All the talk was about a World Cup win, at long last, for Sachin Tendulkar, but it was MS Dhoni who quietly played perhaps his greatest innings, and took India to glory. Roshan Gede looks back at Dhoni’s 91* in the 2011 World Cup final against Sri Lanka.

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MS Dhoni 91* (79 balls, 8 fours, 2 sixes)
India v Sri Lanka
World Cup final, 2011
April 2, 2011

The innings

Dhoni’s innings on that balmy April evening in Mumbai wasn’t as entertaining as Clive Lloyd’s masterpiece in 1975 at Lord’s or the Ricky Ponting show at the Wanderers in 2003. But in terms of theatre and drama, it perhaps outdid both those epics.

Mahela Jayawardene treated the crowd to a poetic century first up to lead Sri Lanka’s charge. A quick roll of facts: no team had lost a World Cup final after an individual century had been scored, no team had chased down a total as high as 274 to win a final, and remarkably, no team had won the World Cup at home. To defy those odds, India had to overcome a quality bowling attack that included the dynamic Lasith Malinga, and the spin-wizard Muttiah Muralitharan.

[caption id=”attachment_130553″ align=”alignnone” width=”800″]MS Dhoni MS Dhoni took time to get himself in, but then unleashed himself on the Sri Lankans[/caption]

They lost Virender Sehwag on the second ball of the chase, and when Tendulkar followed suit in the seventh over, Wankhede Stadium sunk into tense silence. Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli batted with grit to keep the hopes alive, but the latter’s dismissal in the 22nd over, with India still 161 away, only added to the nerves.

To everyone’s surprise, in walked Dhoni at No.5, pushing himself ahead of the in-form Yuvraj Singh. The thinking was logical: there were two off-spinners in the opposition, including Muralitharan, and they could cause considerable trouble against two left-handers (Gambhir and Yuvraj).

It was a brave decision, to say the least, considering Dhoni’s form in the tournament till then hadn’t inspired confidence – he’d scored 150 runs from seven innings, with a high score of 34. Furthermore, Muralitharan had been his nemesis in the previous World Cup, dismissing him for a first-ball duck in Port of Spain as India crashed out of the tournament. The veteran was still going strong, having starred in his last international appearance at home, the semi-final against New Zealand.

But this April evening belonged to Dhoni. It took him seven balls to get off the mark, and the going was slow as he reached 12 off 23 deliveries. The required rate slowly crept above run-a-ball, and that was the cue; Out came a back-foot punch and Dhoni’s lightening hands and precise placement took it past extra cover for a boundary. He was away.

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The urgency in the running and timely boundaries slowly tilted the balance. With 79 needed off the final 13 overs, there was another twist: Dhoni was down on the ground, struggling with his back and signalling for the physio. He took a gulp of water, spat it out, had a quick chat with Gambhir, and a laugh, and then resumed. Wankhede could breathe again.

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A fierce slap past extra cover five balls later brought up his half-century, but there was no real celebration, just a slow raise of the bat. The bigger objective was pending, and there was still work to do.

With India still 52 away, Gambhir fell for 97. But that didn’t hamper Dhoni’s flow. Two successive fours off Malinga in the 48th meant India were moments away. Malinga could only wear a smile. And then, in the next over, came the moment that will be etched in the game’s history: a clean strike off Nuwan Kulasekara over long-on, a dazzling smile, a charming twirl of the bat. Ravi Shastri provided a memorable soundtrack: “Dhoni … finishes off in style!” India had won their second World Cup trophy.

The shot:

48.2 Nuwan Kulasekara to MS Dhoni, six

Dhoni’s winning hit off Kulasekara has become synonymous with the 2011 World Cup. With four needed of 11 balls, Dhoni gave the full delivery a wallop, and sent it soaring into the stands. The shot prompted an almighty cheer across India, and remains the undying image of Dhoni the finisher, the captain and the legend. After the shot, he held his pose for a split second, before raising his arms aloft to embrace a delighted Yuvraj Singh.