Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli can claim whatever they want but in Indian cricket, a World Cup matters more than anything else, an inspirational story for the time immemorial. 'That' shot of MS Dhoni made him a cult hero or, dare I say, the greatest Indian captain of all-time.
When MS Dhoni hit Nuwan Kulasekara over long on for a mighty maximum, it was the end of a frustrating era for Indian fans, the pain and despair of the 2007 World Cup became a thing of the past, Sachin Tendulkar was finally able to live his dream and he ran in to celebrate what was a fulfilling day at the office. But in a parallel universe, things were pretty bleak, after Dhoni, who promoted himself up in the order to tackle the threat of Muttiah Muralitharan, was out for a duck and India floundered on their run-chase of 275.
When Dhoni came out to bat, Virat Kohli, promising that he was, was just dismissed after India had lost the godly duo of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag. Tendulkar had been in great form, scoring runs like the way he used to in his 20s and his dismissal struck home the point of the possible implosion in the knock-outs that India have so easily made them accustomed to since losing the T20 World Cup final to Sri Lanka in the Bangladeshi land of Mirpur in 2014. But Dhoni, alongside Gambhir, made it a day to remember, with that six becoming a big part of cricketing folklore. But What if Dhoni had instead gotten out for a duck? Let’s turn the table around.
Muralitharan bowls a ripper of a delivery outside off-stump that turns heavily into Dhoni and his mental struggle to fend off his bad form throughout the tournament means he is rapped on the pads yet again, as India are reduced to 114/4. Yuvraj has always had a struggling history against the offies and his glorious run in the entire tournament means for nothing against the Lankan side. Gambhir wages a lone battle but that is never going to be enough as India are dismissed for 220 in the final. Sri Lanka are crowned champions for the second time in their history, leaving Indian fans frustrated once again.
A struggling MS Dhoni is clueless, unaware of the things surrounding him, and suddenly announces his resignation from captaincy. BCCI, left with no choice, makes Yuvraj Singh the captain of the limited-overs side while entrusting the Test captaincy to Gautam Gambhir. However, Yuvraj fails to sustain the rigours of captaincy, before scraping the way to a series victory over depleted West Indies while the Gambhir-led India suffer a 3-1 Test loss to England. With Yuvraj suddenly diagnosed with cancer, India are now in a catastrophic situation, with the white-ball captaincy wheel turning to Virender Sehwag, even though it could well have been Gambhir.
Sehwag is now leading the team, with Tendulkar retired. Now, he is just a mere shadow of his former self, and his eyesight problem ensures that he is just filling the gaping hole before India find a new and permanent skipper. By the time India step on the Sri Lankan shore for a five-match ODI and three-match Test series, Sehwag is exposed heavily, accumulating a total of 79 runs in five ODIs before scoring 167 in the Test series, to end a horror run. The captaincy role has become a merry-go-round now, with India being completely clueless about the performance. And so they sack Sehwag for good, with Gambhir becoming India’s next full-time captain across formats and Virat Kohli, who by now has become a force to be reckoned with on the back of his century show against Sri Lanka and a terrific 459-run Test series against Australia, is chosen as the vice-captain.
Relaxed from the captaincy responsibilities, MS Dhoni further turns the wheel to emerge as India’s most dependable batsman alongside Kohli and the duo strike a fine partnership in the Galle Test to take India over the line. That subsequently leads to Dhoni spending more time in becoming a handy red-ball player and for the time being, he actually becomes a better Test player than an ODI player, securing a Man of the Match award in India’s white-wash of Australia at home in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in 2013.
With Dravid and Laxman now gone for good, India bring Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane to bolster the middle-order, and now Sachin is under pressure to retire. He decides the home series against Australia is his last, which gives Gambhir insurance to give a permanent place to Rahane. Gambhir slowly becomes the best leader in all formats but his batting form dwindles further, and by the time India plays South Africa in 2013, he hits an all-time low. His Bradmanesque batting performance was a thing of the past, with his position now coming under danger after a couple of ducks in the Rainbow nation. India then lose to New Zealand, with none of the senior members being able to score enough runs, but the priority is definitely on winning the 2014 World T20.
The BCCI decides to stick with Gambhir but a returning Yuvraj means India have to tweak their plans straightaway. On the back of some stoic knocks, Yuvraj helped India to the final but Gambhir suddenly turned around his fortune to score an effective 90 in the final as India topple Sri Lanka, with the southpaw being adorned as an inspirational leader of men. High on confidence, India travel to England for a five-match Pataudi Trophy, with Gambhir opening with Murali Vijay. Carrying his ODI form, Dhoni becomes the most successful batsman with 612 runs, including two double centuries, and Kohli amasses 550 runs to help India secure a 2-1 win. But while everyone was happy, Gambhir, who had a total of 134 runs at an average of 14, was frustrated and that mental battle took a toll on him by the time India reached Australia.
Virat Kohli has now established himself as a future leader and an ODI legend, with the 2014 Adelaide Test seeing him score a couple of daddy hundreds. Dhoni joins the fun too, scoring a 175 unbeaten as Gambhir, carrying his bad form from England, gets out for a 13-ball 1. Although India did manage to defy a rampant Nathan Lyon to go 1-0 up, Gambhir, who was genuinely out of his mental balance, announces his retirement from the sport. India are desperate, with Kohli leading the side. Although India falter in the second Test, by drawing the Boxing Day and winning the SCG in the last session thriller, they secure their first series victory in Australia.
Balance is restored as the team goes to the World Cup Down Under with Kohli as the captain, who has total experience of leading the side in five matches. However, with Gambhir not there, India are now forced to open with Murali Vijay alongside Rohit Sharma. It turns out to be a masterstroke as the Tamil Nadu batsman manages to down Pakistan and Zimbabwe to huge hundreds and carries the momentum to the semi-final, with two losses coming against South Africa and West Indies. India face South Africa at the Eden Park in Auckland in the second semi-final where New Zealand lock horns with Australia at the SCG.
Despite the previous loss, Kohli senses an opportunity as he uses his might to get the better of the African nation, who had their own history of losing in the knock-outs. Scoring a sublime century in Auckland, India set up an MCG final date with New Zealand, who have won a thriller against Australia in the latter’s home base in Sydney. Two evenly-matched sides are now eyeing the coveted trophy. Surprisingly modest in the entire tournament with the bat, MS Dhoni, who was looking for his own little redemption, racks up the innings of his life before it all came down to 14 runs of the final over, with Umesh Yadav for the company at the other end.
With Trent Boult to bowl the final over after an economical penultimate over by Matt Henry, Dhoni fails to connect the first two balls but two wides and a four later, the equation has now come down to 8 off 3. It is the Dhoni territory and Boult is under pressure. Although he attempts two yorkers in a row, Dhoni smashes them with sheer disdain, helicoptering it for two maximums. India win their second World Cup and Virat Kohli joins Kapil Dev as just the second Indian skipper to lift the title for the country.
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