Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A victory of the uncluttered minds

Dharampeth, Nagpur on India's win. Courtesy:Ninad Labhe

Question : What is better than winning a World Cup?
Ans : Winning a world cup by beating Pakistan.

Yes we did it finally. We beat Pakistan in a World Cup final.
Imran Khan summed it up well in his interview to NDTV - "The better team won"

For all the debates on secularism and bringing religion etc in sports (Shoibh Malik's silly "Muslims of the world" post match comment), it is *still* sweet, very sweet to beat Pakistan.

Over the years the passions have come down a bit because of too much exposure to each other, yet no Indian or Pakistani cricketer will ever tell you beating any other team is sweeter.

Ian Chapel said after India beat Australia in the semis that India was a "destiny team". It was team destined to win the cup after it "bowled out" Pakistan in first round game.There's some merit in what he says. Teams are often destined to win. By some divine intervention the path to the World Cup is cleared at every stop for the winning team.

Does anyone remember how Pakistan won the 1992 World Cup in Australia? I do no know a better example of a "destiny team". Imran Khan's boys were almost out of the reckoning even before the quarterfinals. (Those days Super 8 had not come into being)

There was one game that was going to knock Pakistan out of the game. The game was against England. England was looking in great nick. They had beaten big teams. Not only that, that day they bowled out Pakistan for just 75 runs. Pakistan were batting first. England needed just 76 to win. Every thing looked on course when.... Rain Gods came in.

A sign. A sign.

Pakistan split points with English and just about managed to put their foot in the closing door to keep the hopes alive. That foot was later going to be a giant one, that of Inzamam ul Haq - a very young burly giant who was starting to get the grip and go on to give Pakistan it's most famous victory. In 1992 Pakistan was the "destiny team"; a team God had decided would win and it did.

New Zealand lost just to one team in that entire tournament. It was against Pakistan and more specifically against Inzy. They lost their battle, their nerve, their game just "like that". I cannot explain what happened to them on that fateful day. Martin Crowe, arguably the greatest batsman for New Zealand and who was in the form of his life did not play that game and Pakistan were through. Destiny was slowly rolling Pakistan towards WC.

A sign. A sign.

Pakistan went on to beat England in the finals, team that itself was lucky to make to finals thanks to the silly Duckworth-Lewis system.

1992 is probably the greatest example of a Destiny Team.

Circa 1983. Indian cricket team led by a young Kapil Dev was by all means a minnow. Although a test playing team, one day game had never really caught India's gloves. Indians were the quintessential pushovers. I bet, no one at Lords and ICC was even contemplating Indians to come to the knock off stage. And then something happened in the midst of the tournament. A non consequential game for the cricketing fraternity got under way somewhere in remote country side of England. India was playing another minnow Zimbabwe. No one was even bothered about that game. It was purely academic. It was two inconsequential teams playing against each other; two teams who would have no impact on the ICC World Cup. So much so that this match was not even recorded by TV crew, forget showing it to live audience. There was scant respect for this match from all ends.

Destiny had other ideas though.

India was in a desperate situation, 17/5 and Zimbabwe was about to wrap it's innings. Kapil Dev the "jaat" from Haryana was probably thinking that he would hit some shots here and there and pack his bag and start preparing to leave England. Or was he? Kapil Dev probably was not thinking too far. He, like most Indians must have given up, and may be he played without fear thinking it was already a lost cause. And thus began his "no fear" cricket. Kapil Dev produced an innings that was going to change Indian cricket history for ever. Zimbabwe's nightmare did not end before Kapil Dev had made 175 runs. And India won the game.

A sign. A sign. India was the destiny team that day.

We all know how Kapil Dev, the *batsman* played. But that day, there was not a single nick, not a run out, not a mis time slog. Not even one. Remember Kapil was not an "all rounder" per say in the same league of say Ian Botham (though after this particular game he firmly established himself as one). So he getting 175 not-out sounds a little...what can i say, out of the world. The highest one day score from a "bowler-all rounder" was astonishing to say the least. What were the Zimbabweans thinking? If at all they were?

