Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Semifinal

In this fine piece on perceptions of the great Ayrton Senna, Emma John says that it is often difficult for us, especially in today’s age where “perspective is a disappearing see sporting events outside the prism of our own fan narrative, to realise that the stories around which we base our identities have been moulded and cannibalised by our personal experience of winning or losing.”

Now that the dust has begun to settle, though, on India’s victory against Pakistan yesterday, it may be time to release the fervour which was draped around us and look at the game from outside the prism of our fan narrative, as challenging a task as this may prove to be. The game admittedly took a shape that went beyond the realms of sport – what with the prime ministers of the two nations choosing this as the occasion to break their countries’ diplomatic deadlock. As it turned out, it was as much an occasion for fans of extravaganza of any kind as it was for fans of the sport – the cheers that Aamir Khan got even as some of the cricketers were going about their motions in the build up to the game was mildly sickening. But its every man for himself I suppose – who am I to pass judgments on the degrees and boundaries of fandom? What I can say, though, is that for all the hullabaloo and in spite of the appreciable importance of India’s triumph, I may probably remember close to diddly-squat about this match in the years to come.

As I reflected on the game today, I couldn’t help but note that there was nothing particularly special about the victory. The quality of the cricket wasn’t at any admirable standard and, perhaps, a few years from now this game, devoid as it was of outstanding moments, will be eradicated from memory. The 1996 quarter-final and for that matter the meeting in 2003 between these teams, though, will conceivably be etched forever in my mind. Ajay Jadeja’s slog-over heroics and that celebrated delivery from Venkatesh Prasad to dislodge Aamir Sohail’s off-stump a ball after he was unleashed with a mouthful of vitriol from the batsman are indelible moments. Likewise, Sachin Tendulkar’s brutal assault at Centurion in 2003 against a bowling attack composed of Shoaib Akhtar, Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram, in a game played on the backdrop of boiling political differences between the nations will remain amongst the finest World Cup moments. Those three Tendulkar strokes in Akhtar’s opening over for 14 thrilling runs represents a moment of peerless genius.

Yesterday, though, from an Indian perspective there was little of outstanding note. Had Pakistan won, maybe the game would have been remembered for the inspired and quite astonishing spell of swing bowling from Wahab Riaz. As it turned out Riaz’s performance, easily the game’s best individual act was not even good enough to bring him the man-of-the-match award. Instead, Tendulkar, dropped on four occasions en route to a scratchy 85 – possibly one of his worst ODI half centuries – bagged the honours. Thank heavens, though, that this was not the day for his hundredth hundred. India’s batting barring Virender Sehwag’s explosive start and Suresh Raina’s fine hand at the end was largely insipid and stripped out of its character by the superb Riaz.

In response, Pakistan began brightly, but as is so often the case with it, it somehow contrived to gift wicket after wicket to the Indians. Mohammad Hafeez, Asad Shafiq, and Younis Khan all fell to innocuous deliveries. Misbah ul Haq dawdled around for eternity, leaving it far too late for the final assault. No doubt, Munaf Patel and Ashish Nehra – whose inclusion in the Eleven ahead of R. Ashwin seemed inexplicable – bowled disciplined spells and M.S. Dhoni captained with typical calmness if not panache, but the game lacked a performance of singular brilliance – an unforgettable act of distinction.

It remains, however, a victory for India over Pakistan, that too in a World Cup semi-final – up until now the highest round in which the teams have ever met in the competition. The histrionic pre-game build-up was more incredible than any in recent memory. The victory celebrations lived up to the game’s billing – firecrackers were set alight across the country. Maybe it’s the occasion which we will remember in the years to come and not so much the cricket. But by any account, it will count for nigh-on nothing if India is to come a cropper at Mumbai on Saturday.

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1 comment:

goutamjay said...

It's a very unilateral view of this mach. Try to view it from various prisms. This match should be rated above all the India v. Pak matches above all others even after giving due credit to individual brilliancy.
The reasons are:

1. India finally performed as a unit in the WC. When batting failed, bowlers didn't give up the hope. Team effort matters more than individual sparkles. (Eg. SA's historical chokes)

2. Pak phoenix like resurgence. Still a force to reckon with, considering the examples of WI and Kenya.

3. One day cricket is still alive and kicking.

4. India should be the way it is. Bollywood, Masala and Cricket -it's in our psyche. Cannot throw away into trash one fine morning.