It’s been over 12 years since India lifted the 2011 World Cup, but the fond visuals of MS Dhoni hitting the final six, the team carrying Sachin Tendulkar on their shoulders, Gautam Gambhir’s crucial innings and the celebrations that followed are still afresh. Not only the visuals, but discussions surrounding the final match between India and Sri Lanka, including Lasisth Malinga’s dreadful spell, Dhoni’s move to step up before Yuvraj Singh during India’s innings, individual player’s contribution in the night of the finals continue to be a part of conversations every now and then.
In episode 10 of Frontfoot, The Core’s Joshua Thomas spoke to renowned sports journalist Ayaz Memon about the 2011 World Cup final – India versus Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan squad, and the overall performance of the Indian team in the historic match.
“The rejoicing one saw at the Wankhede Stadium…Sachin Tendulkar obviously given the most fond farewell that I can think of and remember Virat Kohli hoisting him on his shoulders amongst other players, and speaking to the camera and saying that this man has done so much for Indian cricket that we had to do it for him. I thought that was a very special moment for Sachin Tendulkar himself and for Indian cricket," Memon, who witnessed the final match in the Wankhede Stadium on April 2, 2011, said.
Shedding light on Dhoni’s move to come out before Yuvraj Singh to bat in the finals, Memon said, “I think that he did this primarily because at that point in time, Lasith Malinga would come for the death overs but the middle overs, the big threat was from Muralidaran, who was bowling really well and if you look at the figures of Muralidaran, he got 8 overs for 39 runs, which showed that he was very steady. The threat from Murali was for the left hand batsmen. But Gautam Gambhir was already well set. So, if you send out Yuvraj Singh, who was also a left hander, there was a danger that if one wicket falls, Sri Lanka will come back strongly to the game.”
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
Before we do talk about the match, can you tell me a little about the Sri Lankan squad? What was India up against and who were the players on the Sri Lankan team that we had to contend with?
I mean, the fact that they were in the final showed that they were a fine squad – Sri Lanka. These are not names that kind of roll out easily on your tongue—the Sri Lankan names, like Indians or the Pakistanis do, because they are…I mean for some strange reason, they have never been acknowledged as big stars, the Sri Lankans in the world of cricket. Though, they had won the World Cup in 1996 and were in the final year. But this was a very fine team. And I'll spell out some of the names, or at least tell you some of the names who were a serious threat to India going into this match. There was Upul Tharanga, the opener, Tillakratne Dilshan, both of them, fantastic players. Then even better players. Kumar Sangakkara, who was the captain at that point in time. Mahela Jayawardene, who in the match, as we talk about it, played perhaps one of the great innings of the World Cup making a century. Thilan Samaraweera, who was highly underrated but a fantastic batsman in the middle. Then you know the all rounders—Chamara Kapugedera, Nuwan Kulasekara…I am saying, these are not household names, but they were very good. Thisara Perera. And then the bowlers, I think of two of whom were world beaters. Lasith Malinga, the fast bowler — he played a lot of years, many years subsequently in the IPL. And everybody got familiar with him even further. And then there was Muthiah Muralidaran, who we all know was a magician. He finished test cricket with the highest number of wickets by any bowler ever and again a great match winner. So this was a lineup that India were facing.
And it wasn't easy because, remember, this match was in the subcontinent. These are pitches on which as much as India were familiar with the conditions, so were the Sri Lankans. And also, let's not forget that in 1996, India were thrashed by Sri Lanka in the semifinal at the Eden Gardens. So I am sure that a lot of people were still even in the Indian team, were still smarting from that. Certainly it brought back very unpleasant memories for somebody like Sachin Tendulkar who had played that semi final and India had lost. So I am sure that if anybody had to go up to Sachin and say, "Oh we are playing Sri Lanka it would be easy.” He would have kind of given them a quick reminder that do not underestimate this team.
Let us talk about the Sri Lankans' innings. So Sri Lanka won the toss and they elected to bat first. They scored 274 runs, which is actually something quite high to chase. So how did they manage to really smash through our bowling in that first inning?
They struggled initially. Zaheer Khan gave India an early breakthrough, getting Tharanga and then Tillakaratne Dilshan , who could accelerate at will, he got dismissed for 33. So they were in a bit of a bother at 60. And then they had this partnership between Sangakkara and Jayawardene— these two guys, two best batsmen of the team. So that kind of steadied the ship. But what really gave them this very good score—I wouldn't say it was an intimidating score–but it was a very good total to defend when you have got bowlers like Malinga and Muralidharan. 274 – but that came about because of Jayawardene. I do not know if you watched him bat. I was there at the game. Jayawardene was a touch player, a stylist and the longer he batted, the better he got. And you enjoyed it even more. He has got such great aesthetic qualities in his batting that you cannot for a moment take your eyes off him when he is in full flow. And that is the kind of innings that Jayawardene played that day – 103.
Some of these World Cup tournaments have been defined by centuries made by one of the leading batsmen. We have talked about Ponting in the 2003 World Cup final. And then there is Clive Lloyd in 1975 and Viv Richards in 1979. Kapil Dev, of course, we have spoken about in 1983 and so on. This innings was of that caliber, and which is saying a lot. In 2007, there was Adam Gilchrist, who opened the innings for Australia and literally won the match for them of his own bat.
