How incredible India won ICC T20 World Cup 2024 to end their 13-year wait

Between Kohli’s vintage innings and Pandya’s moment of redemption, Rohit’s India end their long wait for a world title in Barbados.

Virat Kohli, Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah
Virat Kohli, Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah had all the reasons to celebrate after leading India's title-winning charge at the ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2024 final at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados on June 29, 2024 [Randy Brooks/AFP]

Bridgetown, Barbados – For India, the 13-year wait finally ended on a glorious day in Barbados. For South Africa, the endless agony goes on, with no guarantee if or when it will end.

But the spectacle these two teams produced at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown was more than worthy of a World Cup final. It was a contest that swayed back and forth, each blow followed by an equally brutal counterpunch that left the result in the balance until the final moments.

Even before the match had begun, the streets around the Kensington Oval were awash with blue. There were neutrals, there was the rare South African, but the overwhelming majority of fans were here hoping to see Rohit Sharma lift the trophy they felt was theirs by divine right, unaware it would be the last time he would represent India in this format.

The first time when he wore a winner’s medal he was a rookie in South Africa in 2007. He bowed out wearing one in Barbados as the leader of an incredibly talented and defiant India side that beat South Africa – the symmetry complete and the weight of expectation of more than one billion Indian fans lifted off his shoulders.

Rohit announced his T20I retirement at the end of his media address, almost as if it was an afterthought. He had allowed Virat Kohli his moment in the sun during the post-match presentation when the ace batter revealed this would be his last T20 International.

India's captain Rohit Sharma lays on the ground as he celebrates with Team India after winning ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024 final cricket match between India and South Africa at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, on June 29, 2024. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP)
Captain Rohit Sharma lies on the ground after India sealed their second ICC T20 World Cup [Chandan Khanna/AFP]

Vintage Kohli emerges from the shadows

Few players, even the greatest, get to script their perfect farewell. If Rohit’s was a sweet triumph, Kohli’s was the stuff of legend. He came into the final with 75 runs in the bank from seven innings over the tournament and left it adding 76 in a single match, but the most important one of all.

The 35-year-old made a mockery of the theory that the best T20 sides do not need an anchor and dismissed the critics who felt this team was carrying him. His best was saved for the moment it was most needed and his innings was India’s tether to victory.

Kohli had always risen above his extravagant talents in World Cups, even when India were unable to claim the ultimate prize. And in this particular format, he was always the king without a crown. No more.

But he did not do it alone. Axar Patel repaid his team’s faith in promoting him up the order and played his pinch-hitter’s role to perfection. When he fell, Shivam Dube followed suit in a seamless transition.

India's Virat Kohli and captain Rohit Sharma celebrate with the trophy after winning the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024 final cricket match between India and South Africa at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, on June 29, 2024. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP)
Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma celebrate with the trophy [Chandan Khanna/AFP]

Classy Klaasen lifts South Africa to the precipice

When the time came to defend what was a formidable total for a World Cup final, India’s menacing bowling attack took on their now familiar The Terminator avatar. They did not feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And they absolutely would not stop. Never. Not until South Africa’s hopes of making history were dead and buried at the storied Kensington Oval ground.

Two early South African wickets had the mostly Indian crowd roaring, but they sank back into their seats as Quinton de Kock and Tristan Stubbs dragged the Proteas ahead.

The fall of Stubbs to Axar, bowled around his legs, had them on their feet once more, but his departure ushered in the most dangerous man in the South African lineup. Heinrich Klaasen is a batter who can and often does change a game within a couple of overs.

It was more than a couple. Klassen’s bludgeoning was brutal and the pendulum had swung again. In the time it took to blink an eye, he reduced South Africa’s target to 30 runs off 30 balls.

This was the new South Africa who had not buckled under pressure all tournament, even in the tightest of contests, who had kept their cool and won all the moments that mattered. Until now.

South Africa's Heinrich Klaasen plays a shot during the ICC Men's T20 World Cup final cricket match between India and South Africa at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, Saturday, June 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)
Heinrich Klaasen took the game away from India with his 27-ball-52 until India fought back [Ricardo Mazalan/AP]

Genius Jasprit and unloved Pandya dismantle the Proteas

A break in play at the end of the 15th over to deal with Rishabh Pant’s well-timed knee niggle gave Rohit time to reconsider his bowling options.

And so, he turned to Hardik Pandya, the man who had replaced him as Mumbai Indians captain in the Indian Premier League (IPL) four months ago, prompting a tsunami of boos from Ahmedabad to the Wankhede Stadium and beyond.

Unloved Pandya had thus far maintained a dignified silence during a widespread vitriol and often heated analysis of why he had lost the fans.

But he had not lost the trust of Rohit, and he struck immediately as Klaasen chased a wide delivery with a booming drive, only to edge behind. In a game stuffed with key moments, this was the kicker and the crowd sensed that too and blue shirts were billowing in the stands.

India's Hardik Pandya, second right, is congratulated by teammates after taking the wicket of South Africa's Heinrich Klaasen during the ICC Men's T20 World Cup final cricket match between India and South Africa at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, Saturday, June 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Teammates congratulate Hardik Pandya after he took the wicket of Heinrich Klaasen [Ramon Espinosa/AP]

South Africa had not lost all hope, as their ever-reliable innings-finishing batter David Miller – lovingly known as the Killer Miller – was still at the crease, joined by the bowling all-rounder Marco Jansen.

