Congratulations India, thank you Sri Lanka.
After all, the ICC World Cup was great theatre. It’s denouement in yesterday’s finale fulfilled if not exceeded expectations. For the cricket devotee it was high drama with endeavour, responsibility, depth and that ambivalent of all qualities, leadership, providing grand entertainment for a billion and more spectators, with the limelight illuminating the nature of the human experience.
The insincerity of the ‘Spirit of Cricket’ was exposed at the toss. But the funny business backfired. This was a great toss to lose, as later a carpet of dew robbed the side bowling second of the grip needed for their spinners.
Seeking to define a quality so often eradicates it. The spirit of cricket comes not from its external codification but from the interplay of the performers who cannot help expressing the light and darkness of our humanity.
This was a day which would test the depth of talent on each side. Both sides knew that on the Wankhede wicket the traditional opening bowlers would have their best chance of the tournament – no need to improvise and surprise.
Khan was the first of a number of players through the day who seized the responsibility on offer. His opening spell with its first three overs maidens set tight bounds for Sri Lanka’s run getting – five overs for six runs and the wicket of Tharanga ensured that Sri Lanka would have to work hard to set a winning score.
And they did labour effectively with first Dilshan (33 from 49) and Sangakkara (48 from 67) putting on 43, then, Sangakkara and Jayawardene, whose orthodox technique alone seemed capable of propelling a batsman at a run a ball, added a further 62.
Jayawardene amassed runs as a magician conjures coins with an illusionary absence of effort and guile. Samaraweera (21 from 34) proved an able assistant to the great run maker, but Third Man sensed that Sri Lanka were aiming for 260 and not 300. This was not the act of the tightrope walker hazarding life and limb. It was the judgement of the theatrical memorist, the human calculator.
But this computation produced the dramatic line of the match. At issue not only whether Sri Lanka could achieve their target but, more vitally, whether or not the target was, in its misjudgement, the stuff of tragedy.
Cup Finals demand that the best deliver, but they also demand that those further down the play bill create the atmosphere in which the stars shine.
Coming in at 182 for 5 at the end of the 40th over, Kulasekara could have walked on and walked off as quietly as a shield bearer in Scene Three or as meekly as Kapugedera (1 from 5) had before him. But he seized his day, speaking his lines fluently (32 from 30) and in so doing allowed Jayawardene to grace the end of Act One with as worthy a century (103 in 88 balls) as any ‘neutral’ or ‘partisan’ could have wished for. This was the innings of a true champion, but was his part that of Hector, heroic loser, or of Achilles, doomed to win?
Now, as Act Two began, Malinga followed where Khan had strode in the game’s Prelude. With his second ball he pinned the jumping Shewag in front of the wicket and soon after persuaded Tendulka, who had previously bothered only to employ the middle of his bat, to try its edge.
All India looked into the pit and saw fire and dragons.
The new generation of Gambhir (97 from 122) and Kohli (35 from 49) accepted the responsibility of the older generation’s legacy and took the score to 114 before the latter was caught and bowled by Dilshan’s Ariel.
At this point Sri Lanka’s calculations looked astute, but with its magical appearance dew was forming on each blade of grass on which the drama was being played, confining the spinners to bit parts. Also, in the wings, the real hero of the action was about to make his entry.
At the fall of Kholi, MS Dhoni, now exercised his courtly privilege, took up his gauntlets and advanced to the middle of the stage ahead of that other leading actor, Yuvraj, from whom he proceeded to steal the show.
Dhoni’s relentless pursuit of the Sri Lankan total might have inspired awe but this man is a great human being, his feet of clay openly displayed beneath his costume. He is modest. He thinks of others. Beside him his fellows reach the heights of their potential. He is the great facilitator. He calmly merts criticism with a winning smile and pushes on with his rich source of self-belief sustaining him. Above all he is generous.
Leadership can so easily stifle initiative, smother freedom and restrict responsibility. It is well to be suspicious of it. Charisma is a self induced deception on the part of the follower, not some supernatural power possessed by the followed.
At other times so-called leadership is no more than naked authority, the exercise of power over people, a dehumanising restrictiveness, a fear of the ability of others and a drive to suppress.
But in MS Dhoni (91 from 79) we have the rare quality of leadership which is nurturing. Every culture seems to have its mythic leader, their qualities the stuff of books and plays. Few pacing this earth can match such ideals.
How fitting that this cricket tournament, this World Cup, should shine a spot-light onto one so fine; one truly who merits the ‘bill matter’, The Noble One.
The Great Dhoni finished it with a six. Well, it was in the script.