How can Kapil Dev get 175 even against a minnow like Zimbabwe? This boggles me no end. No Vivian Richards, no Zaheer Abbas, no Gordon Greenidge, this was our Haryana da jaat, Kapil who made 175. Yes 1, 7 and 5. This was an era when a score of 200 was considered winnable and Kapil had managed 90% of that total single handedly. I can't even begin to tell how funny this sounds.

Doesn't this sound funny even today? We have taken that innings so much for granted but there was something divine about that innings. That 175 was as much important in India winning the WC as Kapil Dev's awesome catch running backward in the finals of the same tournament to get rid of the menacing Richards.

I just cannot fathom how Kapil could make 50 with his batting skills, forget 175. Wasn't he the same guy who had that weired looking Natraj shot to hook a bowler.

Anyways so he did make 175 and left a lot of eyes rubbing in disbelief.

But Kapil made 175 because India was destined to win that WC. I cannot have any other explanation for that innings. And i don't have any other explanation for Crowe not playing the semi finals against Pakistan and England winning on Duckworth Lewis system to beat SA in semis, only so that Pakistan can win the finals in 1992.
8 out of 10 would say that a Pak-SA finals would have thrown different result. It would be unfair to call Imran lucky, but may be he was.

India beat Pakistan in the 20/20 WC today. There cannot be a logical explanation for Misbah trying to sweep a looping shot over fine leg when Sreesanth was not even in the inner circle. He was very much at the traditional position to take , what could probably be the most important catch of his life. Misbah had already messed up once against India in the league match. You would expect at least him not repeat a silly mistake like this. But he did. And Pakistan lost a game that was almost in its pocket. 6 runs of 4 balls in 20/20. You are kidding me if you loose from this point. May be the pressure did him in. May be he wanted to finish it off and release the burden quickly. He was no Miandad, a hardened warrior of many battles. He was Misbah-ul-Haq, someone India would love as much as it hates Miandad.

India was the destiny team. It was almost as if some kids collected on the South African ground and came to enjoy the tournament and play against some big uncles like Hayden and Smith and God said, "Oh kids you want to enjoy a little more, well take this cup, take this bounty". And before even God knew, an entire nation of one billion people had turned kids. They were dancing on streets, hugging each other, even crying out loud.

The finals was befitting the 20/20 format. Two teams with average age of less than 25 came into the finals and unfortunately only one got to go home with toffees and ice cream cups. (Even Sehwag who's still not in his 30s was looking like a veteran coach in the team set up).

This could also be a lesson for the other teams like Sri Lanka and Australia. May be for 20/20 format you just need HEART and young heart at that. A fearless one. No analysis, no strategy, no laptop coaching. All you need is "no fear" cricket. That's what India and Pakistan had. They did not have big names, just big hearts. And they deservedly reached finals. Sometimes you don't want to take a game or sport so seriously and 20/20 was meant to be enjoyed. And India did just that. It enjoyed every outing like a picnic. You could see the players laughing during the "penalty shoot out like" bowl out between India and Pakistan. They were making merry.

I do not want to take anything away from these young kids. Not only have they done us proud and filled us with great emotions, they have given this nation starved for success in sports, a breath of fresh air. Sachin Tendulkar said, "Cricket is now in safe hands".

May be it is.

I think RP Singh was the find of the tournament. Irfan Pathan was always good, he just found back his rhythm at the right time. Yuvraj was simply what he was, AWESOME. Dhoni was ok and i wouldn't really think high of his captainship. His moves came out right. But that's about it.

All in all 20/20 required boys in their 20s to make it. As it turned out the oldie-goldies were rested and luckily for India, the college crowd won an international fast paced tournament.

It was a victory of the uncluttered minds.

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