India erupts with joy as Rohit-led team clinch T20 World Cup crown

A man displays his kites decorated with pictures of Indian and South African cricket players in Amritsar, northern India (Narinder NANU)
A man displays his kites decorated with pictures of Indian and South African cricket players in Amritsar, northern India (Narinder NANU)

Fans in blue India jerseys shed tears of joy and danced on tabletops at a sports bar in New Delhi on Saturday as Rohit Sharma's team edged South Africa to win the T20 World Cup and end a global title drought.

India won a thrilling final by seven runs in Barbados to clinch their first major title since the 2013 Champions Trophy.

India last won a World Cup in 2011 at home under M.S. Dhoni, who earlier led the team to a T20 World Cup trophy in the inaugural edition in 2007.

Star batsman Virat Kohli played a knock for the ages in his 59-ball 76 to guide India to 176-7, a total their bowlers defended by restricting the Proteas to 169-8.

"It's an out-of-the-world feeling," Abhishek Bhagat, a 34-year-old software professional on a visit to Delhi from Belgium, told AFP outside the sports bar.

"I experienced it as a child in 2007 and then again in 2011 and now again in 2024. It's been a long, long wait and I can't tell you how much fun we will have."

Kohli, 35, announced his retirement from international T20 matches in his man-of-the-match speech, and Bhagat said: "King Kohli is a player who performs when it matters."

Another fan, Rajneesh Duggal said: "It's a proud moment for every Indian. It is a fitting finale for outgoing coach Rahul Dravid and for Kohli. Hope Rohit stays on."

However, Rohit also called it quits from T20 matches for India soon after Kohli's announcement as Indian cricket suffered two major shocks after the triumph.

Thousands of fans took to the streets and drove past the iconic India Gate shouting "Long live India" slogans from their cars and bikes.

India have faltered in the knockout stages of International Cricket Council (ICC) events, despite being ranked number one in both T20s and one-day internationals (ODIs) and number two in Tests.

Rohit and his team came agonisingly close to winning the one-day ICC World Cup at home last year but lost to Australia in the final at the world's biggest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad.

But the team held their nerves in a close final, and pace bowler Hardik Pandya kept calm to defend 16 runs off the last over.

South Africa, who played their first-ever World Cup final, looked set for the target when they needed 30 from the last five overs but Indian bowlers put the choke on.

- Prayers answered -

Emotional scenes followed as fans hugged each other at the sports bar, danced on tabletops and ran out to celebrate on the streets at midnight.

News channels repeatedly showed images Saturday of fans holding Hindu fire rituals to urge the gods to take the team to victory over South Africa.

Some featured pictures bedecked with flower garlands of Rohit, who has hit three half-centuries in the tournament, holding the World Cup trophy.

India knocked out defending champions England in the semi-final in Guyana and remained unbeaten in the tournament.

Rohit was part of India's T20 World Cup triumph in the inaugural edition in 2007, while Kohli won the ODI prize under Dhoni in 2011.

That was India's previous World Cup triumph, when Dhoni lifted the trophy at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium and the country erupted in joy.

Two years later, Dhoni's team beat hosts England in the 50-over Champions Trophy final but fans had to wait for 11 years for another major title.

India lost in the semi-finals of the 2019 ODI World Cup and the 2022 T20 World Cup, before last year's ODI final defeat again left fans heartbroken.