World Cup: Glorious Uncertainties!

World Cup: Glorious Uncertainties!

Prof. T K Thomas

There is always a twist in the tale. One feels that, what happened at the Lord’s last Sunday night in the World Cup final proved this fictional dictum. The victory of England, their first in the World Cup history in what is called the “greatest victory’ was also a tragic end to the would have been champions and the vanquished, the back to back finalist, New Zealand.

One feels that “Justice was not done” to the Kiwis by the “President of the Immortals “ to quote the Aeschylean phrase from Thomas Hardy’s, “Tess of the D’Urbervilles “. After regulation time the score was 241 for 8 and 241 for 10; the match tied. That led to the dramatic Super over. Scores again tied at 15-15. But they counted the boundaries and England had 26 as against 17 of New Zealand and awarded the Match to England as per an ICC Rule on page 143 .

According to a distraught New Zealand fan, not exactly well versed in the nuances of the game, his favorite team losing on technicalities; ‘’Why didn’t they take into account that New Zealand had lost only 8 wickets where as England were bowled out?”, he asked. Interestingly, there is a fierce debate going on, on the boundary rule in the cricketing circles. Any way, it was agony for the Kiwis and ecstasy for the English, to quote the title of an Irving Wallace masterpiece.

Like a gentleman, the New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, though heart –broken, was stoic and magnanimous by not pointing out at what many cricket experts called, “hidden and obscure “ boundary rule. But isn’t a rule a rule?

After India’s ignominious defeat in the semi finals at the hands of a spirited and determined New Zealand it was reported by a foreign agency that “there are a billion broken hearts.” The disappointment of these broken hearts continues to linger on in our cricket crazy nation. They lament the loss and blame the weather gods [had it not rained on Tuesday India would have won!], bad or erroneous umpiring decisions [many fans believe that while field restrictions were on a brilliant Martin Guptill ran out Dhoni even as there was at least one extra fielder who was ignored by the umpire; fans claimed that it was a clear no ball warranting a free hit!] the failure of the trio of Rohit, Rahul and Virat [experts feel that credit goes to the better and accurate bowling performance of the Black Caps]; not sending Dhoni 5 down, and so on.

Some of the fans were so illogical in their frustration that they refuse to acknowledge the brilliant overall performance of the Kiwis. The reality is that in one day internationals, the team that plays better on the day wins. Discerning cricket lovers feel that the first 45 minutes of the Indian innings was an indication of impending doom. Didn’t most of our media and a majority of our fans dismiss the Kiwis as underdogs before that fateful semi -finals? There is no one called an underdog in limited over cricket. Arguments and excuses for and against Team India’s defeat are sure to continue for a long while. Good or bad result, there is no end to the post match postmortem.

The large number of Indian fans who thronged cricket stadia in England were very noisy and exuberant. Back in India almost the whole country was glued to television screens when India played. TV channels had hyped up the crescendo before every match involving the men in blue by covering even the minutest aspect of what was going on in the stadium. One would say that there was absolute unity in diversity with everyone hoping and praying for an Indian victory and presumed that India would bring the World Cup back. The semi final loss to New Zealand who most Indian fans considered “under dogs” shattered them and thought the world itself had come to a standstill. Well, we as a nation seem to shed sportsmanship and have become grief stricken for the loss of a game to a more committed team!

Such is the power of cricket to the Indian psyche and when India goes to the West Indies early next month for 20-Twenty, ODI and test matches followed by the tour to India by South Africa in September, cricket frenzy will be back and people may forget the World Cup loss.

With the emergence of the electronic media, cricket commanded huge audiences-first radio and then television ensured that cricket actually became a sort of a religion. Television dwindled radio audiences by the 1980s though there are committed radio listeners, especially those without access to TV. As a broadcaster in Bombay [now Mumbai] in the 1970s one had the privilege of being in the commentary booth, both at the Cricket Club of India’s Brabourne Stadium and later at the Wankhede Stadium in almost all the test matches played in Bombay till 1978 –’79 and enjoyed every bit of what we called ball by ball commentary.

Radio commentators, till television with popular cricketers doing the commentary took away a large chunk of radio listeners, were almost like stars. Who can forget the legendry AFS Talyarkhan, Pearson Surita, Anand Setalwad, Narottam Puri, Suresh Sarayya, all English commentators? Hindi commentary on all sports was pioneered by Jasdev Singh and there were Ravi Chaturvedi, Sushil Doshi, Murali Manohar Manjul and Skand Gupta, to name a few who had huge fan following. As a broadcaster covering sports there were many occasions for one to interview leading cricket players like Vijay Merchant or Vijay Manjrekar and of course one of the pioneers in cricket commentary ‘’Bobby” or AFS Talyarkhan.

As heart broken Indian fans lament our World Cup loss, one is tempted to narrate the outcome of one of the matches. The Ceylon team [not yet Sri Lanka then] visited India and played three unofficial “tests” in 1964-“65 as First Class Matches. Ceylon, later Sri Lanka had to wait till 1982-’83 to be a Test playing nation when they played their first official Test also in India. As a student in Ahmedabad it was a great opportunity for one to watch the 1965 match with the legendary captain Nawab Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, Dilip Sardesai, Abbas Ali Baig and S. Venketaraghavan in action. The Ceylon team was led by Michael Tissare and had few brilliant players with English County cricket experience like Stanley Jayasighe and their wicket keeper Fernando.

Rain played spoilsport and the first day’s play was washed out. Only about two hours play was possible on the second day. On the third day we were disappointed as India was restricted to 189. Jayasighe took 6 for 3 and Norton Fredrick 4 for 85. Unlike today there were no giant score boards, technology based Umpire Decision Review Systems [DRS]etc. There were large black boards on which scores were written with chalk and updated. Ceylon by the end of the day had managed to score 144 for seven. As one went home after the penultimate day’s play of the fourb day match, the general talk among the cricket crazy, boisterous Ahmedabad spectators was that the match would end in a tame draw. Not well versed in the nuances of the game of cricket then, one was not sure of such an outcome.

The last day’s weather appeared to be fine but for some reason the start of play was delayed by almost an hour. The delay and the impending tame draw, dampened this novice’s spirit but was looking forward to watching Pataudi and others in action. Then however came one of the most unexpected decision by the Ceylon Captain. Tissera declared their first innings at the overnight score of 144 for seven, 85 runs behind the mighty Indians. The Indian team came out to bat, but lo and behold, was bundled out for a paltry 66! We at the stadium were dumbfounded as our wickets fell like nine pins, the first three for four runs.

The Ceylon team needed just 112 runs to win and determined batting ensured that they made those runs in 55.2 overs, easily registering an unexpected but historic win, though they lost the series 2-1.

Back home, my guardian and elder brother sensed that India had lost from my crest fallen countenance. He tried to console and talked about the glorious uncertainties of the game of cricket.

It is also worth mentioning that one stayed close to the Gujarat or Sardar Patel Stadium, where one watched the match India lost against Ceylon that was played in the winter of 1965. Later in 1982 another stadium was built in Motera in Ahmedabad. Once powerful politicians like today’s Home Minister Amit Shah with the blessings of the then chief minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi, took over the Gujarat Cricket Association this stadium was demolished and a brand new, the world’s largest and probably the swankiest cricket stadium with a seating capacity of 1,10000 spectators is now nearing completion. After the world’s tallest Sardar Patel Statue of Unity and the bullet train on the anvil, the Motera Stadium will be Gujarat’s yet another tourist attraction!