It’s been over a decade since India won a multi-nation, ICC tournament. The last such occasion came in mid-2013 when MS Dhoni, in a purple patch as captain, led India to triumph in the Champions Trophy in England.
Two years earlier, Dhoni was captain when India won the 2011 ODI World Cup, beating Sri Lanka in the final in which the captain himself made a stellar contribution of 91 not out, sealing victory with a soaring 6 over deep mid-wicket.
Four years before that, Dhoni, in his first assignment as captain of India, marshalled his team to a spectacular win over arch rivals Pakistan in the inaugural T20 World Cup played in South Africa.
The impact of that pulsating last-over climax which saw India snatch victory almost from the jaws of defeat was phenomenal. It made T20 cricket capture the imagination of cricket lovers all over the world, and sowed the seeds of the Indian Premier League which was to subsequently bring about a paradigm shift in the sport.
Dhoni had got the captaincy in T20 and ODIs in the wake of India’s disastrous 2007 World Cup campaign.
By winning the T20 World Cup, he announced his captaincy credentials, which got enhanced with virtually every match, across formats.
Clinching the IPL and Champions League for Chennai Super Kings, and with India also becoming the ICC’s no.1 Test side in this phase earned him the sobriquet of Captain Cool.
It’s not that India hadn’t tasted sustained success in limited overs cricket earlier. In fact, between 1983 and 1985, India won four ODI tournaments on the trot: The World Cup, the Asia Cup (1984), The World Championship of Cricket and Rothmans Cups (1985).
But in the new millennium, India hadn’t delivered as much as promised. Till the golden run under Dhoni which got three titles in six years. But since then, India have hit a barren patch, unable to win a major tournament, leading to acute disappointment among fans.
By the time the Champions Trophy was won, in 2013, India had become the world’s most powerful nation, not just in terms of finance, but in talent too.
Prospects of livelihood through the IPL had started to draw youngsters from all over the country. The IPL was a melting pot of cricket ability and cultures as players from all over the world assembled in India, sharing their skills with each other, and thereby also improving.A robust domestic calendar, with multiple tournaments at every age level, making the talent pool grow larger every year. Simultaneously, the ultra-competitive IPL saw a transformation taking place in the technique, mindsets and ambition of young Indian players.
This has been amply evident in the consistently high level at which India has performed, in the last decade. Perhaps more than any other team. But this comes accompanied with a conundrum – of being unable to win a tournament (barring Asia Cup) or title which the past two ODI World Cups, where India lost in the semis both times, highlights.
This time, India have gone into the final in spectacular style. But that is not enough. Winning Sunday’s match will break the jinx of frequently being so near yet so far.