When Lara and Ntini exchanged shirts after the semifinal, it was a reminder that a cricket match remains a sporting contest, a gripping battle between one batsman, one bowler and ten fielders.
At Mohali and Jaipur, it was easy to forget or overlook this basic reality because cricket matches are aggressively presented as entertainment events, a celebration that resembles a colourful and noisy shaadi.
Both centres are decked up with banners and flags, loud peppy music blares over the PA system between overs, plenty of food and booze is available during the game and there are spectacular fireworks once cricket is over.
Inevitably, this dhoom flows form the enormous commercial clout of cricket. The price of top end tickets for an India game is more than the Delhi — London airfare but demand for these remains strong, people still queue up to buy. The rush dips when India is not playing but Jaipur managed to pull in decent numbers by allowing free admission for students and offering buy-one-get-one ticket schemes.
Who knows, if India keeps crashing out of tournaments at home, cricket marketing strategies will be the same as used for pushing sales of toothpastes soaps and shampoos.
Hopefully that day is far, and cricket today is about power, position and prestige. Which is why it is ok for corporate czars (Sabeer Bhatia of Hotmail, Pawan Munjal of Hero Honda) and other head honchos to arrive at matches in private jets, touch base with people that count and fly out.
Of course, in this big cricket mela, past and current greats also participate. Tiger Pataudi travelled to Mohali (with wife), Dilip Vengsarkar, chairman selection committee, was there, as was his predecessor Kiran More.
At Jaipur, the field was more interesting with the presence of Farokh Engineer, Hanumant Singh (who moaned about his golf swing) and Salim Durrani, one of Indian cricket's original stars who has suffered a few knocks but still has the shirt collar up and retains the intimidating aura of a celebrity.
Salim bhai thought plush cricket facilities added to Jaipur's shaan, a view endorsed by Azhar who floated in to make a half hour appearance. The former captain, looking relaxed and fit, attributed his great physical shape to regular workouts in the gym. "This is a passion with me," he said and observed that India's fielding standards are still lower than those of other countries.
In a more general way, this is what Malcolm Speed is also saying. Interesting that Azhar and Speed's views — on anything — should match!