To general acclaim and the everlasting adoration of their fans, India became World Twenty20 champions yesterday. As far as the thousands who saw them clinch a nerve-shredding contest against Pakistan here in Johannesburg and the millions upon millions who watched it on television are concerned, that makes them world champions. Pure and simple.
It was a fittingly pulsating climax to a stupendous festival of cricket. If the sport generally was desperately in need of it, the organisers, the authorities and the players can never have expected what they got.
After a fortnight of thrills and spills, guts and glamour, India won the final against Pakistan by five runs with three balls left. The victors scored 157 for 5, the losers were 152 all out.
As ever, those figures do not begin to explain the swings of fortune in the 39.3 overs that the match lasted. India had lost it, won it, lost it again and at last when it really mattered won it.
There will be those who still insist that this is not really cricket, that it is wham bam stuff for a modern generation. Let them go on thinking so. As India's engagingly modest captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni put it: "I shall treasure it for the rest of my life." His worshippers back home will make sure he does. Dhoni already had the status of idol in the sub-continent but this victory takes him a few levels higher.
The end came when Misbah-ul-Haq, who had played a lone, nerveless hand for Pakistan, played a scoop shot over his shoulder with five needed from four balls. He mistimed one of the most difficult shots in the lexicon and was caught by Sreesanth at short fine leg.
Yet the unsung Misbah came within a whisker of being a hero. A cricketer of 33 who had been picked for the tournament because of his skills in domestic Twenty20, he played with wonderful élan as all around him illustrious colleagues lost their heads.
India's total had seemed short of what might be required. So short of guile is he – and how refreshing – that Dhoni had candidly conceded on winning the toss that the pitch should yield a total of 180. His side were well short.
Throughout the tournament, Pakistan's bowlers have been wonderfully incisive and let nobody down on final day. Perhaps the pick of them was Umar Gul who took three wickets, disguised his pace with the skill of a make-up artist, and found the yorker at will.
India's big guns failed to fire. Yuvraj Singh, who had gaily hit into the stands in his previous two innings, could not get it off the square, Dhoni was yorked by Gul the ball immediately after receiving, in succession, a beamer and a bouncer.
Gautam Gambhir, however, played sumptuously. Disproving another theory, that Twenty20 is merely a slogfest (and why not), he struck a sequence of cover-driven fours which would grace any coaching manual of cricketing orthodoxy. At the end Rohit Sharma chanced his arm well with 30 from 16 balls.
The smart money – and in this contest there would be oodles of money, smart and otherwise, being laid with bookies legal and illegal – was on Pakistan. When Imran Nazir smashed Sreesanth's first over for 21 it looked not so much smart as carrying a first class honours degree from Oxford.
But the left-arm swing of RP Singh (what a lovely sound that has to it) ripped out Mohammed Hafeez and Kamran Akmal, mysteriously sent in at No3. And then in the sixth over Nazir was called for a quick single by Younis Khan. Robin Uthappa's pick up and throw at short cover defied everything the world thought it knew about India's fielding.
That was a key moment but Pakistan batted idiotically after that, undone by the occasion, embodied by captain Shoaib Malik's swish to midwicket. All, that is, except Misbah. He played with lovely control and then suddenly in the 17th over hit three sixes. Sohail Tanveer slogged two more, Misbah hit his fourth in the last over. Was it to be Pakistan's game? Joginder Sharma bowled it on the stumps, Misbah gambled and lost. In utter disbelief crowd and fans roared. This was Twenty20. Something truly special.Reuse content