If there had to be a classy advertisement for a T20 event, then nothing could have matched what happened in front of a roaring 90,000-plus crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on Sunday, with the result coming in a nail-biting finish off the very last ball of the match! Add the spice factor to the contest, that of an India vs Pakistan encounter and the picture of exuberance and agony is complete. Old timers may not immediately give a nod of approval to this kind of slam-bang version of what used to be leisurely played and tradition-steeped sport that cricket has always been looked upon as. But even they would have been moved by the kind of excitement that this modern avatar of the sport has been producing at various competitions the world over and not as it has happened now in the World Cup event underway in Australia. It was breathtaking stuff that surely was not recommended for the faint-hearted but riveting spectacle all right for those initiated and uninitiated to cricket.
Indeed, how the T20 mode of cricket has caught the imagination of sports fans! From the time when white flannels, often loosely worn, formed the in thing for the players with little to distinguish between the two contestants in looks, it is a different scenario now. Tattoos adorning muscular arms with tightly fitting attire to give an added style, batters resemble a tough bunch using bats as bludgeons to smash the ball all around the ground. Poor bowlers are that way at the receiving end but they too develop a style of bowling that could induce an injudicious response from the batters. Add to that the acrobatics from the fieldsmen, throwing themselves at everything unmindful at times of injuries to their arms or legs. All that mattered was achieving supremacy which the contestants strive at times with superhuman efforts, as it were.
What happened in this latest Indo-Pak encounter was all about that with former skipper Virat Kohli in the centre of it all with what surely was one of his best batting efforts in a long time. India-Pakistan encounters are always surfeited with intense rivalry and action, thanks to the way both countries look at each other. The relations being what it is, sports contests have been rare and even cricket meets too, just reserved in international multi-team competitions. The interest thus is always sky-high on both sides and among supporters of both teams the world over and within the respective country. In recent times Pakistan had had an upper hand over India and perhaps that added to the sharpness of the meeting this time. Apart from that were statements from former players to queer the pitch. All in all, it was a contest that was most sought after and so it was at Melbourne where it seemed the Indian and Pakistani residents were in good strength to lend a kind of ambience that would make any organiser proud!
If this was the state of the crowd rooting for their heroes then the pressure on the players could well be imagined. This was reflected in the way the Pakistani skipper and one of that team’s mainstays Babar Azam was trapped leg before off the very ball he faced from fast bowler Arshdeep Singh. That set the tone as Pakistan reeled initially before steadying itself. The initial advantage that Indian bowlers had, disappeared soon after and pressure turned on India. Indian batting displayed that to start with before Kohli and Hardik Pandya did some remedial acts with big hits. With 16 runs required off the last over and only the assured batter, Kohli still there, the match had reached the nail-biting stage. A spinner was in operation but it still required a kind of resolute batting plus clear thinking from Kohli to raise that expectation of a win. And how he did it, virtually making a feast of the big challenge! True Ashwin brought up the winning run, but Kohli it was all the way.
For a long, Delhi batter has been under the scanner for not being able to open up with the bat as he used to. At one time touted as the best batsman in the sport, Kohli’s skills came under severe test. Critics hounded him, but he kept his hopes flying high of regaining that Midas touch. In recent times Kohli had given glimpses of a come-back, but it was in this crucial match that he had reserved his best. As he admitted after the winning effort, this had to be his best knock in this version of the sport and who would dispute that? As they say, when things get tough the tough get going. Kohli demonstrated just that with an array of strokes, pulls, and of course, his patented cheeky running between wickets. The unbeaten 82 he made was worth much more than that, it helped India to register a cheeky win and, what is more, give the team a Diwali gift in advance.
These are early days in the World Cup, and there is a lot more work to be done, but the win over Pakistan would have taken the monkey off the Indians’ back. The confidence and self-belief in the team would have risen, and hopefully, better times are ahead as India aims for the ultimate success in this edition. Not since 2007 has this come their way!