This was the big match. The epic. The local derby. The one match that would pause the lives of over a billion people in an entire sub-continent. Companies shut shop early, and the governments interrupted their debating to join the neighbours in a show of patriotic fervor.
The rich and famous descended on Chandigarh, because after all, all you need to get good stadium seats in India is to be famous and have good contacts, while the other “ordinary” fans beg and fight for the little few thrown at them. But they, the ordinary still go to the matches, and cheer. Because this is what real fans and lovers of the sport do.
But I digress here, partly because I got really tired of the cameramen focusing on the celebrity faces during the telecast. But getting back to the match, well, contrary to what many pessimists would have predicted, it did not rain. And the pitch was well and ready for the big match.
This might not have been the Finals of the World Cup, but it hardly seemed otherwise. India chose to leave out Ashwin, a move that had potential to backfire while Pakistan took the decision of leaving out Shoaib Akhtar, a rather unemotional send-off to the man who at one time seemed destined for greatness.
Virendra Sehwag did what he always does, look comfortable and relaxed at the crease in a high pressure match. It looked ominous when he took 21 runs off an over of Pakistan’s best pace bowler, Umar Gul. But once he was out, there was nothing else that gave any measure of confidence.
Tendulkar spluttered his way through an average innings built on luck, while the rest quietly disintegrated to leave Pakistan a below-par score of 260. Riaz, with his 5 wickets, led the Pakistani attack with healthy support from the spinners, and a complete lack of support from an inept fielding squad.
In response, Pakistan began confidently, and at 70-1 seemed well settled for a victory. But the Indian bowling for the first time this series managed to slowly suffocate the batsman. Every bowler bowled well, almost vindicating Dhoni’s decision to play Nehra, and soon enough the Pakistani reply fell apart. They failed to create any substantial partnerships, and soon found the run rate going high. Misbah played how he always does, slow and steady, except that Pakistan needed a sense of urgency out there. Umar Akmal had done just that, and his wicket was the turning point of the match.
Pakistan had, until this point of the tournament played good cricket, but wilted under the pressure today. It has been an entertaining side, with the Pakistanis putting behind all the controversies, and giving the cricket fans some great cricket to watch. Afridi ends the World Cup as the best bowler, while Umar Akmal showed flashes of his potential.
We got to laugh and mock the ineptitude of Kamran Akmal’s keeping, while Wahab Riaz and Umar Gul proved themselves to be good enough bowlers to replace the ones who have been banned or exiled. And of course in the midst of this all, Shoaib Akhtar retired, an end to one of the most colourful characters on the Pakistani team.
So, India managed to knock out Pakistan and book themselves up for a World Cup final. Forty-eight games of cricket, and on Saturday we get to crown a new world champion, the winner of India vs. Sri Lanka. Some great individual battles ahead include Sehwag vs. Malinga, Tendulkar vs. Muralidharan, Zaheer Khan vs. Dilshan, etc. It is certainly going to be an exciting match, with Sri Lanka going in as marginal favorites. But with the home support at Mumbai and the momentum of today’s win, India might just be an equal.