An India – Pakistan encounter is not a cricket match. Those who believe it is, also believe that the earth is flat and that the Nazar Suraksha Kavach does work. Its a bloody war, baby.
I have memories of India-Pakistan encounters in the WC since childhood. In 1999, when Venkatesh Prasad, who still looked pissed about the Aamir Sohail incident, took a five for and knocked Pakistan out of the cup. Then the 2003 version where Sachin showed Virender Sehwag the Upar Cut, a shot that would be raped of all its glory in a lousy advertisement. Its true that they did beat us once in a while in between, but a Singer Cup is not the World Cup.
Like all the earlier matches, this one had its hype too, but nothing beats Rehman Malik’s immense show of confidence in his countrymen. Afridi’s bravado before the match about Sachin’s hundred was taken with a pinch of desh ka namak. Sachin does not need to be told when to score his 100th century.
By the time I reached the room, I was told India had won the toss and decided to bat. When I opened the door, the first thing I saw was Umar Gul’s expression, and I knew something was wrong. If Umar Gul wasn’t a cricketer, he would have been a street-theater performer. He comes up with the weirdest expression, and the ones he gives when he takes a wicket are about as pleasant as watching Bheeshm Pitamah running around in a park, serenading a heroine.
Umar Gul had just given away four boundaries, and bowled a no-ball, and the umpire was circling his hand above his head, signalling a Free Hit. The crowd was going crazy, the guys in the opposite building sounded as if something had caught fire. But the euphoria was short lived. Sehwag would perish, but not before he had created a platform that India could build a formidable score. But there was Sachin at the other end.
I know people will say this wasn’t his best innings, that he was like a cat that had six lives, and that he relied more on luck than anything else. True. But he did one thing that no one talks about. He saw off Afridi, the leading wicket taker of the tournament, and easily their best bowler so far. Yes, there were chances grassed, but there were also assertive shots that ensured Afridi did not begin yet another collapse.
Yuvraj Singh, in his defence got the ball of the match first up. An evil, swinging yorker that struck the base of the middle stump like a guided missile. Harbhajan again batted like he was batting for the State Bank of India team, and Ashish Nehra looked as comfortable with the bat as Kamaal R. Khan with an Academy Award.
Raina, who should be spending a considerable amount of his match pay buying lottery tickets considering the luck he has had in both the matches, yet again made sure he stood up and got counted. 260 seemed like the tricky score that you don’t know whether to chase in haste or with care, and you could trust the maturity of Pakistani batsmen to do the rest.
While they began, it looked like one of those days again. I was reminded of how India lost a bunch of matches in the 90s. Sanath Jaysurya would whack Prasad and Srinath to different parts of the ground and the match was over before you knew it. Zaheer Khan seemed to be going for runs, the gaps between the field seemed generational, and nothing seemed to be going India’s way.
But the fielding was surprisingly tight and it was just a matter of one wicket. One wicket, and one knew the others would come tumbling after. Mahendra Singh Dhoni had the expression of Arjun Rampal – expressionless – throughout the match, and it was his composure that gave us some confidence.
But before everything else, I would like to spend some time talking about India’s favourite cricketer the other side of the border – Misbah ul Haq. He has always been a mystery. He is not your average uneducated, uncouth, sledging Pak cricketer. He is always calm, smiling, and confident of his abilities. He is not flamboyant and more than willing to play Sahadeva to his other more flashy teammates.
But come a match with India and Misbah is the most charitable person in the world. He became a household name a few years back for attempting a Dilscoop with five runs remaining. But today, there would be no such madness. What he gave today was a lesson in match-fixing – playing innocuously slow in the middle overs, and then hit a few shots in the end when it didn’t matter to salvage some reputation. Not like those dumb fast bowlers who screwed it up in England last year.
I really do not know what he was thinking, and I seriously have no complaints. Misbah is living proof that history repeats itself, and how! By the 42nd over, I did not consider Misbah a threat. Afridi did play a few dangerous looking shots, but Harbhajan, who has been more consistent than him with the bat, gave him one full toss and he holed out with David Dhawan like predictability.
After that, the match was pretty much in the bag, it was just a matter of when. If Pakistan look back and see the highlights, they’ll realise how close they had come to winning the match, but till another four years, that’s all they can do.
After the match, I was relieved. So that I did not have to see another pelvic-darshan celebration from Afridi. So that Bal Thackeray would not give us another of his assertions of relevance. So that the record against Pakistan remains intact. We have played you five times. And no matter what the pitch, situation, or state of the team, we have beaten your asses hollow. So there!
You can win all the matches you want in between. We shall resume this discussion after another four years.