With so much cricket being played these days in all three formats, cricket lovers are finding it difficult to recollect memories even from matches which happened in the recent past. For example, I find it hard to recollect top battles in the recently concluded Asia Cup. All I remember is the Kohli-Amir battle and Dhoni’s 20* off 6.
Because these are mere cricket matches, where two teams come out to exhibit their talents and end on the winning side. Certain matches however, rise above the game of cricket into something else. Needless to say, India vs Pakistan encounters rank right up there in the list, may be closely followed by the Ashes (I remember certain Aus cricketers returning early from a World Cup to prepare for the Ashes).
The build-up to yesterday’s encounter between India and Pakistan was no less than any match they had previously played against. May be lesser than the Ind vs Pakistan Semi Final in the 2011 50 Over World Cup; because of the things at stake (a berth in the Final).
To add on to the build up, India had lost to New Zealand in a rank turner just a few days ago, making yesterday’s game against Pakistan a must win to stay alive in this World Cup, hosted by us.
The rest is history.
As we speak, Dhoni and team would already be strategising on their upcoming games against Bangladesh and Australia to book their Semi Final berth. They are professionals. We are fans. I’d like to register my best moments and thoughts from yesterday’s encounter.
Multiple goosebumps moments even before the first ball was bowled. First, “God” coming on stage and speaking a few words; next, listening to our National Anthem in Big B’s baritone. Hair-raising stuff! Didn’t know Amitabh ji could sing so well (with “Gamakams” and all).
Apart from the rare partnership between Damaad ji Shoaib Malik and Umar Akmal, Pakistan weren’t really on top of the game, at any point of time during the first innings. The Indian supporters felt the pressure merely because this happened on the backdrop of a disaster run chase against a lesser bowling side (on paper) on a similar pitch, 4 days ago.
119 was not tough, but a tricky target on a pitch where where ball was turning by more than 90 degree, against a team renowned for their world class bowlers. Flat track bullies might find it tough to get a start, but India’s batting powerhouse was more than commensurate to pull off this run chase.
Rohit I thought was under the pressure created by his own words on the “ordinary bowler” Mohammad Amir, and succumbed sooner rather than later, on his favourite hunting ground where he has historically been scoring runs for fun.
Dhawan never really looked settled in his short but troubled stay in the middle. Raina (unfortunately) followed suit immediately. Mohammad Sami who was expected to bowl 23 no balls, 43 wides and 13 byes turned out to be India’s nightmare,. uprooting Dhawan and Raina in back to back deliveries.
India, suddenly were put on a back foot. 7.5 RPO required, 3 wickets down and Pak bowlers on top form in favourable conditions. Mortals are bound to succumb to these conditions; Champions thrive under pressure. 70k capacity crowd at the Eden Gardens, silenced, required run rate mounting in a must win game, Kohli entered the middle.
As my friend Dadak remarked on Twitter, “Kohli bats with very cool head. His face is angry. His heart pumping but his head is cool. As cool as Dhoni”. I couldn’t have agreed more. Some fans (including Twitter King Bhaskar NH) had already given up on our prospects of winning the match. But with most of us aware of Virat Kohli’s extended purple patch in all forms of the game, we knew that as long as he was just there in the middle, India was there in the game.
Even though the dependency on Kohli is not as much today (we have some other classy match winners too currently), as was the case with Sachin in the 90s, it is at least there to an extent for us to draw a parallel. And boy, didn’t he deliver, exactly when it was required?! Not for the first time, definitely not for the last.
It looked as if Kohli was batting on Wankhede and the others on the Eden turf. Those scorching cover drives where the ball travelled all along the ground at the speed of Japanese super fast trains, were hair-raising stuff. And when Kohli did a bow to God after reaching his 50 and Sachin waved back with a brimming smile, our day was made, and our eyes wet. We Indians are emotional fellows. Like Harsha Bhogle remarked, Virat Kohli has targets for dinner.
At times, we forget to acknowledge crucial contributions by second fiddles; Gambhir on Apr 2, 2011; Yuvraj yesterday. The fact that he stayed there to wither the storm proved vital in the end. Not to forget Ravi Ash’s 3 over spell. The Pak batsmen were as clueless as I was during my Digital Signal Processing Viva test back in college.
Overall Head to Head in limited over cricket, we might still be behind Pakistan, but 11-0 in World Cups is a record we can all be proud of. Good luck for the next time we meet, Mauka man.