Excitement continues in the World Cup 2019 in England despite rains from time to time making efforts to play the dousing role. There has either been a total washout as for instance the India-New Zealand fixture or the DLS method coming in to resolve a curtailed contest. Not a happy scenario that.
The India-New Zealand match needs to be particularly mentioned because as of now only these two teams have remained unconquered in this competition and what an irony that their much looked forward to meeting should have ended at the mercy of the rain God! Still overall, it must be said India has had the experience of facing two surprises thus far, one pleasant and the other unpleasant and met them both with a touch of professionalism which augurs well for the tougher days ahead.
Nothing must have been more pleasant for the Indians than getting to beat the Pakistan side with a degree of comfort when past experience and not to speak of the whole lot of pressures of various kind that gets thrown in, contests do not generally end in, shall we say, a remarkably tame way as it happened at Old Trafford.
Just imagine even the Prime Minster of the country, which the former Cricketing great Imran Khan is, is encouraged to tell the Pakistan captain that the side should bat first against India should the toss go in its favour! His tweet of course did not impress the Safaraz Ahmed, who put the Indians in to bat but the point to note is the involvement of the highest official of that country.
It is well known that any India-Pakistan match does not happen merely on the ground but off it through the huge play of emotions and it was not different this time. Old Trafford was a sea of emotion that way as television showed.
Why, a Pakistani commentator on TV even suggested that in Pakistan, fans would count a Pakistan win over India bigger than an actual success in the World Cup! So much for the cricketing ethos of the two countries! And as it happened, even after days of the Pakistan's loss, fans of that country are still to reconcile to this emotional injury.
Well, if that was a satisfying moment for India in its quest for the highest prize, the match against Afghanistan threw up the unexpected. The unpleasant surprise of the minnows throwing a scare did look unsettling. But that is why they say cricket is such an unpredictable game. Who indeed in 1983 would have dreamt of an Indian victory over the mighty West Indies.
With the Carribeans featuring a who-is-who in contemporary cricket then, it seemed beyond imagination that the team would succumb in the final when the target was a modest 183. But it happened and it nearly happened this time too at Southampton, though in the preliminary stage of the competition when India looked in danger of going down to Afghanistan. It required three gems from the pacer Mohd Shami to swing the match in India's favour with just 11 runs remaining on the board. Shami's hat trick, the second by an Indian after Chetan Sharma had achieved this way back in 1987, was a master piece from a bowler who had come in only because Bhuvaneshwar kumar was injured. Shami not only became an instant hero but entered the World Cup record book too.
In a way the two matches have put India's cricketing abilities on the proper perspective. Against Pakistan, the team-members showed the distinct attitude to put their heads down and go about their tasks showing little to no signs of pressure. Not all succeed always in a side but when the few do that make the difference, that was India's positive.
So far skipper Virat Kohli has been a picture of confidence and that has been the inspiring force in the side. Against Afghanistan too, Kohli's was the major contribution that helped the Indian total to add substance and that on hindsight, proved crucial. Thereafter the ability to keep their feet down and not panic was the difference that ensured the team ticked against the minnows.
Reports suggested that it was M.S. Dhoni who had inspired Shami to go the yorkers in that final moments when a few big hits could have taken the fight away from India. Nabi had so courageously set the tone and it looked anybody's game before Shami played the spoil sport, so to say and team India's think-tank earned the praise.
Just as well that India had gone through two stiff tests of character, if one calls them that, for the challenge ahead against the West Indies, hot favourite England and even Bangladesh can be tricky as well. All these teams have seen ups and downs, but importantly have come up with some scintillating shows with the bat and the ball.
In short every team by now is primed to give of its best. Then again the competition is reaching that stage where the race is going to be tighter and closer for a berth amongst the top four. May the rains keep away and let the battle continue uninterrupted with all the fury of the bat and ball for cricket's best can never be anything less.