In its essence, a cricket match is a battle between free will and pre-destination. This is not to suggest that the result of Wednesday’s clincher between India and Pakistan in Mohali had been decided (by the Fates, as opposed to bookies, that is) before it even started. Pre-destination had it that the match would be a clash between a star batting line-up and a powerful bowling juggernaut.
Instead, it turned out to be a sterling bowling display by the team feted for its batting prowess that didn’t quite click against a crumble of a performance — marked by nightmarish fielding — by the bowling power that showed only a glimmer in the form of a five-wicket haul by Wahab Riaz.
The pundits had also pitted MS Dhoni’s and Shahid Afridi’s teams in a ‘white swan-black swan’ duel, a fight between two sides of the same subcontinental coin, the former marked by a quiet, no-nonsense Apollonian rigour, while the latter containing Dionysian brilliance waiting to erupt out of the shell of disorder.
This model did withstand the test and if Pakistan’s mad, bad and dangerous ways had won them matches in the past, this time round their maverick talent fuelled a semi-final loss and a one-way ticket out of the World Cup.
India’s famed batting display was well below par. The national obsession with Sachin Tendulkar scoring his 100th international century almost succeeded in protecting the icon from being ever dismissed.
But with Pakistani butterfingers making the team’s intent rather suspicious at least for cynics — especially after the Pakistani interior minister had earlier wagged his firmer finger at players tempted to fix the match — it was left to captain Afridi to step in and latch on to the ball that came flying low from Tendulkar’s bat.
The fact that India’s most potent weapon was allowed ‘five lives’ before being dismissed tells the full story — with the additional twist of the batsman being declared the man of the match. The semi-final match at Mohali came with great expectations and proved that a scrappy game can be exciting too. But the bottomline is: India delivered when they needed to and proved to be made of the stern stuff that many of their supporters perilously take for granted.
Which brings us to the final match in the 2011 World Cup between India and Sri Lanka tomorrow. Minus the cloud of backstories and trans-cricketing mythology of India-Pakistan©, what will be on display in Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium under warm lights will be pure cricket.
Unlike Pakistan (and India) Sri Lanka is a ‘complete’ side, with freeflowing batsmen such Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga as as well as lethal bowlers like Lasith Malinga prowling like professional hitmen.
Whether India can turn on their batting machine and tug on the generator chord to get its bowlers to get wickets — as opposed to ‘restrain runs’ — will decide whether the free will of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his players will match what has already been determined by the Fates.
The latter are getting restless now to officially announce a new champion on Saturday.