But would Jansen survive the unbelievable genius of the beautiful freak that is Jasprit Bumrah?

Bumrah, the human slingshot with logic-defying accuracy, had bowled flawlessly all innings. Now, with his team desperate for a wicket that would open the gates to South African batting’s tail-end, he flung down a delivery only the cricketing gods could conceive.

A fiendish missile launched with that impossible wrist snap that angled in and straightened as it spat off the pitch to blast Jansen’s stumps and send India’s fans into a frenzy.

Kohli, fielding on the boundary, quietly pumped his fists with clenched teeth with every dismissal.

India's Virat Kohli celebrates after their win against South Africa in the ICC Men's T20 World Cup final cricket match at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, Saturday, June 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)
The usually passionate Virat Kohli held on to his emotions until the win was within touching distance [Ricardo Mazalan/AP]

Suryakumar plucks one from the sky

The only thing this final had lacked thus far was a breathtaking catch to top off the highlights reel, and it came in the first ball of the final over. South Africa needed 16 runs off six deliveries but with Killer Miller on strike, hope flickered.

Miller had to go for it and he tried to heave Pandya’s first, full delivery down the ground. Suryakumar Yadav hared off from long-off and performed a nimble feet-of-flames tiptoe around the boundary rope to complete a one-man relay catch that would have made Michael Flatley proud.

A third wicket to Pandya, this time that of Kagiso Rabada, gave Yadav another catch. There was one ball remaining but the Indian fans were already celebrating.

India's Suryakumar Yadav, left, takes the catch to get South Africa's David Miller out as teammates Virat Kohli, right, and Hardik Pandya celebrate during the ICC Men's T20 World Cup final cricket match between India and South Africa at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, Saturday, June 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Suryakumar Yadav takes the catch to dismiss South Africa’s David Miller and send his teammates and fans into a frenzy [Ramon Espinosa/AP]

India’s joy is South Africa’s heartbreak in fitting finale

In the Indian dressing room, head coach Rahul Dravid slammed shut the notebook that he had been scribbling on, pumped his fists and yelled in a fashion belying the sedate Dravid cricket fans have known since 1996.

Why would he not? It was his last day on the job as India’s head coach and his last chance to win a Men’s ICC World Cup title, one that eluded him in his 15-year playing career.

After Pandya bowled the final ball, the villain-turned-hero collapsed into a seated position then slowly fell onto his back and wept tears of joy and disbelief. He stayed there until his teammates scooped him up into the wildest of celebrations.

The wait was over, India had seized their reward.

India's Hardik Pandya, right, reacts after their win against South Africa in the ICC Men's T20 World Cup final cricket match at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, Saturday, June 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)
Hardik Pandya fell to the ground after taking India to a seven-run win [Ricardo Mazalan/AP]

For the crestfallen South African players, who let it slip through their fingers, the agony was unbearable. Miller buried his face in his forearm and Nortje held a teary-eyed Maharaj in an embrace as the Indian contingent circled the pitch in wild celebrations.

The heavens opened to release the rain that had been forecast, as though the elements had bent to the will of a billion dreams.

As the presentation took centre stage, two poignant scenes in the wings spoke volumes.

After receiving his runners-up medal, Quinton de Kock dropped to one knee as his three-year-old daughter, clad in a South Africa jersey and a bright pink tutu, ran up to her father. He placed his medal around her neck and she ran off, delighted with her new trinket, oblivious to the pain it represented. One day she will know.

South African players wait on the field after losing the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024 final cricket match between India and South Africa at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, on June 29, 2024. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP)
South African players wait on the field to get their runners-up medals [Chandan Khanna/AFP]

Kohli gets his Mumbai moment

After receiving his winner’s medal, Pandya walked away from the stage, closing his eyes and pressing the metal to his lips. The crowd closest to him cheered his name and Pandya turned his eyes towards them and smiled. No one could deny him hero status now.

Dravid, who never really wanted to make this about his last game as India’s coach, watched on with satisfaction writ clear on his face. His job was done.

And there were Rohit and Kohli, each bidding farewell in their own way; Kohli hoisted by his teammates in a fitting echo of the 2011 World Cup finale, when he shouldered Sachin Tendulkar in tribute, Rohit demurring for a later reveal. They had left their indelible marks on this team, this format, in their ways.

India's Virat Kohli carries the winners' trophy as he celebrates after India won the ICC Men's T20 World Cup final cricket match against South Africa at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, Saturday, June 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Virat Kohli carries the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup trophy – the only one that had eluded him in his 15-year career with India [Ramon Espinosa/AP]

The 2024 T20 World Cup will be remembered for the spirited performances by the ICC associate nations, for its incursion into unchartered American territory, for USA and Afghanistan’s fairytale runs and for a resurgence of cricket in the Caribbean.

There were pitch controversies, nightmarish logistics and standout performances from unheralded new talents. And there was newfound triumph, then familiar heartbreak, for South Africa.

But, as the gold confetti fluttered across Kensington Oval, all else faded into the background and only Rohit, Kohli and their teammates remained in view.

For in the end the only memory that matters is that of Incredible India.

Source: Al Jazeera