Mumbai: With the world at their feet, Dhoni and Co returned home to a hero's welcome here this morning.
The Indian cricket team, which recorded a stunning victory against arch rivals Pakistan in a see-saw final at the Wanderers in Johannesburg to scoop the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup on Monday, arrived by flight EK-504 at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.
Among those who welcomed the team at the airport were BCCI chief Sharad Pawar, Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, Deputy Chief Minister R R Patil, PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, Chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar, BCCI Secretary Niranjan Shah, BCCI chief administrative officer Ratnakar Shetty and hundreds of drum-beating supporters.
Heavy rains since last night failed to dampen the spirits of the fans who waited for hours together to give an enthusiastic welcome to their idols. The cricket-crazy fans burst into euphoria and exultation and set off fireworks the moment the flight carrying their demi-gods touched down the tarmac of the airport, which was swathed in a sea of saffron, white and green.
Fans were laying a carpet of flowers at the feet of the team that returned World Champions -- a feat achieved by the Kapil Dev-led Indian team on June 25, 1983. Even the players got carried away by the feeding frenzy and joined their supporters breaking into impromptu jigs.
Many of them were seen capturing the moment in their cameras.
Roads were lined up on both sides by thousands of people who waited for hours to have a glimpse of the national side. Continual rains were no turn-off as they adoringly backslapped the players showing their joy and gratitude to them for restoring the pride of Indian cricket after 24 long years.
All the roads, except the one leading to Wankhede Stadium, were choc-a-bloc. It was festival time as beats of drums and loud music rent the air bringing the celebrations to a crescendo.
Victory Parade: The team would reach Wankhede Stadium atop an open bus - Vijay Rath - where the players would be felicitated.
The vividly-painted bus set off on a 30-kilometre (19-mile) drive to the Wankhede cricket stadium in south Mumbai with players taking turns to hold aloft the trophy. Security was stationed in strength on the 35-km stretch from the airport to the Stadium. The convoy accompanied by outriders would pass through famous city landmarks like Siddhivinayak Temple, Haji Ali and Marine Drive to reach its destination. All along the route giant signboards have been put up with messages welcoming Team India.
The Cricket Board has spared no effort to make the moment memorable for the players as well as the aficionados. A gala reception at 1030 hrs would mark a special occasion in the annals of history of Indian cricket as the winners would be joined by the men who achieved a similar feat for the country in 1983 beating the mighty West Indies.
The felicitation function is being organised jointly by the BCCI and the Maharashtra government.
Awards galore for Dhoni