The Semifinal

Written by  //  March 31, 2011  //  Sport  //  6 Comments

In this fine piece on perceptions of the great Ayrton Senna, Emma John says that it is often difficult for us, especially in today’s age where “perspective is a disappearing commodity…to see sporting events outside the prism of our own fan narrative, to realise that the stories around which we base our identities have been moulded and cannibalised by our personal experience of winning or losing.”

Now that the dust has begun to settle, though, on India’s victory against Pakistan yesterday, it may be time to release the fervour which was draped around us and look at the game from outside the prism of our fan narrative, as challenging a task as this may prove to be. The game admittedly took a shape that went beyond the realms of sport – what with the prime ministers of the two nations choosing this as the occasion to break their countries’ diplomatic deadlock. As it turned out, it was as much an occasion for fans of extravaganza of any kind as it was for fans of the sport – the cheers that Aamir Khan got even as some of the cricketers were going about their motions in the build up to the game was mildly sickening. But its every man for himself I suppose – who am I to pass judgments on the degrees and boundaries of fandom? What I can say, though, is that for all the hullabaloo and in spite of the appreciable importance of India’s triumph, I may probably remember close to diddly-squat about this match in the years to come.

As I reflected on the game today, I couldn’t help but note that there was nothing particularly special about the victory. The quality of the cricket wasn’t at any admirable standard and, perhaps, a few years from now this game, devoid as it was of outstanding moments, will be eradicated from memory. The 1996 quarter-final and for that matter the meeting in 2003 between these teams, though, will conceivably be etched forever in my mind. Ajay Jadeja’s slog-over heroics and that celebrated delivery from Venkatesh Prasad to dislodge Aamir Sohail’s off-stump a ball after he was unleashed with a mouthful of vitriol from the batsman are indelible moments. Likewise, Sachin Tendulkar’s brutal assault at Centurion in 2003 against a bowling attack composed of Shoaib Akhtar, Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram, in a game played on the backdrop of boiling political differences between the nations will remain amongst the finest World Cup moments. Those three Tendulkar strokes in Akhtar’s opening over for 14 thrilling runs represents a moment of peerless genius.

Yesterday, though, from an Indian perspective there was little of outstanding note. Had Pakistan won, maybe the game would have been remembered for the inspired and quite astonishing spell of swing bowling from Wahab Riaz. As it turned out Riaz’s performance, easily the game’s best individual act was not even good enough to bring him the man-of-the-match award. Instead, Tendulkar, dropped on four occasions en route to a scratchy 85 – possibly one of his worst ODI half centuries – bagged the honours. Thank heavens, though, that this was not the day for his hundredth hundred. India’s batting barring Virender Sehwag’s explosive start and Suresh Raina’s fine hand at the end was largely insipid and stripped out of its character by the superb Riaz.

In response, Pakistan began brightly, but as is so often the case with it, it somehow contrived to gift wicket after wicket to the Indians. Mohammad Hafeez, Asad Shafiq, and Younis Khan all fell to innocuous deliveries. Misbah ul Haq dawdled around for eternity, leaving it far too late for the final assault. No doubt, Munaf Patel and Ashish Nehra – whose inclusion in the Eleven ahead of R. Ashwin seemed inexplicable – bowled disciplined spells and M.S. Dhoni captained with typical calmness if not panache, but the game lacked a performance of singular brilliance – an unforgettable act of distinction.

It remains, however, a victory for India over Pakistan, that too in a World Cup semi-final – up until now the highest round in which the teams have ever met in the competition. The histrionic pre-game build-up was more incredible than any in recent memory. The victory celebrations lived up to the game’s billing – firecrackers were set alight across the country. Maybe it’s the occasion which we will remember in the years to come and not so much the cricket. But by any account, it will count for nigh-on nothing if India is to come a cropper at Mumbai on Saturday.

6 Comments on "The Semifinal"

  1. Arghya March 31, 2011 at 9:18 pm ·

    Suhrith… spot on with the analysis. An exciting albeit forgettable game but an unforgettable occasion. If this was yet another game of a 7-match ODI series in some God-forsaken place, no one would have remembered it a week later.

    I thought though that the brightest spark that shone through was India’s desire best epitomised by our fielding. There were no stand-out performers but everyone quietly played their role which is a change from India’s usual reliance on one or two star performers.

  2. Suhrith April 1, 2011 at 3:49 am ·

    Thanks Arghya. Agree with you on the fielding. Meant to include it in the piece, but it somehow slipped by.

  3. Tippu April 1, 2011 at 4:07 am ·

    Bang on! This is what even i had thought of the game.. As an ardent supporter of sachin, i didn’t find the usual clarity in his batting.. He didn’t deserve the MoM.. And wahab does in fact.. Few tactical error from Pakistanis, otherwise, they’d have won the game in 45th over.. It’s definitely not worth remembering abt this game.. More than saying India won it, i’d prefer to say tht Pakistan lost the game..

  4. Anand Hariharan April 1, 2011 at 4:32 pm ·

    In addition to Wahab Riaz’s spell, I would like to reiterate the effectiveness with which Munaf Patel and Ashish Nehra bowled. Especially after all the criticism that they received during the SA game. This could not have come at a bigger stage. Also, the candidness of MSD during the presentation ceremony about Ashwin’s non selection is worth noting.

  5. Hiten Samtani August 19, 2011 at 9:34 pm ·

    With regards to Sachin at Centurion, this Bhattacharya blurb really did it for me 🙂

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