Yet I would say that this was Afghanistan’s World Cup. Hats off to them for defeating three former winners-England, Pak and Sri Lanka and almost humbling the best team Australia. The Afghans are no minnows of world cricket now; they are here to stay and shall be a team to watch in the next CWC. This was the achievement of a country torn with political, natural, and military over the last thirty or more years; a country which by a rough estimate has lost one third of its population and has a tremulous number of people maimed by war; where democracy and social justice are distant dreams.
I don’t know if there is a rule that governs the time History takes to repeat itself. But supposing there was one it is under serious threat, as the 5 match T20 series between India and Australia is halfway. Just like in the Cricket World Cup (CWC) India seems to be fumbling, especially in bowling while the Aussies have come back strongly after two embarrassing losses to India.
And if it does repeat, we can safely surmise that in Indian cricket it repeats almost at once. Remember the great win at Lord’s in 1983: the champagne, the crowds, the dancing public, and the media accolades? Within months of that West Indies came to India and trounced the world cup winners 5-0 in the same format. V V Karmarkar, a Marathi sports journalist had taunted:’ World Winners are different from World Cup Winners.’
Fast forward to 2003. The CWC in South Africa. India lost just two games. Both to Australia within weeks. Take a couple of steps ahead. The first T20 World Cup in Australia. India defeated Pak in a scintillating final. A few weeks later Australia came to India and in the 1st T20 encounter India could not bat all 20 overs. Also recall the failures to reach the top in the Champions’ Trophy.
Look at the other side now. Australia went down to West Indies in the CWC final in ’75. They could not make it to that stage till ’87 when they won. They were nowhere near the top in the next event in their own country. Came back and lost to Sri Lanka in ’95. Yet they have won 5 times in the next 7 tournaments. This is history repeating not too quickly. Or to borrow from Mao: struggle, fail, struggle again!
What ails Thee/Thou Indian Cricketer?
What cures Thee/Thou Aussie Cricketer?
No team could have hoped for a better run to the CWC final 2023 than India: 10 wins non-stop. Both highest run getter and highest wicket taker were Indians. They were not alone at the top but had team members getting close all the time. Fielding might not have been extra ordinary but was up to the mark. Initially thin but later on bubbling enthusiastic home crowds. Playing conditions are not unfamiliar. Weather too held through most of the 45 playing days. Cricket pundits, politicians, the veteran, and the young cricket lovers all (rather unsportively) cheering only Indian players and chanting “India India” from the stands. Perfect ingredients for a grand victory at the Last Stand.
Even during the final India had started well: 80 for 2 initially. Yet the team scored only around 250. Same thing when Australia batted: we had them reeling at 54 for 3. They dropped anchor and lost just a single wicket in the next almost 40 overs and 200 runs. In both innings we started at the top but could not consolidate and stay there. Australia was literally in a shambles at the beginning but summoned up their cricketing temperament and experience, clenched the teeth and romped close to the top. They stayed there: recall how they wrapped up the India innings and scored the final runs when they batted: shedding all fears. WE brought our game down when momentum mattered most: they raised it!
Chidanand Rajghatta, a competent journalist of our times, had once said, ‘Indians are masters in the art of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.’ Our team seemed to be in too much of a hurry to prove him right. We had all the awards of the grand event except the Trophy. While we lolled in the glory of the first 10 matches, Australia steeped themselves with the typical brash resilience they are known for and turned the tables on a team and the whole nation that stood behind them.
Now there is a scramble to offer consolation; from the top to the bottom. NaMo went to the dressing room and threw about his wide grin. He slapped some on the back, cuddled the others. Right to no avail as perhaps the team had their doubts about NaMo’s cricketing knowledge. (I for one would credit NaMo with expertise in kabaddi (mainly for tangadi-pulling), Indian kushti (taang kheech and dhobi pachhad) and perhaps rugby (where everything is fair except murder)!
Since there is no Bedi around nobody will call the spade a spade as the consolation idiom shows. Individual achievements I referred to earlier are being highlighted: Kohli and Shami. Perhaps India has scored the most runs in the event and Indian batters have scored most centuries. Statistics are always misleading if their purpose and methodology is not known. For example, Jack Kallis is the greatest cricketer ever if you go strictly by numbers! I am sure most of the present cricket lovers have not even heard the name Kallis. Matches and tournaments are not political elections where being a number two gives hope for the future.
In sports no matter who you lost to; a loss is a loss. And it rubs in all the more when you have lost without a vigorous fight. So, the too familiar smug satisfaction of having lost to the best team as some experts are offering as a pain killer is not just superfluous but proof of their hypocrisy! The same pundits were expressing serious doubts a few weeks before whether Australia would make it to the top four. They were also pumping India with (now misplaced) confidence since India had beaten both Pak and Aussies in short but tough run chases. Our experts are like the unit local trains in metros: with engines at both ends. You never know when a VT bound train will suddenly start running to Thane! They can go back upon their own positions without being seen taking an about turn!
All of us must ponder this national embarrassment of stumbling at the last hurdle; of throwing in the towel at the most crucial moment. By all I mean all: not just sportsmen but ideologues, thinkers, sociologists, psychologists, creative writers and artists and culture theorists. Because this last hurdle debacle is becoming a national syndrome. We generally have the opportunity and the means but fall short on attitude regularly. Any feasible ideas to set this right?
When we lost the CWC final in 2003 a national daily had described that event as India’s Cup because we had lost only twice and only to Australia: again, the best team of that event. This time the situation is almost identical, even better because we lost just once to the best team.
Yet I would say that this was Afghanistan’s World Cup. Hats off to them for defeating three former winners-England, Pak and Sri Lanka and almost humbling the best team Australia. The Afghans are no minnows of world cricket now; they are here to stay and shall be a team to watch in the next CWC. This was the achievement of a country torn with political, natural, and military over the last thirty or more years; a country which by a rough estimate has lost one third of its population and has a tremulous number of people maimed by war; where democracy and social justice are distant dreams. But the Afghans had the right attitude: they wanted to take home something positive to soothe their writhing countrymen. I salute them!
P S : I penned this piece before the 4th T20 game which India has won in spite of some tense moments. For the time being I am happy to have been proved wrong. Happens very rarely!
- Vinay Hardikar
(The writer has been working in the public sphere of Maharashtra for the last five decades. His versatile personality has several dimensions, but the primary ones remain to be that of an established writer, journalist, editor, critic, activist, and teacher.)