Old Trafford was ominously clouded on June 16 but continued to be a red letter day for most of India and Pakistan, vociferously represented at Manchester not only by their residents in Britain but expatriates across the world and visitors from the subcontinent. Somewhat predictably, it ended up as a noteworthy and pleasant experience for only one side.
Inclement weather has played spoilsport throughout the cricket world cup in England this year, and the accompanying cold made South Asians additionally uncomfortable. The cricket ball was supposed to swing and seam in conditions that would have made the home side favourites for the title. But it was generally doing neither on particularly flat wickets. Regardless of the fine print, South Asians continued thronging the grounds and their environs, as when Bangladesh went down fighting to Australia a couple of days later at Nottingham. Win or lose, Bangladeshi supporters will make their presence felt, along with Indians, celebrating their team’s showing with considerably more elan.
The match itself faded away anti-climatically after promising the flair of a pot-boiler. Pakistan won a supposedly match-defining toss to put India on the rack, and India’s World Championship of cricket destroyer, Mohammad Amir, limbered up in the hope of a repeat performance. Instead, a classy century by one opener, a supporting half-ton by his partner, a workmanlike knock by the skipper and contrasting cameos by all-rounders put India in charge. The Pakistanis began with panache, bucked fleetingly by India’s pace and swing merchant limping off with a hamstring pull. His loss was neutralized immediately thereafter by the first-ball success of a debutant. India’s much-discussed left-arm wrist spinner then took over with guile and venom to engineer a middle-order collapse from which Pakistan never recovered. Another rain break was followed by the induction of the infamous Duckworth-Lewis method for the run chase when the target had already gone past Pakistan.
The thought that persisted was whether modern cricket with its trademarks of Target Rating Point-generated TV coverage, sponsorships and men-in-grey-suits principals in plush board-rooms, albeit counterpoised by the gully boys in a thousand by-lanes, was losing its pristine romance. It partially was but excitement and wonder still rent the air. It cannot be gainsaid that spectators in the seas of blue and green in English stadiums do not have pure connoisseurs in their ranks. Today’s money-making spectator sport thrives on a heady mix of feeling which cannot always be neatly nailed. But between the warm sensation that your country is winning, a sentimental longing for the past, the delight at seeing an exquisite stroke or a wonder ball and the bonus for guessing right, the first one wins out, probably always has, and is closely followed by the second. The quality of the sport and the revenue it generates inevitably tag on in the making of comprehensive human endeavour. The Pakistani angst after Old Trafford will not linger indefinitely, neither will Indians grudge them their recovery, in the hope of winning again.
By Uttam Sen
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