India last captured cricket's top trophy in 1983 in England, when it was the unlikely upstart that toppled the dominant West Indies. That year's match was the first World Cup televised in India and a rare appearance on the international stage for the young, poor nation.
India's expectations are much bigger these days. It is by far the most powerful nation in the sport, as its booming economy feeds satellite-television advertising, corporate sponsorship and a new professional league that has transformed the genteel pastime into a Bollywood-worthy spectacle. The six-week-long tournament in Mumbai, which ended April 2, delivered plenty of drama, including a semifinal between India and Pakistan that briefly turned bitter enemies into friendly competitors.
Heavily favored, India reached the final to play former champion Sri Lanka. India had one legendary advantage: Sachin Tendulkar, the world's greatest batsman. Sri Lanka's fierce bowling dismissed him, and India faltered until its young captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, steadied the team. His game-winning blast over the boundary was cricket's version of a walk-off home run. As the crowd exploded, Dhoni looked past them toward the TV audience of 1.2 billion. He smiled straight into the camera, with the easy confidence of a nation in full stride.