India are the Cricket World Cup Champions, and in winning the tournament, perhaps they have shed the 'brilliant-but-erratic' tag once and for all and established themselves as quite simply the physically and mentally strongest team currently in the game.
This was not a victory based on luck or flashes of brilliance, like so many Indian performances of the past two decades. In the final, and throughout the tournament (after a couple of learning experiences in the group stage), India were consistently the best team in this World Cup, particularly in the knockout rounds. The bowlers, led by Zaheer Khan, performed as an efficient unit with clearly defined and well-executed roles. The batsmen, marshalled by the peerless Sachin Tendulkar, astutely balanced calm strokes with bursts of aggression to ensure they remained in control for every moment at the crease. In the field, no team was hungrier or livelier, and the efforts of the first 10 overs after Sri Lanka walked out to bat set the tone for the entire match.
The balance of the squad still isn't perfect, and there will likely be a few changes to the squad over the rest of this year, but the simple fact is that India won this World Cup with a steady ten-year overhaul of the team's entire ethos. It began with John Wright in 2000, instilling new standards and drive in a team renowned for being more a collection of individuals than a cohesive unit, and culminated in Gary Kirsten and MS Dhoni's masterminding of victory. An army of psychologists and specialists helped filter out the talent's uncertainty and overexpressiveness, sure. Kirsten, however, opened the batting for South Africa for a decade; his mental toughness lifted this India team up to this worldbeating standard.
Dhoni, on the other hand, has a legacy before him. He's won one World Cup, with one of the most glorious and gutsy captain's innings in the game's history, and it's hard to imagine anyone else having a less distractible appearance on a cricket ground. Nothing seems to faze him; indeed, it often looks like he's barely thinking at all, but the complex tactical manoeuvres and articulate press conference answers suggest otherwise. History now beckons for a man who, having led India to the top at 29, could conceivably lead the team through the majority of the next decade – and to possibly even greater heights. (Here, one must spare a thought for Kumar Sangakkara. Had Sri Lanka won, almost the exact same words could be written about him.)
Whatever mountains the Indian cricket team climbs during the years to come, it's hard to imagine a bigger or wilder party than the one that unfolded across India on the Saturday night. The semi-final win over Pakistan sent half the country into the streets to celebrate; after Dhoni hoisted that last six to take the cup, the other half joined them. Everyone will have their own stories to tell, be they in Mumbai or Mangalapuram, and the communal Sunday morning hangover will have sat just fine against the background of such ecstasy, with memories of a billion-man festival to cherish for the rest of their lives.
(My own experience of the match? Not with a huge and boisterous crowd but with a few close friends from work, applauding every Indian run and cheering every four with plenty of back-slapping and laughs. It's an experience I'll always cherish.)