Heroes' welcome for Twenty20 World champions

Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2007, 18:30 [IST]
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Mumbai: Police battled to contain surging crowds wildly celebrating the return home of the Indian team after lifting the inaugural Twenty20 world title against Pakistan.

Thousands braved monsoon rain to greet the cricketers off a flight from South Africa which landed in the western city of Mumbai on Wednesday morning.

Private security guards were also drafted in to cope with the crush as new captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni led his side out of Chhattrapati Shivaji International Airport to huge cheers.

"The reception we got was outstanding. We knew it was a big achievement for us and for India, but I didn't realise it'd be so big. When we landed in Mumbai we realised it is big not only for us, but for the people as well," said Dhoni.

"We wanted to do well as we had not done well in the World Cup (in the Caribbean early this year). And when everyone is performing, there's not much pressure on the captain."

Many children joined the throng, dancing to drum beats as the team boarded an open-top bus which inched its way through a sea of supporters waving Indian flags and pictures of Dhoni.

With players taking turns to hold aloft the trophy, the bus set off on a 30-kilometre (20-mile) drive to south Mumbai's seafront Wankhede cricket stadium for a giant welcome home party.

"I want to welcome this team which have made the country proud by their achievement. It was a young team and it did extremely well," said Indian cricket chief Sharad Pawar.

"I am grateful to the entire nation for cheering the team. The Indian board is extremely proud of young cricketers who have given a new direction to cricket."

Fans lit firecrackers, sang songs -- "Chak de India" or "Come on India" from a Bollywood hit movie on women's hockey -- and waved placards as the exuberant players danced and hugged each other.

Policemen joined in the celebrations as rose and marigold petals were thrown in the air.

India, restricted to 157-5 with the bat, fought back to bowl out Pakistan for 152 in a thrilling final on Monday in Johannesburg.

"These kids have proved themselves, they have the capacity to take us to greater heights," former chief selector Kiran More told reporters.

Ashwin Deshpande, a bank manager in Mumbai, said India needed the victory. "Despite being a cricket crazy country, we had not won anything substantial for over two decades," he said.

"We can now say, the boys have delivered, even though this is baseball-type cricket."

Mumbai resident Ivan told Times Now news channel that the city had never witnessed celebrations of this scale before.

"People in this city, usually focused on making money, are stopping to acknowledge the team. It's amazing," he said.

India media reported that the team had partied through the night in South Africa.

"We just went crazy," star fast bowler Irfan Pathan said. "Unlike other Indian teams this team celebrates in style."

Dhoni however was keen to temper the celebrations.

"Just live in the present, keep your feet on the ground, enjoy your success but don't get carried away," he told his teammates.

The surprise win by India, who were widely criticised at home earlier this year after being knocked out of the 50-overs World Cup tournament at the first stage, prompted the government and others to rain gifts on the players.

Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel announced free round-the-world air tickets for players and their families.

The private Sahara India trading group gave each player a new house, while the Board of Control for Cricket in India promised huge rewards for the team and support staff.

Among the bigger prizes was a Porsche car for all-rounder Yuvraj Singh, who hit six sixes in one over.

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