Mumbai comes to a halt to welcome victorious Team India


Mumbai : The Wankhede Stadium was packed to the rafters as the triumphant Indian cricket team completed the ticker tape celebrating their success at the Twenty20 World Championships in South Africa.

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Waving to the wildly cheering fans, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the young band of heroes arrived for the public felicitation organised by the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

Politicians jostled for space on the dais with the players, who were sadly relegated to the second row of seats after Board officials and Maharashtra state ministers occupied the prime seats. Only Dhoni was accorded the privilege of a front row seat, next to a beaming Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) secretary Niranjan Shah.

BCCI president Sharad Pawar along with the state’s deputy chief minister R.R. Patil and a whole host of dignitaries gave presents to each member of the victorious squad.

“It’s has been a great achievement for a young team most of whom come from small towns where there is no infrastructure like the bigger cities,” said Dhoni, who was unable to avoid having a dig at the powers that be.

Earlier in the day, the whole city poured out in the rain to welcome the cricket team.

TV news channels followed the open-top double-decker bus carrying the cricketers as it slowly wound its way through the streets of the megalopolis jammed with delirious revellers.

“I don’t mind being late for office. India doesn’t win a world title every day,” screamed one die-hard fan when asked if he would have to explain being late to work.

Showing no sign of fatigue after the long flight home from Johannesburg via Dubai, the players danced a jig in the rain on the top deck, draped themselves in the national flag, waved and showed off the glittering trophy to hundreds of thousands of supporters along the 30-km route from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport to the Wankhede Stadium.

Escorted by more than 50 traffic police personnel astride motorcycles, the cavalcade snaked it way traversing the 30-km long route along the Western Express Highway passing suburban Andheri, Bandra to Mahim, Shivaji Park, Prabhadevi, Mahalaxmi, Peddar Road and on to seafront Marine Drive before it reached the stadium after more than four hours.

Another open top bus carrying journalist followed the team bus.

Police had to battle to contain surging crowds striving to catch a glimpse of the returning Twenty20 heroes.

However, unable to contain themselves even the men in khaki joined celebrating fans in throwing rose and marigold petals in the air to welcome the team.

Not to be left alone, thousands of children joined the throng, dancing and waving the Indian tri-colour and waving placards as the exuberant players atop the bus danced and hugged each other, waving out to the adoring fans as traffic almost came to a standstill for over four hours.

The scenes were reminiscent of the 1971 ticker tape welcome accorded to Ajit Wadekar’s team after they beat England for India’s first Test series win in Old Blighty.

Wadekar, recalling those halcyon days, told one of the TV channels: “It’s such a great feeling that people are excited about cricket once again. This was a young team and it stood up to the toughest tests when they defeated teams like South Africa, Australia and Pakistan in the tournament.”

Several members of the 1983 World Cup winning squad were on hand to praise their triumphant successors.

Mohinder Amarnath said: “It is great to see the people’s love for the game. One good performance is all it takes to bring back the fans who were so disappointed in March when India went out of the World Cup in the West Indies.”

The celebrations began soon after 8 a.m. when Emirates Airlines announced the arrival of its flight from Dubai and waiting fans went into a frenzy with wildly beating drums and loud cheers – desperate to catch a glimpse of the young heroes.

Security personnel had a tough time keeping the surging crowd in check as people pressed forward towards the customs area to catch a glimpse of the players.

Soon, the wait was over as Team India walked out of the airport lounge led by manager Sunil Dev followed by Dhoni, sporting a huge red tilak on his forehead.

Excitement seemed to get the better of the players as Yuvraj Singh and S. Sreesanth broke into an impromptu ‘bhangra’ along with the turbanator Harbhajan Singh. But within seconds the players were coaxed towards the bus.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh was among those present at the airport to receive the cricketers.

“Who said we are not world beaters. Yes, nobody had expected us to fare well in the latest truncated version of international cricket, let alone win it. But we have proved the world wrong by being the world’s best,” said 20-year-old Dinesh Keshwa, dancing to the drumbeats and singing the popular Bollywood song Chak De! India.

“We are the world champions, is there any doubt about it now?”