Cricket: Bollywood ending for fairytale campaign

JOHANNESBURG - Bollywood couldn't have scripted it any better. In fact, they're probably working on the screenplay in Mumbai about now.

India arrived in South Africa for cricket's Twenty20 World Championship a fortnight ago without major stars Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly and with no coach, a novice captain, just one Twenty20 international under their belt, and a young, inexperienced team.

They'll leave as the first Twenty20 world champions after an incredible five-run victory over bitter rivals Pakistan in the most undulating of finals at a raucous Wanderers Stadium.

Less than five months after their embarrassing first-round exit from the World Cup - where even with Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly present they fell meekly to Bangladesh - India have claimed their first world title since winning the 1983 World Cup.

That title in 1983 went a long way to changing the landscape of Indian cricket as limited-overs took hold.

This may do the same - likely at the cost of the 50-over game.

"I think it will catch on in India, because in India they love the sixes, the fours and excitement," said Mahendra Singh Dhoni after leading India to the world title in his first tour as captain.

"Until now, there has not been too much Twenty20 cricket. We have a domestic competition but not too many [people] come to see our domestic matches. Now, I think it will be huge in India."

While he tried to downplay his own involvement, there is no doubt Dhoni's captaincy played a significant role.

Affable off the pitch and seemingly unflappable on it, Dhoni's calming influence - particularly in the dying overs - was a huge factor in victory.

India posted a competitive 157 for five thanks to Gautum Gambir's 75 and 30 not out from Rohit Sharma.

Pakistan looked set for a comfortable win when Imran Nazir (33 off 13) blasted 21 off Sreesanth from just the second over of the innings. But every time Pakistan looked to be getting on top, they lost a wicket.

They went six overs without a boundary in the middle stages, during which time man-of-the-match Irfan Pathan grabbed a priceless 3-16.

Needing 54 from the final four overs, Pakistan looked gone. But just six balls later they were back when Misbah-ul-Haq (43) smashed three sixes off Harbhajan Singh. By the final over, 13 runs were needed with one wicket to spare.

Ul-Haq hit the second ball from Joginder Singh (2-20) for a six, but then moved outside off stump and presented Sreesanth with a dolly of a catch at short fine leg.

Dhoni refused to compare his side's achievement with India's World Cup of'83.

"I think'83 was special and I think this was also very special."

But he did reveal India's 2007 World Cup humiliation was a major driving force behind the victory.

"We wanted to do well because we had not done well in the last World Cup, so that was a key point," said Dhoni.

The Indian board, which initially opposed the event arguing it wanted to introduce the format at domestic level first, joined the celebration, announcing a US$3 million ($4.06 million) cash bonus to the team.

It was a heartbreaking loss for Pakistan and their new coach, former Australian fast bowler Geoff Lawson.

Pakistan, like India, crashed out of the World Cup at the group stage, and have endured a horror year which included the sudden death of their former coach, Bob Woolmer.


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