India Won the World Cup – and I can finally say, I was there!

By Rugwed Damle (Twitter @helicoptershots)

BARBADOS: “It’s India who won the T20 World Cup after 17 years – the drought is over ”.

Iconic words from Ravi Shastri after Hardik Pandya bowled the last ball to Andre Nortje as India pulled off a heist to beat South Africa in the Finals of 2024 ICC T20 Cricket World Cup at the iconic Kensington Oval in Barbados. It was pandemonium after that.

The iconic venue with 16000 capacity played perfect host for this penultimate clash. At the start of the match the venue was only 70% full, with fans complaining about having tickets to the game, but no flights to get into Barbados. But all was forgotten when the match had a photo finish of sorts going down to the last ball and every emotion was seen on the ground from players, coaches and above all fans.

If at the start of the World Cup, someone had asked – who would win the world cup this time? India did not play favorites. Why? Coz 6 weeks before the World Cup we had the IPL tournament in India and barring Kohli and Bumrah pretty much most of the players were either out of form or playing below average cricket. But I guess things change when you wear the blue. Don’t know what it is – may be pride, responsibility, pressure or something else. I can only imagine. But at the end of the semifinals, the Indian team along with South Africa were the only 2 teams that remained unbeaten throughout the World Cup.

And it started off in the same fashion in the finals. Kohli scored 3 boundaries in Jansen’s first over. It’s something that the fans wanted from Kohli’s bat who looked a tad bit off color throughout the tournament. The King saved the best for the last. Rohit Sharma jet off with a boundary but eventually got caught by Henrik Klassen. People did expect Pant to steady the ship, but he departed as well on duck with a leading edge to Quinton De Kock. Next to go was Suryakumar Yadav getting caught by Henrik Klassen who again took a blinder to get him out. India under the pump. Was it going to be one of those days again?

Axar Patel came to the crease and along with Kohli stung a nice little partnership. At the end of power play India was 45/3 their slowest start in Super 8s of the tournament. Axar and Kohli then steadied the ship scoring at a rate of almost 7 runs an over to take the score to 75 at the end of 10 overs. Axar played some breathtaking shots on long on but departed at a freakish run out by a direct hit from the keeper De Kock. Fans actually thought it was an overthrow, but Axar’s bat wasn’t grounded in time and he had to depart.

Following one left hander, came another one to the party. Shivam Dube started with some beautiful cover drives and flat batted sixes, but India still had not stepped on the pedal. Kohli decided to change gears hitting Rabada for a six, In fact one of the sixes went over the Gary Sobers Pavilion and out of the ground making the crowd go berserk. But in attempting to do the same again, departed at 76 from 59 balls. Hardik Pandya edged a four but his stay was short lived as he left in the 19th over to leave Ravindra Jadeja a lot to do by the end. India finished their innings at 176/7. A fighting total but not a World Cup winning one.

South Africa started their innings well only to have the opener Reeza Hendricks depart via a Jasprit Bumrah beauty. South Africa looked solid even with wickets falling at one end playing some positive cricket. After 10 overs they were at 81/3 in comparison to India’s 75/3. South Africa scored their 100 in just 70 balls. Although in doing so, Quinton De Kock was the next to go, hooking Arshdeep Singh and being caught by Kuldeep Yadav at the boundary. He scored 39 off 31.

Klassen continued the South African onslaught clearing the ropes with ease several times. In fact, one of Axar’s last over went for 22 with South Africa in the driver’s seat. But then came the bowling change by Rohit Sharma to bring on Hardik Pandya when Klassen went out trying to cut Pandya and edged it to Pant who caught the ball easily. His innings of 52 off 21 was a pure treat to watch as a cricket fan but also scary as an Indian fan.

With 26 needed in 24 balls, it was South Africa’s game to be lose. And that’s when Rohit played his last hand and brought his main weapon, Jasprit Bumrah. The over he bowled conceded not only 4 runs but got Marco Jansen bowled on a beauty, bringing on Kagiso Rabada to the fore. A fantastic over by Arshdeep Singh made a last-over feast with South Africa needing 16 off 6. And it could not have been better theater with Hardik Pandya bowling the last over. With Miller facing Pandya, it would be pretty much game on from here.

The first ball was slashed by Miller, went high up in the air with everyone thinking it was going to be a six, but Surya Kumar Yadav gulped that one from thin air to make it one of the best catches of the century and Miller stayed there befuddled unable to react to what just happened. Out came Keshav Maharaj with Kagiso Rabada on strike. With a slash from Rabada that took an edge to boundary there was still hope for South Africa but the person to hold the nerve was Hardik Pandya at the end and with 9 needed in 1 ball it was Team India that was going to party that night. And along with them the entire stadium. Total pandemonium with Indian players, coaches, and the supporting staff on their feet.

What a game! India deserving champions. When you go through a tournament unbeaten you show what a limitless side you are and India showed that right through this tournament.

As someone who was part of the first leg of games in New York, I was not even sure if I would get to watch any of the games. But after getting a chance to become part of the first leg watching the India Pakistan game I was happy to the core not knowing what life had to throw at me. I decided to take a chance and fly for the final leg. Booked my flights – not knowing if I would even get a chance.

Just like Hardik Pandya said after the game – “It was destiny bro”. It truly was.

Little did I know – not only would India be in the finals, but they would win it, and I would have the honor to become part of the team celebrations after the game was done. Moments I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Mastercard had an ad campaign some years back “There are some things money can’t buy, for everything else there’s Mastercard”, this World Cup final was one of them for me. What were you doing when India lifted the cup? Send me a tweet @helicoptershots.