with the players' better mental conditioning.

The team management has also thought out of the box and been inspired by the likes of high altitude climber and Arctic explorer Mike Horn.

"Mike is an adventurer and the stories that he tells of his experiences are simply outstanding. He has given us insight into what the human mind can do for us," Dhoni said of him.

Both Yuvraj and Sehwag, like many of their teammates, revealed how badly the team wanted to win the World Cup for Tendulkar and revealed that the team had been aiming for the win for over a year.

"For more than one year, we have been aiming to do this. It has been a team effort with even a 38-yer-old Tendulkar diving on the boundary line today," Sehwag said after the victory.

And after a young Virat Kohli had done his bit, hoisting Tendulkar on his shoulders, he was asked whether he was tired and pat came the perfect reply: "He's carried the burden of the nation for 21 years so it's time we carried him on our shoulders."