|The little master acknowledges the roar of the Mumbai fans after finally winning his coveted World Cup title [AFP]|
India beat Sri Lanka to win the Cricket World Cup for the first time in 28 years as captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni struck a dramatic six to bring the title home to an ecstatic crowd on Saturday.
Dhoni finished with 91 not out as India, chasing a target of 275, won by six wickets with 10 balls to spare at the Wankhede Stadium to become the first host country to win the World Cup.
Left-hander Gautam Gambhir stayed calm among the storm to score a masterly 97, sharing a fourth-wicket partnership of 109 from 118 balls with man-of-the-match Dhoni. Yuvraj Singh, who was named man-of-the-tournament, finished on 21 not out.
“The 2007 World Cup was a nightmare and this is a dream,” said Gambhir.
“All credit to Sachin Tendulkar, we were all playing for him, it (trophy) is for him.
“We had a tough quarterfinal and semfinal, it was a blessing in disguise for us. It is a dream come true”
After Mahela Jayawardene had scored an unbeaten 103 in Sri Lanka’s challenging 274 for six, Malinga reduced the crowd to a shocked silence.
His second ball in the opening over skidded through low to Virender Sehwag who, playing across the line, was out lbw without scoring.
Sachin Tendulkar looked in masterly touch, off-driving and square-cutting boundaries off Nuwan Kulasekara’s second over.
Kumar Sangakkara persisted with Malinga and was rewarded when Tendulkar (18) fended uncertainly outside the off-stump and edged a catch to the captain behind the stumps. Malinga raced the length of the pitch to receive the congratulations of his ecstatic team mates.
Tendulkar, 37, who was playing in what looks certain to be his last World Cup, still needs one more century to become the first man to score 100 international centuries.
Gambhir and Virat Kohli began the rescue operation and received a huge slice of luck when the former was dropped at long-off by Kulasekara off off-spinner Suraj Randiv on 30 with the total on 68.
Kohli batted enterprisingly to reach 35 when Tillakaratne Dilshan, took a magnificent one-handed catch off his own bowling flinging himself to his right with his arm fully extended.
Gambhir was within three runs of a century when medium-pacer Thisara Perera knocked back his middle stump. He threw back his head in disgust but his 122-ball innings with nine boundaries had gone a long way to winning the World Cup for his country for the second time.
Sachin Tendulkar said he could not hold back his tears after India had won.
“I couldn’t have asked for more,” said Tendulkar, as his teammates carried him on their shoulders for a victory lap.
“Winning the World Cup is the ultimate thing. It is the proudest moment of my life. It shows it is never too late,” he said referring to India’s wait for 28 years for the coveted crown.
Muttiah Muralitharan, playing his last international match, was accurate but rarely threatening and was clearly feeling the effects of a hamstring and knee injury. The world record holder for Test and one-day wickets did not increase his tally.
Earlier Mahela Jayawardene stroked a delightful unbeaten 103.
The only Sri Lankan to exceed 50, he held the innings together with deft glides and pushes before cutting loose in the batting powerplay. Sixty-three runs came from the powerplay, Sri Lanka’s highest of the tournament.
He reached his century from 84 balls with a stunning boundary through the covers off Zaheer Khan, stepping outside his leg-stump against the left-arm paceman.
Captain Kumar Sangakkara was the second top-scorer with 48 from 67 balls.
Zaheer bowled brilliantly in his opening spell with meticulous control of line and length. His opening three overs were maidens and the first ball of his fourth accounted for Upul Tharanga (2) who nibbled fatally at another good length delivery which Virender Sehwag seized with a fine tumbling catch at slip.
Sri Lanka innings
Fall of wickets: 1-17 2-60 3-122 4-179 5-182 6-248
Player of the match: MS Dhoni (India)
The match began in bizarre circumstances when the coin had to be tossed twice because match referee Jeff Crowe did not hear Sangakkara”s call. Dhoni tossed the coin again and Sangakkara called correctly.
India made one change to the side that beat Pakistan in the semi-final, bringing in pace bowler Shanthakumaran Sreesanth in place of the injured Ashish Nehra for the final fixture on Saturday.
Star spinner Muralitharan was declared fit to play despite niggling hamstring and knee injuries, but Sri Lanka made four changes after the semifinal against New Zealand.
Al Jazeera’s Prerna Suri in Mumbai said that the atmosphere around the stadium was “almost like a carnival”.
Many of the fans crowded outside the stadium as they could not get the tickets.
“Some of these fans are the unfortunate ones who could not get a seat in the stadium … and this has been one of the criticisms about this venue … that despite having over 32,000 seats, only 4,000 were available for the general public, most of these tickets were taken over by VIPs and politicians.
“Security is also very tight because the Indian intelligence received several inputs over the past few weeks about a possible attack by extremist groups at the stadium [and] there is a multilayered security presence here,” Suri said.
Our correspondent added that fans were still excitedand looking forward to a potential Indian triumph.
Tribute to Muralitharan
In the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, Al Jazeera’s Minelle Fernandez said that there was a great deal of excitement in the city, with people driving around, many draped in the country’s flags.
“As much as this is about people rooting for the Sri Lankan team, this is also a tribute to Muttiah Muralitharan and what he has meant to Sri Lankan cricket, literally over the last 20 years.
“This match will be his last one-day international game, and Sri Lankans are very appreciative of what he has done,” Fernandez said.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan team made a number of changes to the team that defeated New Zealand in the semi-finals.
Batsman Chamara Kapugedera, all-rounder Thisara Perera, off-spinner Suraj Randiv and seamer Nuwan Kulasekera replaced Chamara Silva, the injured Angelo Mathews, Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis.
Randiv had only been called into the squad on Thursday as cover.