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The Champions are home

September 26, 2007

Text: Harish Kotian with Team India | Photographs: Rajesh Karkera

Team India, with members vying to hold aloft the Twenty20 World Cup trophy, touched down on Indian soil around 8.15 on Wednesday morning -- and Mumbai went nuts.

Oblivious of the pouring rain, fans have lined the 30km route from the international airport in Sahar to the Wankhede Stadium, where the team will be felicitated.

In response to the dancing fans, the team members shrugged off their jet lag and the elements, climbed to the top of an open bus fronted by a photograph of a triumphant captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the words VIJAY RATH, and danced in response to the dancing fans.

Traffic on the route is at a standstill, and no one seems to mind -- the mood is one of total celebration, and the younger among the fans have begun running alongside the team bus, dancing and, whenever their heroes show signs of standing still, egging them on to dance again.

Yuvraj and Sreesanth have established themselves as the cheerleaders, dancing non-stop on the roof of the bus, and exhorting the fans lining the roads to applaud, to dance, to celebrate. The bus is travelling at a little over walking pace along Mumbai roads, trailing the contingent of fans running alongside, and the media in two buses following the team bus.

Schools and colleges across Mumbai report near zero attendance, and it is official with authorities permitting the students to take part in the celebrations.

Across the 30-km cavalcade route, large groups of kids from various schools and colleges have set up camp, complete with musical instruments, and are busy competing with each other in the fervency of their celebrations.

Chak de India has been clearly established as the youth anthem; it is by a long mile the most popular song among the kids. Cars that have pulled up to the side of the road to allow the cavalcade to pass have taken to blaring the song from their systems - for long stretches of road, Chak De India is all you can hear, at earsplitting volumes, pumping out of dozens of cars and even from the systems of electronics shops lining the route.

Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the first to come out, along with administrative manager Sunil Dev.

Star batsman Yuvraj Singh looked a little jaded when he came out of the airport, but once he boarded the bus, the celebrating fans appear to have given the dashing Punjab player a fresh lease of energy -- he broke into a bhangra, and hasn't stopped since.

In the midst of the chaos, Mahendra Singh Dhoni remains very much the composed captain.

On the roof of the team bus, he stands towards the rear, watching his 'boys' celebrate, occasionally stepping up to pull back a player leaning too far over the railings, ensuring that the trophy various members of the side have been holding aloft is not damaged, and using his cellphone to coordinate various details.

Though the official celebration will see its quota of speeches by sundry politicians, the day seems to be about a young team, and fans who are in a mood to hail the future of Indian cricket.

At Mahim junction, a group of college students who had been waiting in the rain since 8 am for the cavalcade to pass through said the Cup win was the cue for the seniors to retire, and for this young, fearless lot to take over. "This team should play Australia, without the seniors," Vikas Sawant, one of the students, said, over the noise of general celebration.

"We will lose to the world champions but so what, we have no guarantee that we will win with the seniors. Let us play fearless cricket for now; the victories will come soon enough."

Two hours after they landed in Mumbai, Team India is still dancing on the open roof of the bus.

They seem charged with contagious electricity; there is no sign of the fatigue of a tough tournament, no sign of jet lag, no awarness, even, that this Saturday they have to take on the world champion Australian side in the first of a seven-game series of tough one-dayers. For now, it is joy unconfined -- and perhaps that is how it should be.

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