It was the first time in six weeks that MS Dhoni could be heard doing what can only be described as giggling. Usually self-contained, the India captain arrived at the underground media conference room, World Cup medal around his neck, Man-of-the-Tournament Yuvraj Singh at his side, and turned into someone else.
Twisted into a knot of concentration and anxiety for six weeks during the World Cup, now that the title has been won, Dhoni suddenly found he could let all the tension go, take a step back from the edge, and relax. More than once in a 25-minute conversation, Dhoni collapsed in mirth, pressing the microphone to his forehead because he couldn't remember the first part of two long questions he had been asked. Or it may have been because one of the questions wanted his reaction to some public sentiment that he should now try to run the country.
Normally he replies to questions only in English, even when asked in Hindi. But on Saturday night, Dhoni switched languages several times as he spoke of the strains his team had been under during the World Cup.
"The pressure you go through is a lot; we felt it throughout the tournament," he said before describing what it was like inside the Indian team's bubble. "If you ask the players, they were not eating well because of anxiety. Not pressure, but anxiety. There would be food in front of you but you wouldn't feel like eating it."
To find a way to adjust to the nervousness, Dhoni said the players tried dealing with nerves in differnt ways. "We said avoid it, do this, do that," but the strain was always felt. However, everyone in the squad had, Dhoni said, eventually coped well. "The kind of extra responsibility that each and everybody had was enormous. This is what we had wanted to achieve; we had set our eyes on it one-and-a-half years ago."
Sitting next to him was Yuvraj, the player who exemplified both the performance India put in and the anxiety they had been through on their way to becoming the first team to win a World Cup final at home. When Dhoni was asked how Yuvraj had been in the dressing room during the tournament, he replied with a smile: "He has been vomiting a lot," and then went on to answer the question.
Yuvraj told ESPNcricinfo, as he crossed the Wankhede to return to his dressing room, that he had been physically ill several times during the tournament. "Anxiety, anxiety," he explained. "This was the World Cup and that anxiety can really be heavy."
The burden that Yuvraj and his team-mates had been carrying around over the last six weeks suddenly fell away after the final. Everything had turned into lightness. When he first entered the media conference room, Yuvraj climbed onto the dais, calling out loudly to the journalists: "badhaiyaan ho, badhaiyaan ho [congratulations, congratulations]". During the session the two men traded jokes, and towards the end, Yuvraj was heard saying under his breath to his captain in Hindi: "short answer, please."
Dhoni is not given to particularly short answers, except when he kills a question with a joke. He spoke lucidly of what was going through his mind after he hit the winning runs. "Emotionally, I was confused; I wanted a wicket [stump]". But he found himself at the centre of the pitch with Yuvraj at the other end. "I thought hug-vug we will do later, first take the wicket." He then ran over to his own end to pull out the stump, after which Yuvraj jumped on him, pulling him into a bear hug. "It was an emotional moment," Dhoni said. "I was confused, I didn't know what to do at the time, how to show my emotions."
The decision to promote himself up the order ahead of the in-form Yuvraj had also, Dhoni said, been taken under a certain kind of pressure because of the risk it involved. "It was a big decision, I knew that if I promoted myself and didn't score runs I would be asked why I couldn't stay back? If I promoted myself there would be two left-hand batsmen after me and if I got out the side may have been in trouble."
He said the decision was based on the logic that as Gambhir was batting well, all Dhoni would need to do was rotate strike. Also, India knew the dew factor was going to kick in and Dhoni believed he had the added advantage of being able to read Muttiah Muralitharan's doosra. "I have played a lot with Murali [for the Chennai Super Kings] and I know his doosra quite well, and he knows that also. I was able to put a bit of pressure on him"
The advantage of running well with Gambhir - their partnership extending back to their India A days in 2003-2004 - also tilted the decision towards promoting himself. "We don't take risky singles but try to convert one or one-and-a-half runs into two runs. It was an ideal combination and we were batting together after a long time. We ran well, and backed each other. We knew if we took the game close enough with the Powerplay left, we would achieve the target even if the runs needed were eight an over."
Dhoni is now India's most successful captain in limited-overs cricket, having won both the World Twenty20 and the World Cup, and when asked to explain his success, he laughed. "I'm lucky. I always get good players. The players have responded to me even if it's a Test side, where there were senior players who were part of the side before I started playing for India. Then, the youngsters coming in have contributed a lot, they have been willing to give more than 100%." He said it was "the character of the individuals [in the team] that helped us win this trophy."
India's win came inside the refurbished Wankhede Stadium, where the stands are now built on a vertical climb and the capacity has been reduced to 33,000. On Saturday night, however, the sound created was amplified as the partnerships for the third and fourth wickets grew. The crowd, Dhoni said, gave the batsmen strength. "During the Gambhir-Kohli partnership, ever run was applauded as if it was a boundary."
The dew on the ground had helped the Indian batsmen, as did the easing up of the wicket. But the key according to Dhoni was the combined effort. "It was a pressure game, but everyone contributed. When you share the pressure then it becomes easy."
India's performance at the World Cup, Dhoni said, had been based on a plan that was born about 18 months ago and was a result of methodically resting and rotating players. "We wanted to win the trophy for each other first. The first thing you want to do is give them [team-mates and support staff] happiness; to see it in their eyes."
He said that rather than try to expand the number of people for whom the World Cup was to be won, the team said: "Okay let's concentrate and keep it small. If you do well and win the World Cup, the whole country has a share in it."
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