You could almost predict the results so far. Ireland had to upset someone. The minnows were punching above their weight but you don't beat a heavyweight by just a few good punches in one round. You gotta last the entire battle. Australia and New Zealand are dominating, which was expected as they have home advantage and, as India proved it last year, it sure as hell counts.
But the thing you love about sport is the element of surprise, the ability of the players to make you jump out of your seat and scream out of sheer joy or agony. And that is exactly what happened when India met South Africa in what was expected to be a pasting for India. I mean, sure, India did beat Pakistan but that was against a weakened side without Mohd Hafeez and Saeed Ajmal and an ageing Younis Khan. But the way the Indian cricket team played against South Africa turned the form book on its head.
Cut back to a month ago. Beaten black, blue and green by the fast and furious swing of the English and the Aussies and the curiously innocuous spin of England's Moeen Ali, India was in a ridiculous position. Not one match did we win on the entire tour. Embarrassing for a team which boasts of a Virender Sehwag 2.0, a born-again precocious talent, a run-machine, another run-machine (not Anushkha Sharma's boyfriend), one of the world's best fielders, the man who has won it all, a Sir and a quartet of prodigal fast bowlers. They were a miserable, shambolic, disoriented bunch on the field and to top it all, in 30 days time, would be on their way to defend their hard-won title. I saw India's World Cup group and dismissed claims of India qualifying from theirs.
Fast forward to the 15th of February, 2015. Shikhar Dhawan getting runs; Virat Kohli getting runs; Suresh Raina getting runs; Mohd Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja all getting wickets and surprisingly good fielding. Have we recovered? Naah. It's just Pakistan imploding (emphatically proved when they played against the West Indies). You must think perhaps I'm too harsh and extremely skeptic. Can't help it… I'm an Indian. We spend our lives trying to shine in front of our parents only to be rebuked time and again. It's passed on. Australia's Ricky Ponting said India should not be ignored, they are a dangerous side. I said boo hoo, that's a retired man rambling for attention.
21st of February, 2015. The feared Dale Steyn running in full tilt. A slow start and Rohit Sharma forgot the adage that when you play South Africa, you don't run a quick single if the ball is hit within the circle. Then the rebuilding. Dhawan and Kohli set about forming a platform for an audacious assault. You could perhaps say that Dhawan's knock against Pakistan was good but the century by Dhawan against South Africa ranked amongst the best ever made by an Indian outside the subcontinent. And superlatives do not suffice for Ajinkya Rahane's knock. The Proteas didn't know what hit them. India put up 307, a decent GRE score. Then it was the bowlers turn to surprise me, perhaps even their own selves. And the magnificent ground fielding led by Suresh Raina. Few years back, the average Indian would wince at the sight of the ball ballooning up to present a catching opportunity, wishing fervently that it doesn't fall to anyone apart from Yuvraj Singh or Mohd Kaif. However, things have changed. The fastest bowler in our squad, Umesh Yadav, took two good catches and effected a run out, signifying the growth we've undergone since the days of Ashish Nehra. MS Dhoni did no harm to his reputation as 'Captain Cool', throttling the South Africans cleverly with good field placements. It was a performance worthy of champions and an unfathomable victory margin.
In the sweet savour of victory, I asked myself, 'Are we back?' I dare say, yes.
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