Like millions of others in this country, I was brought up on cricket. I went to a boarding school, where the only sport I ever took to with my heart was cricket. I remember days when Delhi used to burn at 46 degrees, yet our afternoon routine of 2 good hours of cricket was never ever skipped. This continued through college, where we played cricket in corridors, in out hostel lawns, in the college grounds, even in the common room with table tennis balls and raquets
Cricket was also something we followed religiously on TV. In school, those opportunies were few and far between. I remember those times, the 90's, when we were losing more than we were winning, and when any victory for the team was cherished for a long long time. I particularly remember the match in Dhaka, when we beat Pakistan in a really tight match. It was out sports day, we were about to begin a march past, when we heard than Hrishikesh Kanitkar had had got us a victory. March past promptly forgotten, we celebrated for a good 15 minutes, and for once in his life, our very strict principal did not kick our behinds for doing so!!
But these were also the years of heartbreak. Years when one man, Sachin Tendulkar, carried the burden of expectations of a million countrymen, including us kids, who were willing to go to any extent to defend him, time after time. I still remember one instance in college, when I picked up an iron rod and almost smashed the head of a very good friend of mine, who kept on insisting that Tendulkar's performances rarely helped the team, and that he always played for individual glory, and that he never performed in big matches.
As a cricket fanatic, I remember the first signs of change too, in our perception of the Indian team. Every ball, every ball of the Laxman- Dravid epic at Eden Gardens is still etched in my memory. My good friend Shankar and I were the only two people who watched events on that historic day from beginning to end, from the first ball to the last, confident, and believing, that India would actually turn around that match. And turn around we did! It's another matter of course, that both of us had our annual examination the very next day, and both of us would be very embarrassed to reveal how much we scored in that particular paper!
But what really really hurt, always, was the fact that we would never do well at the World Cup. If Kambli cried at the Eden Gardens disaster of 1996, so did we in our hostel common room. When we lost to Zimbabwe in 1999, I think for many days, a few of us went into depression. And I remember all too well, how Sachin got out to McGrath in 2003, shattering the belief of millions across the country. And 2007 is a year you wish never existed. I am a television journalist, and on the night India lost to Bangladesh, I was at a pub in Delhi, doing live broadcasts on what I had hoped would be a comfortable Indian victory. It was one of the worst feelings I've had in my life!!
It is with this kind of a relationship with cricket, that I have followed the events of the last two or three years in Indian cricket. Of course these are years when I haven't played cricket at all, only following it on TV, mostly at work. I remember how during the T20 final, I did not want to go to a pub to watch with my friends, because I was scared we would lose again, and I would be depressed again. It's another matter, of course, that I ended up watching the second half of the match at the pub, with my friends. What I don't remember, of course, is the number of Tequila shots I had post match!!!
Anyway, to cut a long story short, a lot of us have believed that if our team had a shot at winning the cup, it had to be this year, and it had to be under M S Dhoni. His confidence, and belief, have rubbed off not only on his teammates, but also on us, people who'd give anything to watch India win. And that is why, ever since this world cup started, a lot of us had been quietly confident we could do it. When India got 260 against Pakistan, I thought it was a damn good score. I mean if Sachin Tendulkar batted like the way he did, surely there had to be something in the pitch, right? When Sri Lanka got 274 in the final, I knew we could win this easily, for I thought Sri Lanka were 30 runs short! I told a good friend, my money was on Sehwag. Well, that certainly did not happen, but not once, and I am being truthful here, not once did I think we would lose this.
And this is what I think Dhoni and his team deserve the most amount of credit for. For the fact, that this is now a team, for whom fans like us will never ever give up hope, no matter what the situation is. For making us believe, that if you fight hard, more often that not, you are going to end up on the winning side. For making all of us agree, that in the end, be it cricket, be it life, self belief, that belief that I will do it, is the belief that counts. The realisation that the 20 years of sweat that Sachin Tendulkar has put into this team has not gone unrewarded. The feeling of pride, for the way stalwarts like Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman, Kumble, Sachin, John Wright, Gary Kirsten, Dhoni, Zaheer Khan, and many others have molded this team over the last decade
This is what the World Cup means to me. It is my feeling of belief that has been reinforced.
Just one more thing. In 2002, when I was at Hansraj College in Delhi, in the IIIrd year, we played the final of our Intra hostel tournament against II yr. We chased 140 odd in 25 overs, I opened the innings and stayed till the 17 th over I think, getting 40 odd runs. And then I got out, bowled as I exposed my leg stump to Gaurav Khatri. And then we lost from a very comfortable winning position. I cried and cried, and cried! I have lived with that horrible feeling for a long long time now. For some reason, the World Cup victory feels like some sort of a personal redemption. I know it is crazy, but that's what it is!!