'India planned final for a year'
As tears of joy rolled over the cheeks of the Indian heroes after the ecstatic World Cup win on Saturday night, Paddy Upton, the mental conditioning coach of the Indian cricket team said that the team was planning the World Cup final for the last one year.
Harbhajan Singh wept into the India flag, Yuvraj Singh couldn't hold back tears either. Sachin Tendulkar, not used to having his feet off the ground, for a change felt comfortable on the shoulders of his teammates as they took a lap of the Wankhede. He was being taken around a ground that had once booed him. All that didn't matter on Saturday. A life-long dream had been achieved in a sixth attempt; in front of his home crowd, at a ground where he played most of his domestic cricket. MS Dhoni, Yuvraj, Zaheer Khan and Gautam Gambhir followed with their arms around each other's shoulders. Virat Kohli, playing in his first World Cup and inconsolable when he had got out earlier, sang Chak de India to the crowd.
There was delight, there were tears of joy, there was contentment. There was relief after a campaign in which their every move was noticed, dissected and criticised or praised. It was a moment nobody could take away from the Indian team. They took their time as they celebrated. Slowly, savouring each moment. Months of tension, build-up, sleepless nights, inability to eat regularly, cramps, vomit, sweat, toil; all of it was over, and in their hands was the World Cup.
Gary Kirsten's contribution was not forgotten. After Tendulkar had been around the ground on the strong and reliable shoulders of Yusuf Pathan, the team chaired Kirsten too, who was coaching India for one last time. An equally loud applause followed. Quietly, Paddy Upton, the mental conditioning coach, and Eric Simons, the bowling coach, watched. They watched men become kids, they watched and heard, 33,000 people's gratitude.
"There have been some incredible moments in my involvement with sport, but this has got to be the highlight," Upton told ESPNcricinfo.
Upton spoke of the year the team had been through: the anticipation, the preparation, the hard work. "We set on this a year ago. Gary and myself and Eric Simons asked the question, 'Are we ready to win the World Cup?' And we felt we had the team to win it, the skill and the talent, but mentally we possibly weren't ready."
That was in Dambulla where, as Virender Sehwag mentioned, they started visualising the World Cup final. "We had planned a year ago what we needed to do in order to set ourselves up to win the World Cup," Upton said. "For a year we have been talking about when we play the final in Mumbai, and it was amazing yesterday [Friday] to reflect in the team meeting and say, 'Guys we have been talking about exactly this for a year, and we have been preparing for it and we know we are ready.' So while there were nerves, we went in with the confidence that we are better prepared than the opposition."
Some of the players had been struggling to sleep properly, but Upton believed - as it now seems - in something preordained. "Strangely I slept quite comfortably, because the job was done, we just needed to go and act out the script that was already written."
The nerves he felt towards the closing moments, despite himself being a mental conditioning coach, he said was a feeling like no other. "I get bloody nervous. Believe you me. It was magnificent."
The greatest moment of his greatest achievement in sport was watching the players weep. And looking after the mental side of players who perhaps are under the most pressure in world cricket, he has seen them in tears of anguish too. "The greatest moment today was getting together with the team in the middle of the pitch; and just seeing the looks on the guys' faces, and the tears running down their cheeks. Tears of joy and relief and ecstasy. It was a special moment."
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