So Jayawardene, a 103 not out, a masterly knock and made at a very quick rate also. He just took 88 deliveries. That kind of boosted Sri Lanka's score. At one point, it seemed that when the fifth wicket fell and then the 6th wicket fell under 250, it seemed like they might not get 270 or 265, 270. But with Jayawardene and Perera hitting some big blows towards the end, they got 274 for six. And at that point in time, I think Sri Lankans were not cocky about what they have achieved. They would have been fairly happy because what they would have seen is some help for the bowlers in this pitch. Zaheer Khan had bowled well, though, towards the end, even he got flogged by Jayawardene. So did Sreesanth. But there was some help from Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh. Even Munaf Patel who bowled very steadily had got some help from the pitch. So 274 was defendable, certainly. And that was one major that they crossed because if the Sri Lankans got bowled out for 240/250 or less than that , then India would have had it very easy. Here there was a challenge ahead for it.
Now talking about India’s innings. We had the dream team of Sachin and Sehwag. But they kind of fell short as they got out pretty quickly.
I think you are right. I mean it was a fantastic opening pair — Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar. But both got out very cheaply. Infact, Sehwag got a blow and Sachin did not get too many. Everybody knew this was Sachin’s last World Cup match. So, Wankhede Stadium, homeground, was choc-o-bloc, of course but also sentimentally so much behind him and vociferously. But he got 18. I think it was a terrific opening spell bowled by Lasith Malinga and he picked up both these wickets. And it left India wobbly because you lose two batsmen of the calibre of Sehway and Tendulkar, then obviously you have hard work ahead.
The first task for India or Indian batting after Sehwag and Tendulkar got dismissed was kind of steady the innings, get it back on an even keel. And if you do not lose more wickets then you can pace the innings and pick up the run rate, so on and so forth as you go along. But if you lose more wickets then, you fall into a hole, a deep crisis from which it might be impossible to achieve.
So the first task was to steady the innings and that is where Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli played a big hand. Gautam Gambhir made 97 runs, the highest for India in the match. Not many people give him…or he should still get far more accolades than he has got for that knock of his. Virat Kohli, a newbie on the Indian cricket scene. His first major tournament. 35 runs, not too many in terms of number of runs but very valuable for the manner in which he batted and the strong game sense that he showed. Match awareness and calm nerves…so these two guys took the score from 31 to 114 and that made India breathe a little easily. But then Kohli fell. So, who walks out to bat?
This was I think in many ways, an unexpected move by Dhoni but also turned out to be a master stroke. Instead of sending Yuvraj Singh, whose batting order was number 5 to bat, he came out to bat himself. And I think that he did this primarily because at that point in time, Lasith Malinga would come for the death overs but the middle overs, the big threat was from Muralidaran, who was bowling really well and if you look at the figures of Muralidaran, he got 8 overs for 39 runs, which showed that he was very steady. The threat from Murali was for the left hand batsmen. But Gautam Gambhir was already well set. So, if you send out Yuvraj Singh, or expose Yuvraj Singh, who was also a left hander, there was a danger that if one wicket falls, Sri Lanka will come back strongly to the game.
So, Dhoni walked out as a right hander he thought he would be more useful or more comfortable playing an off spinner, which is exactly what happened. He not just played him comfortably, but he grew in authority as the partnership between him and Gautam Gambhir…they put on 109 runs and that turned out to be the match winning partnership. Gautam Gambhir unfortunately did not get his century, getting out for 97. But by that time India were rather close or on the path to victory.
41st or 42nd over was when Gautam Gambhir got out, so just a little over 8 overs remaining. And still about 50 runs to get, not a cake walk but Dhoni was still there and Gambhir had done his job. Unfortunately he could not get his century but Dhoni was now in his top of the game and actually more or less dictating terms. And then he was joined by Yuvraj Singh, who had through the tournament batted extremely well. And Yuvraj Singh, as we know, in white ball cricket was a thunderous player. But here he had to play the understudy to Dhoni who had already kind of settled in and was setting the pace as it were.
And then as we all know…one of the most iconic shots in World Cup history is Dhoni hitting Nuwan Kulasekara for a six, over deep mid-on. Hitting the ball in the stands and completing the match, finishing with 91 not out, Yuvraj Singh 21…but the manner in which he marshalled the victory charge as it were.. MS Dhoni.
It was one of the most absorbing matches I have seen, not just because India won but the performances, the individual performances and then the tactical ploys made by Dhoni. Obviously Sri Lanka also contributed to the aura of this match with Mahela Jayawardene’s century and Lasith Malinga’s bowling and so on. But at the end of the day a fantastic win for India. Of course the celebrations that followed, you were part of it. The rejoicing one saw at the Wankhede Stadium…Sachin Tendulkar obviously given the most fond farewell that I can think of and remember Virat Kohli hoisting him on his shoulders amongst other players…and speaking to the camera and saying that this man has done so much for Indian cricket that we had to do it for him. I thought that was a very special moment for Sachin Tendulkar himself and for Indian cricket.