It is said that India is a massive conglomerate of numerous cultures, with countless religions and a vast pantheon of Gods. I think that sentence is only partially correct. Though we do have a diverse blend of cultures and more than a fair share of Gods, India has just one religion – CRICKET
There is nothing else that has managed to capture the attention of the mainstream audience in quite the same way (Though SRK certainly gave it a good shot :p). Hindu? Muslim? Christian? Sikh? When it comes to cricket, we are all Indians. We are a happy lot that loves to have fun, and Cricket gives us lots of reasons to celebrate. It’s probably the only team sport that we manage to dominate the world. And how!! There are times when opponents quail in fear against the massive Indian juggernaut (admittedly not so much now as with the Fab 5 but we’re getting there)
I started writing this before the India-Pakistan game today. Ah India vs Pakistan. So many memories, narrow victories leaving us ecstatic, narrow losses leaving us in tears. The immense pressure means that it is truly a stage for heroes to emerge and the weak to be weeded out.
Since the 80s when Kapil’s devils shocked the world, India has had heroes to look up to. Mercurial Sunny Gavaskar scoring runs by the bucketloads, dashing flamboyant Srikanth standing up to Holding and Marshall and of course captain Kapil Dev, the idol of the nation. And there were many more to follow. Azharuddin (for a while atleast 😦 ), Kumble, Javagal Srinath and of course the God from Shivaji Park. Combining together to form a cohesive unit they brought many a famous win. The further emergence of VVS, Rahul Dravid and a new leader in Sourav Ganguly took India all the way to the world cup final in 2003. Coming from behind to beat the Aussies (VVS you beauty :O ) and THAT chase in Lord’s. Kids my age were introduced to cricket at this time. We were nearly World Champions, we could beat anyone. This was our game.
It had to end at some time. The World Cup of 2007. An absolute debacle. Losing to Bangaldesh. Where were the world beaters who could upper cut Shoib Akthar at 150 kmph. Where were the men to score 300 run partnerships in consecutive ODIs. We were left shell shocked. This was an all time low. Tears enough to fill an ocean in one night.
From the ashes of the Greg Chappell-Dravid-Ganguly chapter, India needed a hero. In their desperation they turned to the long haired, ice cool man behind the stumps. Dhoni took a young brigade over to South Africa with little or no expectations. There was no Tendulkar, no Dravid. Instead a hungry young team marshaled expertly by an untested captain. It could have been so different. A loss to New Zealand left India’s progress at risk. Then Yuvraj Singh took Stuart Broad to task and the rest as they say, is history. I’m sure we all remember this:
End of over 19 (7 runs) Pakistan 145/9 (13 runs required from 6 balls, RR: 7.63, RRR: 13.00)
13 needed from 6 balls now. This big final has gone right down to the wire. Misbah on strike.
Joginder Sharma to Misbah-ul-Haq, 1 wide, short of a length and far outside the off stump, that one barely lands on the pitch. Nerves here for Joginder Sharma. Big, big wide. Easily called
12 needed from 6 now
Joginder Sharma to Misbah-ul-Haq, no run, short of a good length and outside the off, play and a miss, the tension mounts
12 from 5 needed
Joginder Sharma to Misbah-ul-Haq, SIX, full-toss outside the off, that’s not the place to bowl at this time. Misbah is cool as ice, lines this up and pounds the ball straight back down the ground. This is a baseball style home run. Such incredible hitting under pressure. You have to give it to Misbah
6 needed from 4 balls now
Joginder Sharma to Misbah-ul-Haq, OUT, India! It’s all over here! Full and on the stumps. Misbah goes for the scoop shot over short fine-leg. That is a risky shot to play with only 6 needed from 4 balls. Straight up in the air and Sreesanth takes the catch. India have won by 5 runs in the inaugural ICC World Twenty20
Misbah-ul-Haq c Sreesanth b Joginder Sharma 43 (51m 38b 0x4 4×6) SR: 113.15
What a game this has been. Went right down to the wire. Can’t ask for more from a grand final. The crowd erupts as the Indian support staff, coaching staff and remaining squad members charge onto the field.
The celebrations are still on as the Indians run around on the outfield. Disappointment for Pakistan but they’ve put in a real good show here. Misbah held his cool till the end, only making one mistake, trying to be a bit too cute in the end.
Oh the number of Misbah jokes we made 😀
This was just the shot in the arm we needed. We had a new God now. India saw hope in their charismatic new captain.
Riding this wave of momentum, India braved challenge after challenge. Winning a Tri-series in Australia, test wins against the big boys. The #1 test ranking secured with Dhoni at the helm. There was just one big challenge left. One BIG challenge. 2011. World Cup. At home.
If there was ever a time for a legend to be made, it was that magical night in the Wankhede. A passing of the torch as Sachin and Sehwag had failed, Dhoni, Gambhir and a young Virat Kohli faced the trial by fire. The whole country stood together as one large family as Dhoni smashed the hapless Nuwan Kulasekara over long on. The celebrations could begin. For Sachin who had carried India through the darker moments, this was the light at the end of the tunnel. India’s future was in good hands. The next few years brought more joy with the 100th 100, Kohli maturing into one of the best batsmen in the world, the Champions Trophy win in England to name a few. But it was a confusing time with India getting absolutely hammered repeatedly in Tests with white washes and even a shocking series loss at home. But we always stood together. Even in defeat
Now as we look toward the future, we are again close to the time of change. This time Kohli is the crowned prince waiting (somewhat impatiently :p) to take over and Dhoni is the legend looking for one last hurrah. And it all starts now, back vs Pakistan again. A completion of the cycle, right back to 2007, almost a decade ago (hard to believe right? 🙂 )
Divided a country we may be but you can be sure that when those 11 men stand together tonight, there are one billion hearts beating in unison to urge them forward.
One last thought. I wrote earlier about how cricket brought people together and made them set aside their differences. I think there is no better example of this than the fact that ABD is treated like a God even in India. When he walks out to bat, though he is from the opposing team, such is his class that you can hear the crowd go “ABD! ABD! ABD!”
This is special. For a man from Pretoria to transcend all boundaries and be cheered thousands of miles from home is a testament to this beautiful sport.
I can already feel the familiar nerves creeping up, an internal clock telling me that it’s nearly Game Time.
Until next time then.
P.S. There I wrote a 1000+ word article on Cricket in India without mentioning the IPL. It is possible
I kid 😀 That’s for the next installment. Bleed Red and Gold!! ( And Blue too but that’s kinda understood right?) 🙂