India’s World Cup-winning legacy: John Stern

There are times when I feel proud to be a cricket lover, times when I feel a certain, though clearly undeserved, frisson of reflected glory when agnostics become believers.

Despite being several thousand miles away and despite having no partisan interest in who won today’s World Cup final, I have felt a connection and pleasure that I hadn’t expected.

The preview of the match on last night’s BBC 10 O’Clock News was a bundle of cliches (“they’re calling it the clash of the titans” etc) but it was still a joy to behold. To hear Fiona Bruce talking about – and pretty much pronouncing their names’ correctly – Murali and Tendulkar was uplifting.

Before the World Cup started I was largely indifferent to it but the tournament has surprised. It’s been way too long, of course, it’s been fun and joyous and there’s been plenty of damn good cricket.

And an India-Sri Lanka final was the most appropriate climax for an Asian World Cup showcase. It wasn’t quite as close as neutrals would have liked but it was still compelling – and that was just the faces of the Indian supporters. Numb disbelief when Sachin departed for 18 turned to concentrated angst as their team’s run-chase unfolded.

England might have been exhausted and spent five weeks playing from memory but one of the great things about this tournament has been the quality of the cricket and that star players have shown their best side.

England might still be Ashes-obsessed but for everyone else the World Cup is the pinnacle. We didn’t get the prescribed Tendulkar hundred but MS Dhoni’s innings – and the way he finished the match – was indicative of world class and star quality, as was Mahela Jayawardene’s brilliantly-paced century for Sri Lanka and Lasith Malinga’s dismissals of India’s two galactico openers.

I quite fancied Sri Lanka to win but Angelo Mathews’ absence and Murali’s lack of mobility was, I suppose, too much to bear. The omission of Ajantha Mendis was curious case of over-analysis. Making three unforced changes for a World Cup final is asking for trouble.

India’s shock victory in the 1983 World Cup lit a fire under the game in that country that has yet to go out. Their World Twenty20 title in 2007 turned them from 20-over sceptics into obsessives and gave birth to the IPL.

So what does this victory do for Indian cricket? It’s a bit like asking what birthday present one buys for the man who has everything.

The legacy is not so much a national one as a personal one. Sachin Tendulkar was chaired round the field on the shoulders of his team-mates. He didn’t make runs but this victory is the reward for his relentless brilliance.

Indians do not bear contemplating his retirement though maybe they can now. They won this match without contributions from their two biggest stars. Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, whose duck was his first in an ODI for four-and-a-half years, made 18 between them.

It was Gambhir, Kohli and Dhoni, all under 30, who delivered. And Kohli’s comment to Nasser Hussain about transporting Tendulkar around the Wankhede Stadium was as smooth as batting technique: “He’s been carrying the burden of a nation for 20 years so it’s about time we carried him.”

The greatest legacy of the tournament, though, has been the re-invigoration of the 50-over game. But central to that is the balance between bat and ball. It hasn’t been a run-fest and thank goodness for that. There are plenty of lessons for the ICC to learn from the World Cup. Let’s hope they do so.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Follow him on Twitter @WisdenCric_John

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