Why

Why

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

INDIA-PAKISTAN, WORLD CUP CRICKET AND BEYOND


It has been twenty-three years and the saga of the victory delight continues. India-Pakistan at the World Cup is not just a match, a lot more than a ODI. Ask anyone on the streets, or Indians living in different parts of the world, even a non-cricket fan will give his or her opinion on this encounter. Reactions, plenty of them has ensured the hype continues till the time India meets its neighbour next time in a World Cup. The hype, the tension and a series of creative ads, all these provide excess baggage to what is supposed to be a scheduled cricket match in a World Cup. So far, it isn't been that way and I am not sure it will be normal keeping in mind the political relations we have. On any given day, this dual on the cricket field makes headlines and nothing short of victory would suffice for the supporters. Yes, it is a sport, there will be ups and downs, etc, etc - but they all cease to exist on one's mind come match day.

Waking up at four in the morning after having slept for just three hours was my way of getting ready to join the action that took place in Adelaide last Sunday. I was never up this early to watch a India-Pakistan match! I boarded the first train of the Sunday morning to reach a place where the match was being screened live - and I was not alone in this journey. This was the sixth time India was playing Pakistan and  each of those six encounters weren't the same, expect that India managed to win in all of it. Every time India faced Pakistan in a World Cup, my definition and understanding of the game of cricket had strengthened and these six encounters also serves well for my metamorphosis as a cricket fan and life in general.

A SCHOOL BOY'S RUSH HOURS
My first introduction to cricket World Cup coincided with the first ever meeting of the arch-rivals India and Pakistan. A group encounter in Sydney, the 1992 match was a day-night affair, and as a seven-year old, I watched India win by bowling Pakistan out. The match being on a weekday, I only witnessed the second innings and flashes of this first victory still remains fresh in my memory. Probably, the win was the sole consolation for India's campaign as they managed only two wins from their eight matches. Pakistan would go on to win the World Cup. I took up cricket coaching lessons post the World Cup and cricket was permanently engrained since that time.

UNDERSTANDING WHAT INDIA-PAKISTAN WAS ALL ABOUT
By the time the next World Cup began, India repeatedly found it tough to get past Pakistan - remember the Friday evenings of Sharjah? However, World Cup was a different ball game and the two teams lined up to face each other in the quarterfinals stage in Bangalore, my home town. It was a Saturday afternoon, and I was not fortunate to be on the ground unlike few of my cousins and friends. Television was my solace and along with few other friends and family members (who also faced my fate), we watched every ball, absorbed all the drama that took place and cherished India's victory and with it, the passage to the semi-finals. If the defeat at the hands of Srilanka was embarrassing, the quarter-finals lose would have been unthinkable. The lose against Srilanka was puzzling to me as I repeatedly pestered my father as to what was happening! I was in tears and didn't have an idea as to why wickets fell every five minutes.

THE TEENS AND THE PLAYING DAYS
I was in class ten, and the timings of England matches suited my schedule. My classes post my summer holidays began just when the Super six round had started. After a royal defeat at the hands of Australia, the match against Pakistan in Manchester was a knock-out match for India. And outside the grounds, tensions of different sorts loomed as the two countries were engaged in a war in Kargil. While soldiers did their best, the attention and pressure were on these two teams like never before. A defeat for Pakistan was inconsequential - but the result was not just restricted to cricket. It was winning a war and trust me, I cannot imagine what might have been the reaction of fanatics if the result was anything but a victory. India didn't make it to the final four while Pakistan were humbled by the Australian team in the finals. This exit was overlooked as for most of the Indians, their world cup was to defeat Pakistan and nothing else. But, like many of the cricket fans, I was disappointed when India exited after the Super Six stage.

THE COLLEGE YEARS - FROM PLAYING TO MERE SUPPORTING
Four years later, World Cup moved to the African continent for the first time and by this time I was in my first year of engineering. A group of us gathered at a friend's place and lived through every over of the game. While Anwar ambled his way and scored the first century for an India-Pakistan encounter, Sachin Tendulkar breezed his way, demolishing the trio of pace men, the Pakistan's backbone with disdain. This was attacking batsmanship at its best, and people like me who witnessed it live can only explain what each stroke coming out of Tendulkar's bat felt like. That was an innings which had to be experienced as it happened, the feelings of watching it now does not provide the same essence as it did on the evening of March 1st, 2003. India won the match and thereby made Pakistan difficult to qualify for the next round. We took our bikes out and went on the streets to join the victory parade! What a thrill, what an experience!

THE PROFESSIONAL
The year 2007 was an anti-climax as both India and Pakistan, who on paper were assured of meeting in Super eights were out of the tournaments at the group stage. I must admit, I was holidaying in Goa when both the teams played their respective matches against Bangladesh (India) and Ireland (Pakistan). I was earning by this time and had plans to also visit the Caribbean islands, if India progressed further. If, only!

WORLD CUP WEDDING
I chose to work in the sports industry as a result of cricket. If cricket had not fascinated me when I was about six, probably I would not have pursued further in sports. As it turns out, I was in India and in the middle of my wedding preparations when the World Cup 2011 returned to the sub-continent after 15 years.

I was in Indore on the day of the semi-finals of the 2011 ICC World Cup. By this time, I was married and had experienced my first World Cup match live on the ground. My flight back to Kochi was planned so that we could catch the start of the game. Instead, there were issues with the flight and I landed in Delhi, Hyderabad and finally in Kochi a good seven hours later. By that time, I had missed Tendulkar's awkward 85, Sehwag's five boundaries in an over and Wahab Riaz silencing the local crowd by getting Yuvraj Singh out for a golden duck. At work, we had our TV screen on and work took a back step as the entire working staff of the Kochi cricket stadium were in front of a TV. We decided to get back to our hotel and alone in my hotel room I saw the Pakistani resistance fading away. India won the match, Sachin took his third MoM for India-Pakistan encounters, and India went on to win the World Cup few days later. As a fan and a follower of Indian cricket, my dream of watching India win the World Cup came true.

MOVING ON

Now I have just entered my 30's and I just had a long day last Sunday - a day which saw Kohli scoring a hundred, a first for an Indian (for India-Pakistan WC encounters). This match was a first without Sachin Tendulkar and that is indicator of how long these encounters have been placed. Like always, this encounter too started out as a match which both teams could win. I am not sure whether the weight of those five defeats fell heavy on Pakistani players; in my opinion after watching all the six encounters live, repeat and highlights many times over, the only conclusion is - that India always managed to be the better side come the D-day. There is no other explanation and for statistics, they do not matter when the players from both sides start fresh on a different day, at a new venue in a future tournament. This 6-0 in favour of India, I must admit has been a joy simply because of the moments that connects various stages of my life, a timeline or a milestone where I can reflect upon how cricket and my life overall has been a series of  love-hate moments; how it has given me pleasure and pain; made me accept the outcomes better; face the challenges and look forward to all those exciting things that are yet to happen.