The balls don’t matter for we have more than we need. But it’s poor Sreesanth. The temperamental fast bowler has been mumbling away between deliveries to all the gods that might care to listen, promising that he would be a good boy…A better than good boy, if only he could last a little while longer. There’s a deafening silence in the packed Wankhede Stadium as the tall mean Morkel, South Africa’s and this World Cup’s stingiest bowler starts off on his long gangly run towards the wicket…Sree stops mumbling and tucks his chin behind his left shoulder as he takes guard… thumps the bat into the dusty Wankhede pitch and billion hearts stop breathing as the sweaty lump of leather leaves Morkel’s hand, singes the pitch and swings away towards first slip. It’s fast and full but wide.
At the other end, the man who has been carrying the cross for daring to play god, breathes a sigh of relief… “Leave it alone, Sree… Please.”
Sree did not want to play at it. He told his body to let it go. But in a rebellious insolent corner of his head, the desire to hit it hard raised its reckless head. What pleasure it’d be to thrash this arrogant fast bowler, to put him in his place. That impetuous voice in his head grew louder, drowning out every other voice. Sree’s feet stayed rooted but his hands were drawn towards the ball like a moth to the flame. Wild wood met shy leather and the ball ballooned up towards third-man. Sree shook his head in disgust. He couldn’t bring himself to look…the players, the stadium, the country, they all held their breath as Lonwabo Tsotsobe back-pedalled in a hurry (he had been brought in to stop Sreesanth from scoring the all important single and scampering away from the firing zone). Tall though he is, Tsotsobe wasn’t tall enough for the occasion. The ball danced tantalisingly close to the outstretched hands and then like a teasing mirage floated away from the fielder and gently tripped over the ropes.
Like bubbles rising to the surface in a glass of freshly poured champagne, the stadium erupted with joy. Sreesanth was running around in circles of incredulous joy while the South Africans slumped to the ground, surrendering to the celebrations all around. They had yet again come so near, only to be left standing without the ring…the eternal best-man at his beloved’s wedding.
While the world around him whipped up a frenzied whirlpool of emotions that threatened to pull him in, resisting its pull for a few moments more, all by himself at the centre of the wicket stood that man from the other end. Looking up at the dark night sky, beyond the hot white light of the floodlights, the man whispered a silent prayer of thanks. Though they might still call him a God, the cross had finally lift ed. India had finally won the World Cup. Sachin Tendulkar was free to be a man again. He took off his helmet and smiled, more in relief than joy, and collapsed on his knees. And then a wave of blue engulfed him as his team mates hugged him in a joyous pile up.
Something tells me that these are the scenes we’ll see at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on April 2nd, 2011 when the curtain comes down on the biggest extravaganza in the cricketing world. Ask yourself, whether you be Indian or not, and put a hand on your heart and tell me if it isn’t true that India seems destined to win this World Cup? They are a team as good as any that’ll take the field for ‘the cup that counts’. And playing at home these tigers are well nigh invincible. No host has ever won the World Cup you say? The pressure’s too much, is it? Well Dhoni’s boys have shown time and time again that they have learnt to play the game for the sheer joy of it, with victory or defeat being an important but not an all consuming factor in the game. This approach has helped them win from near impossible situations like champion sides are wont to do and my bet is that the well endorsed cool carbonated waters running in their veins would keep them safe from the pressures of playing in front of us rabid fans.
So since we are not really holding back our fantasies,let me go the whole hog and take the sheets off the rest of them.
So going a step beyond the late Paul’s call here’s prediction number two. I say that the batsman of the World Cup would be Sachin Tendulkar. Now before you crinkle a tired nose and begin to pull it down as unoriginal fanaticism, hear me out. I enjoy watching a fast bowler sending the stumps on a merry cartwheel far more than a batsman carting the ball over legs square or long, and so while the rest of India was gushing over a teenaged Sachin’s exploits in the 90s, I was out cheering for the thunderbolts from Allan Donald and Waseem Akram. Even today, I would take a torrid spell of scorchers from a fast bowler over most other sporting spectacles. But the idea of establishing Sachin Tendulkar’s unquestioned greatness above all others of his generation is an idea whose time has come. Lara may have been more lyrical, Kallis more resolute and Ponting more aggressive, but no one has given more back to the game and the fans than Tendulkar, and if the 200 at Gwalior and his recent purple patch is anything to go by, it is a sign of the game paying its dues to the great man. This fairy-tale promises a happy ending.
Prediction number three is one of those relatively uncomplicated ones. The four semi-finalists. I think India and South Africa would make it from their group with India topping it and going up against Sri Lanka. And South Africa would face off against defending champions Australia for a repeat of the semi-final between the two titans at the last World Cup in 2007. This time though I would expect the South Africans to turn the tables on the Aussies on the strength of a batting line up that fights hard and deep with the likes of Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, good old Jacques and Graeme Smith having consistently belted truck loads of runs in in the sub-continent. And with a bowling line-up that has two of the most dangerous, and I daresay, two of the very best fast bowlers in the game today in Morne Morkel and the magnificent Dale Steyn, I usually wouldn’t worry too much about the remaining 30 overs. Not until you are up against a batting line up that starts with Sehwag and doesn’t stop at Yusuf Pathan.
And why no England or Pakistan, you ask? Well ever since the Raj, the English have always been unhappy tourists to the sub-continent. Kevin Pietersen has started complaining already. Their seamers rarely feel at home in our dust bowls and except for Gatting, none of their batters ever get it when the ball starts spinning.
As for Pakistan, fate, or what you will, has dealt them a flurry of body blows. Their best bowlers are either too old or absent; their batters are pulling in different directions and the fans don’t know which way to look and for how long. Pakistan cricket needs to take a long hard look at itself and any miracles against the run of play would do Pakistan cricket more harm than good in the long run, so for their sake let’s not hope for any.
Lastly, you wonder how Sreesanth got to play the final when he isn’t even in the team? Well, since we’re just whetting our world cup dreams, I thought why not reward him for his gallant showing in South Africa by selecting him in place of the injured Praveen Kumar. It might happen yet.
And what if the weeks to come prove me horribly wrong, and leave me with an egg all over my face? Well Holi’s round the corner. I’m hoping it wouldn’t look all that bad.