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'Feels like we won the World Cup yesterday'

By HARISH KOTIAN
April 01, 2021 08:33 IST
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'A World Cup win is always special wherever you win it, but it is more special to win it in front of your home fans.'

IMAGE: The Indian team celebrate after winning the final against Sri Lanka to win the 2011 World Cup title in Mumbai, April 2, 2011. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images
 

It has been 10 years since India conquered the cricket world.

On April 2, 2011, Mahendra Singh Dhoni's team outclassed Sri Lanka in the final to become the first host nation to win the ODI World Cup.

It also ended a long wait of 28 years for Indian fans to taste success as the iconic Wankhede stadium in Mumbai witnessed one of Indian cricket's greatest evenings.

That was the last ODI World Cup for many greats -- Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh all signed off with a famous triumph.

Senior spinner Harbhajan played a crucial role with the ball for India in the World Cup. He may have finished with just nine wickets in as many games, but he performed his role to perfection by keeping things tight and building up pressure in the middle overs, for an impressive economy rate of 4.48 in the 50 overs-a-side tournament.

Harbhajan's fine spell was instrumental in India's victory over Pakistan in the semi-final. He also bowled well in the final against Sri Lanka.

On the 10th anniversary of the World Cup triumph in 2011, Harbhajan Singh shares his memories of World Cup 2011 with Rediff.com's Harish Kotian.

10 years have passed since the World Cup win in Mumbai. How do you look back at that famous triumph?

It is still very fresh. It feels like we have won the World Cup yesterday.

It is unbelievable how 10 years have passed since that day. It was perhaps one of those days in our lives that no matter how hard you try you won't experience it again in your life.

I have been very greatful to experience such moments in my life. It was an unbelievable moment for us the Indian team and for the whole country.

The World Cup win was the biggest turnaround in Indian cricket if you consider what happened in the 2007 World Cup when India were knocked out in the group stages. What made the turnaround possible?

The key thing was that we were playing for one cause which was to win the World Cup.

2007 (World Cup) was way too behind us and obviously the big change from 2007 to 2011 was Gary Kirsten's appointment as the coach. It was a big plus for us.

Kirsten should be getting the credit for creating a great environment amongst the team mates and making sure that everyone is important in the team, and not just a couple of important players.

He made everyone feel equal and gave the responsibility to all the 11 players and not just one or two. This was the big change from 2007 to 2011.

We played as a team, it was just not one guy doing the job. Yuvraj Singh was the man of the series, he played the biggest part in winning the World Cup but there were other key performers.

There were some small but important performances at crucial stages from players like Suresh Raina, who played an important knock (34 not out) against Australia in the quarter-final.

Viru (Virender Sehwag)'s century in the opening match against Bangladesh set the tone, Zaheer Khan's bowling through the competition was top class.

We felt we were playing like a team because everyone was contributing at one point or the other.

India were the first team to win the World Cup at home. No other team had managed to do it before India did it in 2011. How difficult is to win the World Cup at home in a cricket-crazy country like India where the pressure and expectations are always huge?

Winning a World Cup is not an easy thing and when you are playing in your home country, the expectations are much higher.

The fans think that the Indian players know their wickets better and the conditions better so the expectations are very high and that is something which is not easy to handle.

I believe that whether you are playing at home or away from home, to win the World Cup you need to be at the top of your game.

A World Cup win is always special wherever you win it, but it is more special to win it in front of your home fans.

You were India's No 1 spinner and played a crucial role in India's World Cup victory with your tight bowling throughout, conceding runs at 4.48 in the nine games you played. The teams were looking to play you out and not give any wickets.
What was your role as the lead spinner for the team?

My role was obviously was to make sure that I kept things tight and build as much as pressure as possible. I had to ensure that I kept one end tight and never let the opposition get away.

As you rightly said a lot of teams they were looking to play me out and take chances off the other bowlers.

But my job was to make sure I don't give anything from my end and not make things easy for the opposition.

My role was to keep things tight and also look to take wickets regularly.

Harbhajan Singh

IMAGE: Harbhajan Singh celebrates dismissing Pakistan's Shahid Afridi during the 2011 World Cup semi-final game in Mohali, March 30, 2011. Photograph: Graham Crouch/Getty Images

The semi-final against Pakistan was possibly one of the most important games in the history of Indian cricket. You took two key wickets against Pakistan, dismissing the dangerous Umar Akmal (29 from 24 balls) at a crucial juncture after they were well-placed on 142/4 after 33 overs. You then bagged the big wicket of Shahid Afridi (19 from 17 balls) before he could attack the bowlers in the death overs, to finish with wonderful figures of 2/43 in a tight run chase.
Tell us about that big game.

Yes, the two wickets I took against Pakistan were very crucial. Those two wickets were very satisfying because we kind of knew that we could win from that stage, because Pakistan didn't have any capable batsmen left.

Pakistan had Misbah-ul Haq, but he alone could not do it. And till Afridi was at the crease, we were aware that he could turn the game around from any situation. So we had to get him out else he would take Pakistan to victory.

So I got him out and I had got the wicket of Umar Akmal earlier on and that was a big thing for me.

When you took five wickets you feel happy, but this time those two wickets gave me more satisfaction.

In the final you bowled a tight first spell building up pressure before taking the key wicket of Tillakaratne Dilshan as Sri Lanka struggled at the start.
The Indian bowlers did well to restrict Sri Lanka to 274/6 even though they scored some runs at the end.
Was the Indian team confident of chasing down the total at the halfway mark?

At one stage we thought we could get them out for a much lesser score, around 240 or so. But in the last couple of overs from Zaheer, they scored a lot of runs, but 270 will still a gettable total.

We knew that the total was achieved, but you still had to go out and score the runs.

Would you say that 2011 World Cup winning team was one of India's best ever team in limited overs cricket?

In that era, yes it was. In different eras, you will get different teams who played better than the previous teams. But the legacy that the previous team has left behind, we need to carry that forward and not think that the teams in the 1990s or 1980s have done this and we have to do better.

We have to do what they have been doing and take things forward to make sure that the game is growing and the game is getting better.

We need to make sure we get the right results to take the team forward.

So, the competition is never amongst ourselves and you must never think that we played better than the teams of the 1980s or 1990s.

It is not that. The team in the 1980s must have played the best cricket in their era and the 1990s team must have done the same in their era and similarly in today's era, this team is playing the best cricket.

So we can't compare different eras because in their eras the Indian teams have played brilliantly and people have taken the legacy forward.

I believe that the competition is against the opposition team and not amongst ourselves.

How did you celebrate the World Cup triumph? Any special memories of the World Cup or the celebrations that will always stay with you?

Everyone was in their own zone. Sachin (Tendulkar) was dancing with his wife (Dr Anjali Tendulkar), we were all dancing, jumping and, of course, I remember Aamir Khan was part of our dancing.

It was a great evening spent together just with our own people, we were in on our zone, we were not scared as to who is watching or if someone is clicking pictures.

We partied all night and we finished in the morning around 6 or 7 o'clock.

Any special plans to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the World Cup win? Will all the players get together on online video chat to celebrate the special day?

I think Yuvraj was planning something. I don't know what is happening after Sachin got Covid. Maybe if Sachin gets better then we will try and connect with our fans and celebrate the special day.

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HARISH KOTIAN / Rediff.com

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