INDIA'S HOMECOMING

Mumbai welcomes home the World Cup heroes

Hundreds of thousands filled the iconic Marine Drive on which the triumphant World Cup team was paraded by an open air bus
Hundreds of thousands filled the iconic Marine Drive on which the triumphant World Cup team was paraded by an open air bus ©BCCI

It rains in Mumbai this time of the year, and the monsoon kept its date with the city on Thursday (July 4) evening. It drizzled sporadically throughout the city but Mumbaikars won't be stopped. They turned up in lakhs to greet the cricket heroes who arrived in the city with the T20 World Cup.

A small seasonal shower is nothing compared to the Hurricane Beryl that confined the Indian team to the hotel rooms for two days in Barbados. But perhaps even that couldn't have stopped the Mumbaikars on Thursday (July 4).

"Mumbai never disappoints. We got a solid reception. On behalf of the team, we would like to thank the fans. I am very very happy and relieved," Rohit Sharma said amid thunderous cheers from the packed the Wankhede crowd that waited to receive the World Cup heroes since 3 pm. The players, who were earlier felicitated by the Prime Minister in New Delhi, could arrive at the ground only at 8 pm.

There were about 35,000 people inside the stadium and as many outside, having failed to enter the ground. Hundreds of thousands filled the iconic Marine Drive on which the triumphant World Cup team was paraded by an open top bus. It was a sea of people on the street, often appearing bigger than the adjacent Arabian Sea.

Not too long ago, these fans were after Hardik Pandya for replacing Rohit as skipper of the Mumbai Indians team. They booed him and called him names. Tonight when Rohit mentioned 'Pandya', who bowled the all-important final over against South Africa in the final, the crowd erupted in a crescendo.

"Hats off to him to bowl that last over. No matter how many runs you need, there's always so much pressure to bowl that over. Hats off to him," skipper Rohit said of the last over of the final in which Pandya defended 15 runs. The Wankhede started cheering 'Hardik, Hardik' as Pandya stood up to acknowledge their appreciation. The hate story between them seems past now; there is a new-found affair between the Mumbai crowd and Pandya.

Thursday provided an opportunity to celebrate and Mumbai did it the only way they could, waiting for more than six hours and braving the inclement weather. In the long wait for the team which landed in the city around 5.30 pm and participated in the road show around 7.30 pm, the fans' patience never ran thin. The collective energy and the will were unbreakable.

Cricket is deeply entrenched into the fabric of the common man here. From an elitist sport when the erstwhile British rulers introduced it, the game got metamorphosed into a mass sport. In the 60s and 70s, when the Merchants, Manjrekars, Umrigars, Wadekars started playing the game, it attracted the fans in unprecedented numbers. By the 70s when Sunil Gavaskar came into the scene, he probably became India's first official icon. The city's very own Sachin Tendulkar reached legendary status with his cricketing accomplishments, including winning an ODI World Cup title at the Wankhede in 2011 when he was paraded on the shoulders of the players.

Mumbai celebrates and worships cricket. It's a city that seamlessly integrates with the sport. As one navigates through the narrow corridors of the city, one passes by numerous grounds at various intersections. Dozens of matches can be seen being played at each junction, such as Shivaji Park, the Gymkhanas, and the Azad, Oval, and Cross Maidans. In Mumbai, cricket never sleeps.

Rahul Dravid summed up Mumbai's passion for the game. "I'm going to miss this love. What we have seen today is absolutely phenomenal. I think it is the fans and people who make cricket the game it is. We are truly indebted to them," Dravid, who will be leaving the Indian team, remarked. He also spoke of a phone call from Rohit Sharma that convinced him to stay on till the Twenty20 World Cup after the heartbreak of the 50-over World Cup. "It was the best phone call I have received," outgoing Dravid said.

The event was a simple affair, with no glitz, glamour, and razzmatazz of Bollywood, generally associated with such occasions. It was also a totally apolitical event and there were also no ministers and leaders who were accused of hijacking a similarly massive fan event after India's maiden T20 World Cup win in 2007.

As a 20-year-old, Rohit was part of that Road Show too and he was asked to draw parallels between the two. He said it took a long time for the trophy to come. The view was shared by Kohli, who said being senior members of the team, he and Rohit were desperate for a global title, which India had not won since 2013. "The fans were more hungry for the silverware than the players," Rohit said, dedicating the trophy to them.

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