Dhoni hurries India home to secure place in history

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Sri Lanka 274-6 India 277-4 (India win by six wickets): Captain leads from front to send host nation into ecstasy as Jayawardene's craft goes unrewarded

India are champions of the world. To the unstinting adulation and unbridled joy of millions upon millions of countrymen, the side led – and led from the front – by Mahendra Singh Dhoni defeated Sri Lanka in an enthralling final by six wickets to take the title for the first time in 28 years.

Only 33,000 were present to witness what has long been predicted to be India's destiny but it felt as if the population of Mumbai and of many cities beyond was crammed into the Wankhede Stadium. Dhoni, who had had a quiet tournament with the bat, entered the arena with India in a tricky position on 115 for 3, needing 275 to win.

But he shared a composed, studiously determined fourth-wicket stand of 109 from 118 balls with Gautam Gambhir which tilted the match irrevocably India's way. Gambhir was out three short of his century, trying to slog his way to three figures, but his captain saw it through.

Dhoni ended unbeaten on 91 from 79 balls and when the winning runs came with his second six, a country went wild with delight. For Sri Lanka, it was a second defeat in successive finals. It was crueller on nobody more than Mahela Jayawardene, their vice-captain, who compiled an unbeaten century of consummate grace. It was the sixth hundred in a final and the first not to be part of a winning cause.

India deserved their victory for all manner of reasons, the greatest of which was the sheer weight of expectation that has accompanied them. That they chased down the largest total to win a final after the early removal of the nation's idol, Sachin Tendulkar, and the planet's most dangerous attacking force, Virender Sehwag, merely enhanced their triumph.

Dhoni, bravely and defiantly, promoted himself in the order despite a moderate competition in which his previous highest score had been 34. He calmly assessed the position, ensured that the threat of Muttiah Muralitharan, hampered by dew, was neutered and finished in style.

"In this game I wanted to bat up the order and [coach] Gary Kirsten and the senior players backed me," he said. "I had a point to prove to myself." He added: "In the last month or so together we have done really well. We've grown together on and off the field and it has been a very memorable time to be part of this team."

If there was a glimmer of an opportunity for Sri Lanka when glory flashed before Gambhir's eyes in a rush of blood and he was bowled by Thisara Perera, Dhoni, the player of the match, and Yuvraj Singh, the player of the tournament, snatched it away again. The fifth-wicket pair clattered 54 in 32 balls and they had 10 to spare.

The ecstatic scenes seemed some distance away when India began their pursuit of Sri Lanka's 274 for 6. Only two teams batting second had prevailed in previous finals; none made more than 245 to win. To the second, extremely quick, ball of the innings from Lasith Malinga the dashing Sehwag was caught on the crease trying to flick to leg.

Tendulkar drove loosely at a length ball from Malinga which moved fractionally away, and was caught low down by Kumar Sangakkara. Gambhir, on 30, was dropped at long-off off Suraj Randiv but when Virat Kohli was out to a brilliant return catch by Tillekaratne Dilshan, it was vital India did not lose another quick wicket.

The afternoon had begun bizarrely when the toss had to be made twice. Sangakkara appeared to have lost it but his call was not heard by the match referee Jeff Crowe, who decreed there should be another spin. This time Sangakkara definitely won.

Though Sri Lanka – who made four changes from their semi-final side – started circumspectly, Jayawardene was magisterial in all he did. He came out with the score at 60 for 2 in the 17th over and ran 43 singles to go with his 13 boundaries, nine of which were placed with the utmost delicacy backward of square on the off side. It barely seemed possible that his unbeaten 103 came from only 88 balls.

Jayawardene arrived not with a sledgehammer to break down India's door but with a lock pick to glide his way in unnoticed. However, not only were the previous five centuries in finals in a winning cause but he had scored 13 previous one-day hundreds and all had seen Sri Lanka win. Three of that previous quintet had, like Jayawardene's, been scored at more than a run a ball, which might have accounted for their ultimate success.

The final assault was the key to Sri Lanka's total. After 40 overs they were 183 for 5, after 45 that had risen to 211 for 5, when the batting powerplay was compulsorily imposed. Jayawardene, assisted gleefully by Nuwan Kulasekara and Perera, stole 73 from the final five overs. He reached his hundred with successive fours, a sumptuous cut to third man followed by an uncustomary larrup to long-off.

This was particularly unfortunate for Zaheer Khan, who saw all the vagaries of the 50-over format flash before his eyes. His first three overs at the start of the innings were all maidens, his first five cost a mere six runs yet he finished with 2 for 60 from his allocation of 10. Four hours later, though, he had forgotten all about it.

Dhoni and his men had joined Kapil Dev's side from 1983 in the annals of Indian cricket. They are legends. Gambhir echoed the sentiments of his team when he said: "Congratulations to Sachin, all credit goes to him and this victory is for him."

The best of times, the worst of times

It lasted too long and there were too many one-sided matches, but the case for retaining 50-over cricket in an ever busier international schedule was done more good than harm during a World Cup enthusiastically hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Twenty20 is here to stay and Test cricket remains the stuff by which great batsmen and bowlers are measured, at least for the foreseeable future. For many spectators, though, one-day internationals remain the perfect mix. It is just a pity England never rule the 50-over roost. But they did at least contribute to this World Cup – by fault more than design – and figured in many of the tournament's best and worst moments.

Masters of timing

Muttiah Muralitharan, taking a wicket with the last ball he bowled as an international cricketer on home soil during Sri Lanka's semi-final win over New Zealand; and Sachin Tendulkar, who tantalised all of India by starting the World Cup final in his home city of Mumbai on 99 not out (that is 51 Test hundreds and 48 ODI tons).

Best innings

Andrew Strauss thought he had sewn this up with a stunning 158 against India. But three days later, he watched open-mouthed as Ireland's Kevin O'Brien hit England for the fastest hundred in World Cup history.

Worst innings

This has to be a team award, not an individual gong. Despite several strong claims, the clear winners are Bangladesh for their pitiful 58 all out against West Indies. It cost them quarter-final qualification and prompted a furious reaction from their fans.

Best bowling

Given the punishment handed out to everyone else during the tie between England and India featuring 676 runs, Tim Bresnan's analysis of 10-1-48-5 was staggering. No one bettered it in terms of against-the-odds quality, but Wahab Riaz (5 for 46) tried hard in the semis for Pakistan against India.

Worst bowling

It feels almost treacherous to do this, but shuffle forward, please, Jimmy Anderson. The man who bowled like a dream throughout the Ashes series then staggered from one World Cup nightmare to another – and his analysis of 9.5-0-91-1 against India goes down as England's most expensive in tournament history.

Biggest mismatch

No, not Sri Lanka against England in the quarter-finals but New Zealand versus Kenya from the group stages. The minnows turned up in Chennai but they might as well have stayed in the hotel – bowled out for 69 as they lost a match that lasted 32 overs by 10 wickets.

Biggest letdown

Tempting though it is to nominate England, their quarter-final exit was predictable. So were Kenya's inept performances. But much was expected of Bangladesh – and they bottled it at the group stage.

Greatest surprise

Ireland's win against England and New Zealand's defeat of South Africa both earned votes, but the biggest shock for many came when a chap called James Tredwell took four wickets against West Indies. Most had assumed he was England's specialist water carrier.

Choke of the tournament

This is getting ridiculous and it is high time South Africa gave someone else a chance. New Zealand have lost six World Cup semi-finals but generally over-achieve – not an accusation that can be levelled at the Proteas.

David Lloyd

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