India euphoric after World Cup victory

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The Independent Online

India hasn't hosted a party like this for 28 years.

Many of the revelers who poured onto streets across the country weren't even born the last time India lifted the World Cup in 1983. In a nation which places cricket in a near religious context, the euphoria after Saturday's six-wicket win over Sri Lanka arose as much from relief as joy.

The sound of firecrackers continued through the night in Mumbai, the scene of India's success, and by 6am on Sunday morning, a few hardy fans were still riding around the city on motorbikes, flags waving behind them, eking every last moment of pleasure out of India's victory.

There was blanket coverage across India's news channels. Nothing else mattered. The newspapers dedicated page upon page to the historic win. "The World At Our Feet" was the headline on Sunday's edition of Times of India.

"The wait has ended and a new legend has been born," the newspaper said. "(India captain) Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his intrepid warriors now stand atop a pedestal hitherto occupied only Kapil's Devils."

Until Saturday, Kapil Dev's World Cup-winning squad of 1983 was revered as India's greatest sporting heroes. Now they've got company from the likes of Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh.

Tendulkar is the only member of the current squad old enough to really remember the exploits of Kapil and co and to have experienced the knock-on effects of their achievements.

The world's best batsman and India's greatest sportsman didn't play a major role in the final match, but he was given center stage in the celebrations. The picture of a tearful Tendulkar being carried around his home ground on the shoulders of his teammates will not only be one of the defining images of this World Cup, but of India's sporting history.

"Our one dream was to win it for India and for Sachin, and we've done it," Yuvraj said.

Cricket is regarded as a unifying force for India's 1.2 billion population, breaking down cultural and religious barriers. It was never more evident than in Saturday night's celebrations when millions celebrated together. They were wrapped in flags, had their faces painted with the tricolors of India, and wore the light blue replica team shirts.

"This is the only day when the whole of India is together," said Siraj Sawardekar, a 22-year-old I.T. worker who traveled to Mumbai to be part of the celebrations. "It is like an independence day for us."

India's politicians, dignitaries and celebrities queued up to heap praise on Dhoni and his players.

"I join the nation in congratulating the Indian cricket team on their victory," India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said. "The Indian team has made India proud."

Congress President Sonia Gandhi stopped her car to join the street celebrations in Delhi. Staying for about 20 minutes, she shook hands with fans, waved a flag and gave the v-for-victory sign. She said the win "will be etched in gold for generations to come."

India President Pratibha Patil watched the game at the Wankhede Stadium.

"All of you truly deserve the thanks of a billion-plus Indians," Patil said. "The road to success has been long and hard and you and your team were tested at every stage."

Celebrities and sports stars took to Twitter to share their emotions.

"The revelry on the road is to b seen to b believed!" tweeted Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty. "India is celebrating and this is proof:) Never seen anything like this..Yippeeeeeeeee."

India's No. 1 tennis player Sania Mirza wrote: "Yeeaahhhh IIIINNDDIIAAA! Congratulations to all of you and Team India!! you boys have made more than a billion ppl proud and smile:) Thank you Team India:)God bless you."

The joy spread far and wide as Indians across the Gulf region, the U.K. and even in the U.S., a country not usually associated with cricket, joined the celebrations.

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, continuing the goodwill engendered during India's semifinal against Pakistan, sent a message of congratulations to his Indian counterpart.

He commended the "excellent performance of the Indian team throughout the tournament as well as in the final match," and said the semifinal between the two countries would provide an "opportunity to their leadership to advance the peace process and build bridges of peace, trust and confidence."

In India, the victorious players are already reaping the financial rewards. The Board of Control for Cricket in India announced it would give each player 10 million rupees ($225,000).

Delhi's Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit pledged to give 20 million rupees to Dhoni, and 10 million to each of the four players from Delhi: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and Ashish Nehra.