God Must Love Cricket

Take a look at Danyaal Hasan’s ‘contribution’ below and you can also check out his Blog @ http://writeofleft.wordpress.com/

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God Must Love Cricket
Danyaal Hasan

History is often misleading when interpreted without the context of how it occurred. So shall be the case with the Australia v Pakistan cricket match, in the 2009 ICC Champions Trophy group stage. For once the dust settles on its result, context will once again be key to deciphering what transpired in Centurion on that day. The scorecard will indeed show Australia winning this encounter by 2 wickets, but the hearts and minds of those following it LIVE will know that Pakistan was the true winner, no matter how nauseatingly clichéd this may sound.

For Pakistan the game was a chance to qualify for the semi finals unbeaten. A loss however would still see them through but also ensure that India was knocked out – a moral hazard tailor made for Harvard case study. The equation was much simpler for Australia; win and go through, lose and go out. For Pakistanis and Indians, it was a conundrum unlike any seen before, quite possibly in any sport.

Ever since the partition of the sub-continent, Pakistan and India have existed in a state of perpetual distrust. Respective governments have tried their best to undermine the existence of the other, despite public posturing to the contrary. It is true that governments are hardly ever humane and humans are hardly ever one step away from turning into a rabid mob. Thus perpetuating a cycle of hate over 60 odd years has been fairly easy. Physical interaction has affected some to at least reconcile with each other’s sovereign existence. However the scars of partition and a number of wars fought thereafter still remain. A nuclear arsenal later, cricket has now become the default battle ground for the two archrivals.

Thus with a rivalry born in blood, a Pakistani loss here even if deliberate would certainly not have gone without a loud cheer from its countrymen. For India, it would have acted as a reaffirmation of its suspicions. And so the irony played out; the Indians cheered for Pakistan, the majority of Pakistan for Australia, and the minority for the sense that you don’t mess around with good form and risk tempting fate. However, unbeknown to any, fate had already decided to step in.

At 140 for 2 chasing 205 with 18 overs to go, an Australian walk over seemed an after thought. Then in the space of 5 overs, a wicket fell to a good catch followed by one to a faster ball that kept low. That left the equation at 49 runs needed from 80 balls with 6 wickets in hand. No sweat for Australia? In came Rana Naved and Mohammad Asif, and what followed thereon was a bowling master class nothing short of divine intervention. Naved dried up the runs with thunderous yorkers mixed in with shrewd variations in pace. The one that got Hussey was unplayable full stop. From the other end, the ball talked of the real Mohammad Asif’s return. Subtle wrist movements right before the point of delivery missed the outside edge a few times from an immaculate length. One confused Hopes to give a dolly to Younis while the other brought back memories of 2006. Ajmal’s doosra snared an 8th turning with it suspicions and outrage of some into hope, and for others happiness into disbelief.

By the time Australia crossed the line over the last two deliveries of the match, the result had been rendered insignificant by the manner in which the match was played and the result achieved. It was clear that Pakistan was not playing this game to satisfy the impulse of absurdity, but for pride and honour of country and victory – exactly how a game should be played.

Regardless of what happens in the tournament from here on in, the Pakistani cricket team will at least leave this tournament with the respect and adulation of many, something far more important to most than any Gold trophy. If captains need to be held responsible for team debacles then so they should be recognised for triumphs. Younis Khan led the side bravely displaying leadership not seen since the retirement of Imran Khan and for that he must be congratulated.

In 2004, it was the manner in which a Pakistan-India cricket series was hosted which served as an example for the way forward. Quite possibly, this was another.

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One comment

  1. Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting, aged 36 and 34 respectively, have rejuvenated themselves enough to be back at the top of their games, in different ways. Not that the dips were long, but there have been stifled, sporadic calls for them to quit at least one form of the game, if not both. For players who have played so well for so long, motivation is not likely to be an issue, but it is also conspicuous they now derive joy from different aspects of their games.

    Tendulkar has been remarkable for not living in denial. He realised long before the rest of the world did that he needed to change his game. He respected age. He stopped making jaws drop, and instead began to appeal to the wise heads that will admire a swallowed ego and a more complete batsman. For about a couple of years we found it hard to reconcile the consciously cautious man of this decade with the terror that bowlers knew in the one before. As with all rediscoveries, this took some time, and once the new Tendulkar started scoring consistently again, we began to marvel. Genius had worked, and we didn’t even realise.

    Since the start of the year 2008, Tendulkar has averaged 47.05 (career average 44.48) and struck at 90.22 per 100 balls (career strike-rate 85.74). That he has played just 23 matches over the period shows he has picked and chosen. It’s a conscious effort to stay fit and ready till the 2011 World Cup, something that can’t be easy for a man who has played through pain for most of his career. But he wants another shot at the World Cup, missing which might cause him more mental pain than the physical pain he has endured. And when it comes to the next biggest challenge, playing Ponting’s men, it is natural he play.

    Australia, though, don’t evoke the awe they used to or the aura they used to carry. Ponting’s has been a bittersweet experience of captaining the side: two Ashes losses in themselves would have been reason enough for capital punishment for an Australian captain in an era gone by. A first-round exit in the 2009 World Twenty20 goes with it. But Ponting and the Australian board realise that perhaps their team has to spend time rediscovering itself, much like Tendulkar has done with his game. It shows in how they don’t talk big before the big series; winning has become the new talking.

    Although Ponting may not figure in the list of greatest captains from Australia, his team, like Tendulkar’s game, has maintained a certain level of efficiency. But Ponting needed to do more than chew nails, spit in his hands, look frustrated on the field and get frustrated on the field, and that need to express himself has manifested itself best in his batting. It is remarkable that captaining a side that has fallen from the lofty Australian standards of years gone by has not had any conspicuous effect on his batting. Perhaps it has contributed to him taking it a notch higher. The batting crease is the only place he can carry his brashness to. Frankly, what would the best hooker and puller in the world be without that last ounce of brashness?

    Can Ponting bring that quality to a country that hasn’t been kind to his batting, with the added burden of leading an inexperienced line-up? For once he will get to put himself in Tendulkar’s shoes. In the 46 ODIs that these men have played against each other, Ponting has been on the winning side 28 times. In those 28 games, his average has risen from a career 43.16 to 52.6, an expected variation. But in the 15 games that Tendulkar has won, he has had to raise his game to an extent where his average goes from a career 44.48 to 84.28.

    Roles have changed slightly now. Tendulkar has Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni around him; Ponting makes his way in after an unsettled opening combination, and is followed by Michael Hussey, Cameron White and James Hopes.

    Even at their ages, and despite the presence of young dashers, these two men make for the most intriguing contest of the series. What’s more, Ponting has to lead a somewhat unfancied batting line-up in this series. It’s a combination that sometimes manages to get the worst out of them, and might just provide one of the separators in the Greatest of Our Time debate

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