Everyone had marked their calendars for this marquee event. I went to a gift shop the previous night and even they were selling the neon green shirts. It seemed this was our “Star Spangled Banner” for February the 15th. Most importantly, the battle royal and the much awaited match between Pakistan and India took place on a Sunday.
I had fond memories of the encounter. Going back to my school days, it was fun trying to irritate my Indian colleagues and teachers about the record we have had against them. However, the coveted World Cup win, still eluded us somehow. It was 72-50 in the head to head victories over each other comparison but it read an embarrassing 0-5 in favor of the blues in world cricket events. We have been known to be very unpredictable but against India we are more or less very predictable. That is, we bat with way more pressure than we need to.
Two previous instances spring to my mind when I recall an Indo-Pak encounter in a World Cup. One was in 2003, held in South Africa, where Pakistan posted an almost par score of 273, with Saeed Anwar scoring a century. All was well until I came back from school to watch Shoaib Akhtar get hoiked (now known as the “ooper cut”) over third man in more innovative fashion than the previous one by the legendary pair of Tendulkar and Sehwag. My young heart shattered as we didn’t even make it to the super sixes.
The other one was more close to my heart and took place not that long ago. It was the grand semi-final, or shall I say the “final before the final.” Not only does the winner retain the bragging rights, but get a chance to play for the cup in that last hurdle as well, both being very prestigious to either nation. I was in school for the first innings, but I fondly remember the aura there. It was like everyone wanted to keep a check on every ball. My friends and I cracked a live streaming link and got the match to run on our PCs in our multimedia class. I remember all of us stealing glances at the screen while listening to the lecture and simultaneously appealing as the ball wrapped Virendar Sehwag’s pads. Needless to say, all of us including the umpire gave it out at that instant. The sudden break of decorum and silence meant that was the end for our streaming for the day. We came home and I remember watching the rest of the game with my Indian friends in the same room, exchanging the friendly banter that is so often associated in such clashes. Pakistan played really well that day in Mohali but unfortunately their fight led them agonizingly close but not over the line. A younger and more passionate heart was shattered once more. The dream of watching us beat India at a world event seemed shelved for the middle age.
So it came, to February the 15th, at the jam packed Adelaide Cricket Ground. Every Pakistani saw and felt enraged by the Star Sports advertisement that played on our insecurities and mocked us for not having a “mauqa” of celebrating a victory over the Indians. Most of us woke up early on that Sunday morning. The shakiness of the Pakistanis seemed to have transferred to my room as well, since I also felt the uneasiness at the start of such a pressured encounter. The flowy Rohit Sharma was the first to go, much to the silence of the largely Indian contingent at the ground.
I had a match of my own for my university at 2 that very day. It seemed absurd and pointless to have a match on the same day as such a big encounter but keeping up with the schedule, we had to show up and play. A mesmerizing, tip-toed and uncharacteristic innings by Virat Kohli ensure India got to 300. For Pakistan, Sohail Khan picked up 5 scalps in his comeback match and his display of immense skill at the death helped the bowlers save face somewhat.
Before Ahmed Shahzad and the newly promoted Younus Khan took to the crease to chase the mammoth total, I geared up for my match in the traditional white trousers and maroon top. As expected our batting was shakier than our bowling, and the Mohammed Shami bouncer found our most experienced batsman out of place playing (more like swaying) an unsuccessful pull shot. The elegant left hander Haris Sohail joined Shehzad to post any signs of revival in the chase. Revive he did, but fell to a good ball from Ashwin. As Haris was walking back, my team had taken the field and wanted to be done with the match as soon as possible so we can watch the remaining live visuals of the historic match.
As we kept taking wickets, news kept coming to the field that Pakistan was doing just as well as my opponents that day. A ripping leg spinning delivery rose sharply from the pitch as the batsman tried to pull it. It missed everything, including my gloves (I am the wicketkeeper.) However I was unfortunate to have only my teeth as my line of defense at that moment and the seam bumped into them an made a crackling noise. It jerked me back and made me take off my mitts to observe the damage. My finger had some blood as I tried to examine the damage. I tried to spit the remaining blood, but coughed up pieces of my teeth to my surprise. I quickly left the field for some medical attention and to watch the remainder of Pakistan’s fight.
Afridi and Misbah hung around a bit longer than most and some clean hits by both hinted at a comeback, only to be stopped by a catch by Pakistan’s reining nemesis Mr. Kohli. Umar Akmal couldn’t redeem himself for dropping Kohli and was given controversially caught behind via the Decision Review System. Wickets fell faster than a house of cards both on the television and in the match.
As I watched both the games from the sidelines, one thing became certain. At the end of it all, not only was I toothless, but so was our chasing effort.