Long time since I blogged; reason: 20-20 World Cup. Initially I was very skeptical about this (see my post earlier this month), however, many matches turned out to be good entertainers. This post is dedicated to the finale, so detailed T-20 tournament comments will follow in another post.
So, it was 4:30 PM IST when offices around where I work started to empty; “It’s at five” said some passers by as they nervously checked their watches and buzzed off on their vehicles; there were traffic jams on the road; people rushing to get home or to a TV. If you ask why, then I dont fancy I can explain it to you. What else could get all these people so excited other than an India-Pakistan cricket match; and its not a one-off match, a league match, or just any tournament; this was the 20-20 World Cup Final and there is no denying that fans of neither countries would not have expected to see this; at least not when they arrived in South Africa for this “little giggle” as Aussie Captain Ricky Ponting puts it.
As millions of supporters for both teams watched, hearts beating audibly, the anthems of the countries played, as the slightly teary eyed team sang along. The toss had been won by India, and Mahendra Singh “MSD” Dhoni opted to bat first and post a total of around 180 on the Wanderers ground that has seen 400+ runs being succesfully chased. But that not to be. The drama began a little earlier, when Virendar Sehwag, the explosive Indian opened was declared unfit; it started to unfold when Yousuf Patan, walked out to open the Indian innings on T-20 debut!
India had a good first three overs, before Pakistan started to put the breaks. The men in blue could get mostly only singles and those that got near the boundary were well fielded. The loss of wickets without too many runs on the board, saw Yuvaraj Singh, the danger man in the Indian lineup, come in early and knock the ball around for singles rather than hitting over the top. As the run rate only inched up by tenths each over, Yuvraj went for the kill only to sacrifice himself to Umar Gul, the pick of the Pak bowlers. As more hearts raced, Dhoni came and went without much ado; another star batsman falling to Gul. Credit must be given to Gambir, who hung around long enough to take charge and dance down the wicket to hit a few very useful boundaries. The last few overs saw some useful runs from Rohit Sharma who finished unbeaten for 30 from just 16 balls. India had finished their 20 for just 157 runs. This seemed OK to the Indian fan, who at one point (after the wickets of Yuvraj and Dhoni) were wondering if India would get to 140.
Pakistan seemed to quite pleased with themselves, having restricted to India to 3 less than their target of 160 and started to smell victory and to break a 16 year jinx of losing to India in a World Cup match; and what an occasion for that! The Indians interestingly were not distraught, neither were they jubilant. What was apparent however was their hunger for victory and “never-say-die” attitude.
As the Pak batsmen took their ground and the first ball of RP Singh, went for a wide, my heart started to beat a little faster; some jubilation was found in the 1st over as RP scalped Hafeez seeing Pak one down for only 2. So I sat up with a brave heart, only to see Sreesant give away many from mediocrely pitched balls. The next over, saw another wicket fall to RP Singh and Kamran Akmal, promoted up the Pak batting order was walking back with only single figures to his name.
Then the see-saw began to sway back and forth taking a million hearts affluter with its sway. This India-Pakistan match was not for the faint hearted. Superstitions seems to running wild now; I refused to move from my seat, for it seemed to bring good luck. As Pakistan wickets fell, I heard the entire neighborhood scream “Yay” and I could swear that my exclaimation of “Yessssss” on Afridi’s wicket was one of the loudest! India seemed to have victory in their grasp now.
However, so typical of an India-Pakistan match, just when you would think one team had the upper hand, another would recover and grab the hand with a jab. This time it was Misbah Ul Haq and Sohail Tanvir who togather scored over 30 runs in two over seeing Pak from 100-7 to 131-7. Hearts started to thump as Sreeshant came in to bowl the penultimate over. More runs followed, but Sreeshant got Tanvir, the ball after he was hit for a 6 and dismissed him with an expletive which I can imagine coming from the mouths of many Indian fans!
The last over, who would bowl? Pak needed 12 runs, with only 1 wicket in hand. Another surprize came in when Jogindar Sharma, the rookie bowler was brought on. Some wondered if the Sharma misfortune from the Sharjah cup years ago, would be seen again. First ball, wide; second 6. India seemed to lose hope. Something needed to happen, a wicket, definitely; it didnt matter how. Pakistan were one stroke away from breaking their 16 year jinx again thier arch-rivals in the World Cup final. India were about the bowl the four most important balls for many years to come. This was the very ground they played in the 2003 World Cup Final and lost. Now, it seemed like history might repeat itself. Sharma ran down and bowled the thrid ball of the 19th over and Misbah walked forward to execute a cute paddle shot to see Pakistan only 1 run away if not through. But a strange form of luck seemed to be with Sreeshant, as he pouched the catch of the World Cup and a distraugh and shocked Misbah collapsed on the field. India had won the T-20 final by 5 runs!
Shock and disbelief seemed to be the emotion on the field and off for many fans from both sides. Had India really won this time in a tournament final? Had Pakistan really lost this?
No words can describe this moment; one that many Indians would give anything for. To see the World Cup lifted in their lifetime; a historic moment that would be cherished by every Indian cricket fan for a lifetime.
In retrospect, T-20 has been much more than just a giggle; it seemed to be a test of temperment, team-spirit, nerves, skill, and self-belief. Two fearless teams with nothing to lose reached the final after being laughed off for being in the “underdog” group; the one with more presence of mind won. The test of nerves proved India T-20 Champions and let that not take away anything from the talent of these young lads. I have much more to say about the final, the reactions of the players, the tournament and what it will bring, but I’m afraid will have to wait a few days. Until then, pump your fists and sing along “Chak de, India!”