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India's most vaunted

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India's most vaunted

With the World Cup set to begin, we feature two book excerpts: one rewinds to the heady Indian triumph of 2011 and the other traces the rise of Virat Kohli, our iconic captain

IN the din of a jam-packed Wankhede Stadium, there was some confusion about the toss. It was, however, decreed Sri Lanka had won it.

Then, on a day of ebb and flow, much like the waters of the Arabian Sea lapping the beaches of Mumbai, local hero Zaheer Khan produced a remarkable opening spell of five overs. Three of these were maidens, he conceded just six runs and had Tharanga caught at slip. But from this juncture, Jayawardene etched a typically delicate yet devastating innings. His 103 not out off 88 balls began carefully, but ended in a flourish. It was embellished with 13 high quality fours.Sri Lanka could only muster 31 for one in the first 10 overs of the bowling powerplay; but pummelled 63 runs in the batting powerplay to stun the overwhelmingly pro-India crowd into stupefied silence.

As Jayawardene unfolded his essay, Dilshan and skipper Sangakkara were steady rather than speedy at the other end. Kulasekara, with 32 off 30, and Perera, with 22 off nine, did, of course, inject momentum towards the close, with the previously immaculate Khan being despatched for 35 runs in his last two overs. Tendulkar writes: It (the target) was not insurmountable, but it was important for us to forge partnership in the early overs, because the wicket was expected to become slightly easier as the match progressed....India were zero for one and then 32 for two in the seventh over, as Malinga's skimming, round-arm deliveries removed Sehwag lbw and Tendulkar, who looked in good nick, caught behind.

On paper, it was a crisis. But in practice, there was too much depth in the Indian batting and correspondingly limited bowling resources in the Sri Lankan campwith Muralitharan half fit for it to be deemed to be one.

Young Kohli joined hands with his seasoned fellow Delhiite Gambhir.They put on 83 for the third wicket as the latter responsibly adopted a sheet-anchor role. This was followed by a defining and decisive collaboration of 109 runs between the left-hander and Dhoni, who dramatically promoted himself to number five and with power and precision inexorably took the match away from the Sri Lankans.

Dhoni's short-arm cover drives for four mainly at the expense of off- spinner Muralifrustrated the Sri Lankans. He finished with a thunderous six to cap a 79-ball 91. His statuesque pose after completing the shot not merely represented his personal and team's relief at meeting the extraordinary expectations of a country of 1.2 billion, but respite for a nation whose dream of crowning glory in oneday cricket became boundless after the coup de tat in England in 1983. ...

Gambhir's investment was immense. 97 off 122 balls with nine boundaries was a rock-like effort that shouldered India from tricky straits to a singular triumph. ...Tendulkar had as always played his part. His aggregate of 482 runs was the highest for India in the tournament..The final, though, was not quite his day. Nevertheless, in their lap of honour around the stadium, the Indians hoisted Tendulkarwho was walking into the sunset after six World Cups appearanceson their shoulders. An excited 22-year-old Kohli, for whom Tendulkar was an idol since childhood, remarked: He's carried the burden of our nation for 21 years; it was time to carry him on our shoulders today.

Tendulkar discloses he and Sehwag (at the former's insistence) were praying in the interior of the dressing room and not watching the match when Dhoni exploded with the match-winning over boundary. The victory was one of those life-changing moments to the most prolific run-getter in ODI history. It was liberation. I had finally scaled cricket's Everest...

Q & A

ASHIS Ray's book on the cricket World Cup chronicles the littleknown story of India's turning point in one-day cricket in Berbice, Guyana, when Kapil Dev's team beat the previously unassailable West Indies in their backyard in March 1983. It relives celebrated victory in 2011, especially how MS Dhoni planned the victory, together with Tendulkar, inspiring Yuvraj to perform at his best. Excerpts from an interview with Aasheesh Sharma

You've spoken fondly of doing commentary with Tony Cozier, Brian Johnston and Christopher MartinJenkins. Tell us a little more about your association with the ICC Cricket World Cup?

My association with the Cricket World Cup begins with the second edition of the tournament in 1979. Among other discomforts, I had the painful experience of commentating on the India-Sri Lanka match at Old Trafford, Manchester, which India lost. I say painful because Sri Lanka were then not even full members of ICC. I was also doing ball-byball for BBC on India's debacle against Bangladesh at Port of Spain in 2007. On the brighter side, India's march to victory in 1983 was memorable. I commentated on BBC radio on the IndiaZimbabwe game at Tunbridge Wells, where Kapil Dev produced the innings of his career. I describe this in detail in the book. India performed creditably in 2003 and 2015 and of course in 2011 to regain the trophy. In short, the book is an eye-witness history of the Cricket World Cup.

Why do you call the victory in Berbice a turning point in India's World Cup history?

