Thursday, April 7, 2011


While celebrating the World Cup win on the streets of Delhi last Saturday, I was suddenly reminded of a day from very long ago. It must have been about a couple of years after India had won the World Cup in 1983 when a favourite uncle of mine, an amateur cricketer who used to knock the ball around for Hindu College, came over to our house and saw me beaming with pride at an archival centerfold image of Kapil Dev holding the World Cup high in one of the first ever issues of Sportstar that I ever bought. He looked at it for a while and said that whenever he saw that image it reminded him of a story… a story which at the time I found rather strange. It was a story from the Ramayana, the story of Bali and Sugriva.

Bali, the invincible lord of the vaanar sena was immensely powerful. Warriors great and small would bow in reverence as the great one would stride into their presence with his mighty mace resting on those massive shoulders that seemed to span the breadth of the earth. Bali’s younger brother Sugriva, though able and strong in his own right, was in awe of his elder brother’s prowess. Bali ruled Kishkindha with Sugriva by his side. Sugriva, though a devoted brother, might forget himself for a moment and think what it might like to be king, but the sheer presence of the indomitable force of Bali would bake his dreams like dewdrops on the desert sands in the afternoon sun.

But one day, a demon challenged Bali to a fight and as Bali gave chase, the rakshasa retreated inside a cave. Sugriva tried to stop Bali but the great and impetuous warrior followed his quarry inside the cave while Sugriva waited outside. Gripped by fear and anxiety, he waited for a sign. The sounds of battle reached his ears and then a deafening silence followed. And then there was blood, streaming out like an angry tongue from the mouth of the cave. His mind, clouded by horror, sorrow and fear, and what only a cynic might call the slightest trace of ambition, was convinced that the blood was his brother’s and Bali must have met his end. With a heavy heart, Sugriva blocked the entrance to the cave with a massive boulder, ostensibly to keep the demon in, and ran back to Kishkindha.

News of the king Bali’s death shook the city and the nobles suggested that Sugriva should be made the king. The reign of a great king was supposedly over. There was a new king now. And as he wore that crown on his head, he held it high for in that moment there was both pride and glory. But in his heart he would have known that the crown was too heavy for his head; that he was a mere pretender to the throne and no match for the one whose crown fate had snatched and placed on Sugriva’s head instead.

And soon enough, Bali returned. He had vanquished his nemesis only to find his way home blocked by a boulder placed by his brother who he thought had taken both his wife and his throne. Sugriva tried to explain but Bali’s wrath was too fierce and fists too strong. Sugriva’s resistance and his pleas crumpled like a leaf in a flame and he barely managed to escape, scarred and scorched, with a few of his trusted friends. Stripped of his throne, his crown, his queen and his pride, Sugriva the accidental king was king no more but a mere fugitive, cursing his fate and cowering in fear of the king whose crown he had dared to wear…

In 1983, when West Indies lost the World Cup final to India, like Bali, they were seething with rage. They had been denied a crown that was rightfully theirs by a quirk of fate and a brilliant catch. That winter, they entered the lair of the new champions and blew away the Indians. The new World Cup winners were beaten five to nothing in the one-dayers and three-nil in Tests. The pretenders had been put in their place and the real champions with their explosive batsmen and demonic bowlers had announced to the world that the era of West Indian dominance was far from over.

By narrating that story, I don’t mean to pull down the old masters. My generation owes Kapil’s Devils a debt of gratitude for infusing us with pride and self belief. And while that victory at Lord’s may not have been the final nail in the coffin of West Indies’ supremacy on the cricket field, but it may have well been the first. But ‘uncle’ had a point. No matter how good or gift ed were the India team of the time, world beaters they weren’t. In the 80s, at best, India were second best by a country mile. In fact, except for Australia’s last three victories and the first two by the West Indies, none of the World Cup victories of the past really heralded a new world order.

But this time when Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men in blue made the World Cup their own in Mumbai last Saturday, it was a definite sign that seemed to announce that modern day cricket was experiencing the charge of its ‘Third Reich’. If the 70s and 80s saw the stadiums of the world being ruled by the Calypso Kings from the islands, then from the mid 90s onwards and right up to 2010, it was the reign of the imperious Aussies that left the rest of the cricketing world fighting over left overs in its wake. And now, the crown of this World Cup victory sits not on a head that is uneasy with the weight of its glory like Sugriva’s but on one that was anointed for such glory, many years ago in the spring of 2001 on a hot and blustery afternoon in Kolkata.

Ever since that day, India had been hacking away at the halo of invincibility that seemed to surround the men in gold and green from Down Under. Just the way the Australians were the first ones to score a few knockdowns against the West Indies in the early and mid 90s before deposing them and assuming the mantle of World Champions, so too have the Indians struck repeated body blows in their duels with the Aussies all through the first decade of 21st century before knocking them down for the count more than once since the tri-series in 2008 and at the World Cup. The count down has started and the Aussies are still on the ropes.

And if you’d excuse a round of gloating, this seems like a good time to remind you dear reader that just before the World Cup, I had gone out on a shaky limb and written that all the signs suggest that India would win the World Cup, and before you claim “so did I!”, I had also said we would win it batting second. So with that, if I now have your attention, and dare I add, a whiff of grudging respect, let me stick my neck out and predict that Mahi’s boys in blue are now going to seal their claim to the crown of the world by knocking the Australians out in their backyard this December. And in that victory will lie the seeds of eternal greatness for this team, for the lessons from that tour will lay the foundation for India’s campaign in 2015.

Staggered World Cup wins are for pretenders. The real champions win a string of them and this time India is no Sugriva but a veritable Indra, destined to rule the gods of the game for a fair while to come. In the next issue I will dwell for a while on the ‘hows’, and for some doubting Clarkes and Johnsons, on the ‘whys’ too, but until then, let’s stand shoulder to shoulder and raise a teetotaler’s toast to the team and drink our fill from this cup of joy.


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