Hardik Pandya dropped down to his knees and sobbed uncontrollably. India’s captain Rohit Sharma collapsed to the ground, buried his head in his hands and shook his head in disbelief. Coach Rahul Dravid hugged a tearful Virat Kohli. Mohammad Siraj let the emotions flow.

Sharma stepped away from the crowd for a moment of solitude as tears streamed down his face. He gazed towards the heavens above, as if to acknowledge that there is a higher power, indeed.

But it was the sight of Sharma embracing Kohli that tugged at your heartstrings the most.

ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, Final, as it happened: India win second title by seven runs

Those two Indian legends, in the twilight of their careers, fulfilled the wishes of those who patiently waited to watch them achieve this momentous feat. And moments after they helped secure the biggest title available in T20 International cricket, they both called time on their India careers in the format.

A trophy in the hands of team India was a sight Indian cricket fans had longed for. After enduring multiple heartbreaks and knockout eliminations, tears of joy finally flowed.

Kohli bids farewell on a high

Despite lingering doubts surrounding Kohli, his innings on Saturday epitomised composure under pressure in a crucial match. After being awarded the player of the match, he said that it was an “open secret” that it would be his last World Cup in the shortest format.

But to retire as the player of the match, in his last match for India in the format, was another remarkable chapter in Kohli’s magnificent legacy. There were questions about whether he should even make the World Cup squad in a format where new approaches and methods became more relevant.

Even as he opened the innings for India, he had faced challenges throughout the tournament leading up to the semi-final, managing just 75 runs across seven innings. It looked like questions would spring up again. But come the final, he turned it around, as Kohli has, far too many times in his career.

His gung-ho approach through the tournament did not seem to yield the same results that he had been fetching in the Indian Premier League. And so, he went back to what has been most effective for him.

Kohli pulled out his classic anchor approach as he steadied the innings with a crucial 76 off 59 after the early dismissals of Sharma and Rishabh Pant. Along with Axar Patel, he stitched a 72-run partnership followed by a 57-run partnership with Shivam Dube that took India to a strong total.

At one point, the boundaries dried up and it appeared that it could all go very wrong for Kohli before he broke the shackles against Kagiso Rabada in the 18th over. He then whipped a full toss off Marco Jansen over fine short leg in the next over too before tonking him for a 95 metre six over long on. The damage, although quiet, was done.

Bumrah, Pandya and Arshdeep orchestrate dramatic comeback

South Africa’s chase of 177 began with early dismissals of Reeza Hendricks and Aiden Markram. However, Tristan Stubbs adeptly handled the spinners to help lay a solid foundation. Although Patel was able to bring an end to the attack from Stubbs, Quinton de Kock and Heinrich Klaasen stitched a formidable partnership of 58 off 38.

Klaasen, known for his powerful hitting, looked set to rewrite his team’s history of big-match disappointments with a barrage of sixes. He reached a scintillating fifty off just 23 balls, highlighed by a devastating 24-run over off Patel.

South Africa seemed to be shutting all the doors for India as Klaasen and David Miller amassed 38 runs in two overs. With five overs remaining, South Africa were in a dominant position, needing just a run per ball with six wickets still in hand.

But in a match marked by tension and high stakes, Bumrah’s resilience allowed India to stay in contention just as hope seemed lost. As he had done for the rest of the tournament, he initiated the momentum shift. This time, he conceded only four runs in the crucial sixteenth over.

The game was still heavily tilted towards South Africa but Pandya dismissed Klaasen, putting an end to a potentially match-winning knock and conceding just four runs.

Heinrich Klaasen walks back after being dismissed by Hardik Pandya | Credit: Randy Brooks / AFP

As Bumrah ended his spell with Jansen’s wicket and Arshdeep Singh delivered a calm and composed penultimate over, conceding just four runs, the scales seemed to be tilting back into India’s favour again.

With 16 needed off 6, the final moments of the World Cup ironically came down to the narratives that had surrounded Pandya and captain Sharma since their captaincy swap in the IPL. As if the drama was not enough, a slight drizzle began as Pandya began his little redemption arc.

Miller, marred by memories of previous heartbreaks, still had a chance to still do the unseen for South African cricket. But Suryakumar Yadav stood in the way of what ended up becoming yet another painful memory.

He juggled the ball, millimeters away from the boundary and popped it back in, to swiftly pull off an incredible running catch. In that moment, the South African dressing room was bound to have felt the ground give way beneath them.

In the final two deliveries, Pandya sent back Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje, ending the rainbow nation’s hope of getting their hands on their first ICC trophy.

End of a wait, the wait continues

Even before the match turned out to be the last-over thriller, it was expected to not just be a test of skill but profound mental fortitude for both India and South Africa.

Both sides felt the weight of expectations having faced the agony of succumbing to pressure before. They carry the label of “chokers” and as the experiences of heartbreak in World Cup knockouts kept mounting, the need to prevent another potential setback only intensified.

And so, beyond the mere pursuit of the T20 World Cup trophy, much more was on the line in this contest.

India’s trophy cabinet had not had a new addition since the Champions Trophy in 2013. They last won a World Cup in 2011, 13 years ago. And it had been 17 years since India’s win in the inaugural edition of the T20 World Cup.

As India won the T20 World Cup 2024, a drought came to an end.

In one cricket-playing country, the longing for that elusive silverware, will continue to haunt. For another, it marked a satisfying conclusion to a prolonged wait.

While several hearts broke in South Africa, many more were mended in India.