Up to Berbice 1983, India gave the impression of being dragged kicking and screaming to play one-day cricket. But beating the then invincible West Indies in their backyard gave rise to confidence and an inclination for the shorter format. The naturally aggressive Kapil Dev succeeding Sunil Gavaskar as captain made a difference. But Gavaskar, interestingly, played an important part in securing victory over the Windies at Berbice. I have gone to some length to portray this turning point in India's performance in ODIs.

You've written England begin as favourites in the World Cup. How do you think India should counter the hosts and defending champions Australia?

I have asserted in the book that I expect it to be a tale of two World Cups. I would point readers to the final chapter to discover why I've said this. England are a strong side and will enjoy home advantage, but at the same time feel the pressure of expectation. Australia are never to be underestimated and issued a warning by beating India in India this year. Tactics need to be both generic to the opposition and specific to batsmen and bowlers. Playing conditions also formulate tactics. Therefore, these should not be pre-determined.

How would you think Sunil Gavaskar, who's written the foreword for the book, have featured in the T20 format?

Gavaskar remains an all-time great batsman. His technique was superlative. He never wore a helmet in his life. Towards the end of his career he demonstrated he had made the mental adjustment to successfully tackle one-day cricket. Had he turned out today, he would have adapted and with the extraordinary willows at batsmen's disposal would have easily walloped the bowling. Whether he would have resorted to ramp shots or uppish cuts is another matter.

Destiny's Child

JUST as Virat was making a stellar mark on age-group cricket in the country, he was soon going to face the greatest test of his life. It all happened during the Ranji Trophy...

19 DECEMBER 2006 Very late on 18 December, Prem Kohli suffered a heart attack...By the time the ambulance arrived, around 2.30 a.m., it was all over. Fifty-four-year-old Prem Kohli was gone. In the morning, when Virat found out that his father had passed away, he began to cry. He was all set to go and bat to save the match, and now he looked at a terrible choice whether to cremate his father, or to complete his innings for Delhi.

When Virat called Coach Sharma in the morning and told him what had happened, the latter was in shock. I still remember,' recounts the coach, he called me, crying, saying, My father is no more. I was shaken too...Virat asked me, What should I do? I consoled him and told him to wait, telling him I would call him back in 10 minutes. When I called back, I asked him, What do you want to do? and he said, I want to go and play. So I encouraged him to play. I said, The team needs you and this is the time to show your character. For him, not completing a match was a sin.'

Virat arrived at 7.30 a.m., at the start of the third day. Former India paceman Ashish Nehra was surprised when he saw that Virat had come to join the team that day. But it only shows his strong character and how seriously he thinks about his team and game,' Nehra says now...

Virat saved Delhi from the follow-on. That morning, along with Puneet Bisht who scored 156, Virat saw his side through safely...He faced 238 balls before he was out at 90 just before lunch, given caught behind ...The replays, however, showed the bat had brushed the pads ... Coach Sharma recalls that he called Virat after two and a half hours. Virat was crying again, but this time it was not for this father. He told me that the on-field umpire had declared him out wrongly,' His mother Saroj noted that Virat changed after that day...From then on, it seemed as if his life hinged totally on cricket. The night his father passed away was possibly the hardest time in his life, but the call to play the morning after, Virat has said in interviews, came instinctively to him. In one interview he said, That's where, maybe, I got the confidence people speak about.'

Virat's story of that fateful day in December 2006 has been forever imprinted in Feroz Shah Kotla ground's history. It is the tale of a boy who loved cricket more than anything else and it wouldn't be long before cricket would, as they say, love him back just as much.

Q & A

NEERAJ Jha and Vidhanshu Kumar have covered numerous matches featuring Virat Kohli, the mercurial batsman par excellence. But getting under the skin of the Indian cricket captain wasn't an easy task, the journalist duo told Aasheesh Sharma. Excerpts from an interview.

a) What are the chances of Virat leading India to victory in this World Cup?

Vidhanshu:India's chances are good and Virat has to be the bulwark of Indian batting once again. However the threat lies in depending too much on the top-three of Rohit-Dhawan-Virat. I have a feeling K L Rahul could be a key player this tournament for India. Kohli and Dhoni have very good rapport and they will be called upon to do many a rescue operation for the Men in Blue.

Neeraj: Virat is a fighter. We've seen him as an improved cricketer in England last summer where he made most of the runs for India especially when he had failed here on the last tour. I think he will be among the top run-getters in the tournament.

b) Virat is one of the most covered celebrities in the world. How tough was it uncovering new aspects about him?

Vidhanshu: It wasn't easy, but we interviewed a number of people involved in his journey. We also wanted to put a vivid picture to his story and so we were always looking to unlock the mental challenges that he would have dealt with and faced successfully. We wanted to go beyond the numbers and tell a story of a next door boy who went on to captain India and became a world champion.

c) Why do all the book's chapters begin with 'The boy who...' ?

The idea was to tell the story of a boy who went on to win the various challenges that life sprung upon him. Any youngster reading this book should get insight into Virat's struggles and how he overcame them.