To come to England on the back of the IPL 6 spot-fixing controversy and then remain unbeaten in the tournament is a big achievement.
And to think it almost didn't happen. After several rain delays and tireless work from the Edgbaston ground staff, the final of the ICC Champions Trophy was contested between the top two ranked ODI teams, India and England, in a 20-over shootout in wet Birmingham on Sunday. In the end, India's skills in the Twenty format and ability to hold their nerve in adversity proved the decider in a five-run win that crowned them winners of the Champions Trophy, thus giving the fans who braved the rain and grey skies their money's worth.
The final so nearly turned out to be a damp squib, but instead will be remembered for the day India trumped some farcical rules and filthy weather to win the Champions Trophy. The day MS Dhoni became the first captain to lay his hands on every single ICC trophy there is. The day Ravindra Jadeja had his Redemption Song. The day Shikhar Dhawan delivered the most comforting line Indian cricket has heard in recent times. The day, time could very well tell, that Dhoni may pinpoint as the most edifying of his leadership.
To come to England on the back of the IPL 6 spot-fixing controversy which threatened to seriously unravel the credibility of Indian cricket, win two warm-ups and then remain unbeaten in the Champions Trophy is a big achievement. To do so with a team without Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir makes it all the more credible.
In the 40 overs of cricket that were played in Birmingham, India were not just physically, but mentally better than England. And that is where the game was won. A young side held its nerve when England lost theirs and in matches with as much pressure as Sunday's, that is a huge difference. Joe Root's top-edged sweep, Jos Buttler's awful heave at Jadeja and Tim Bresnan's utter uncertainty were synonymous with England's mental state. They just haven't played enough high-pressure matches to know how to react. It was truly a stunning capitulation from the second-best side in the tournament.
And could an Indian win be complete without a bit of luck for Dhoni? Just what prompted him to give the 18th over to Ishant Sharma after he conceded 11 in the 15th over, only Dhoni will know. It proved a match-winning move, as after giving up six and two consecutive wides Ishant had Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara dismissed on the pull. Such moments of madness have been tantamount to Dhoni's success, and add to the aura of the man. In 2007 it was Joginder Sharma, in 2013 it is Ishant. Dhoni continues to confound.
To win the trophy, India needed consistency with bat and ball and that got it. Their two superstars in the tournament were also the leading run-getter and wicket-taker. Dhawan, mustachioed, well-built, left-hand batsman. Jadeja, mustachioed, sinewy, left-hand batsman/bowler. One, 27, making his return to the ODI team for nearly two years, on the back of a record Test debut and a solid IPL. The other, 24, back in the same country where in 2009 he had been booed by fans after struggling to force the pace with the bat as the defending ICC World Twenty20 champions crashed out of the tournament against England. There were other players in India's grand act but none had the impact that Dhawan and Jadeja did.
Dhawan has batted on a different level this tournament. Tall, upright, packing a punch into his cover-drives, cuts and pulls, he has laid into bowling attacks with the confidence of a batsman at ease with himself and his game. He has a good five years ahead of him. What he has gained from this tournament is palpable; he must channel it into further success in tougher conditions. Fittingly, he also delivered the most comforting line Indian cricket has heard in recent times. When dedicating his Player-of-the-Series award to those effected by the devastating floods in Uttarakhand, Dhawan's expression was true. Indian cricket needs more of his kind.
Jadeja has bowled excellently in the Champions Trophy. He has shown his detractors what he is worth in dramatic fashion, recording the best bowling performance by an Indian in the tournament's history and finishing with his second Man-of-the-Match performance in the final - the biggest limited-overs match of his career. In the final, he injected crucial runs into a flagging innings to help lift India form 66 for 5 and then with the ball took 2 for 24 from his four overs. All tournament he was Dhoni's go-to man, even getting the ball ahead of the lead spinner. In the field he was excellent, and with the bat played two match-winnings cameos to start and end India's tournament emphatically. Jadeja 2.0 is a proper international limited-overs player.
It wasn't a perfect final by a long shot. In fact, it was a shame. How the ICC can not have a reserve day in place for the semi-finals and final is a joke. The rain so nearly had the last word, and what a pity that would have been. The fans were so nearly cheated, and that cannot be allowed to happen. We can thank India for saving the day, and putting smiles on so many faces.
This is officially the last edition of the Champions Trophy, but India's win may have changed that. And to think it almost didn't happen.