One Sunday when Pakistan helped India discover sport

June 18th, 2017, will always be a red letter day for Indian sport.

Jasprit Bumrah hasn’t played a lot of cricket but he is known enough face in the scheme of things of Indian cricket. When all eyes were on him, he realised what it is to feel like the loneliest man in the word. One moment, he was saviour, the other moment he was a sinner condemned to the depths of hell.

There are so many stories that were crammed into a 7 hour time period on the day of the Champions Trophy final that it is still a bit hard to connect the dots.

What made the much awaited turned dysfunctional turned eye opening Sunday for you ?

Bumrah’s no-ball that gave Fakhar Ali the license to punish and condemn him to a life of ‘what might have been’?

The Indian hockey team that suddenly managed to grab eyeballs  on a day when the Indian cricket team was playing Pakistan in a final?

Pakistan’s miracle comeback from behind after receiving a hiding in the first match they played against their arch rivals will no doubt be a story for the ages. India has beaten Pakistan comprehensively in the last few big tournament clashes and most of them have been one-sided affairs that barely lived up to the hype.

But on Sunday, June 18th, 2017, Pakistan decided it was 1992 all over again. Back then, Imran Khan’s cornered tigers took on the world’s best and showed everyone what they could do if only they cared to put aside bickering and personal differences. All teams have them but with Pakistan, they don’t stay inside the dressing room. Over the years, their performances have veered from utterly bewildering to jaw dropping. What the Pakistani team succeeded in doing on that Sunday was actually a lot more remarkable. It wasn’t just that they humbled their arch rivals and beat them by a margin that will surely keep them up a few more nights. I recall India losing by 125 runs in the World Cup final of 2003 and thinking that was a massive margin. But that was Australia. For a while, it looked like we could never cross the great Australian wall. Getting beaten by them was more or less a norm. This was Pakistan, a side India had beaten by over 120 runs a week before the final.

Somewhere, India just ran out of luck. And history too deserted them. When an opposition batsman scores a century, the side chasing is already at a psychological disadvantage as the batsmen know that one of them has to step up if the chasing side are to have any hopes of a victory.

In the epochal 2003 encounter at the Centurion between the two sides, Saeed Anwar scored a brilliant century and Pakistan posted what was more than a formidable title in pre-T20 times. It took no less than a Sachin Tendulkar to launch a blistering counter attack, one of the best of modern times, for India to canter home.

In the 2011 World Cup final, Mahela Jayawardane scored a fluent century and posted a challenging score in a World Cup final. It took a masterclass from an out of form Dhoni and considerable contributions from a few others for India to lift the cup.

Alas, Fakhar Zaman’s century had no such challenges. The one challenge he was posed turned out to be a hoax. India hasn’t learned from its lessons after the T20 semi-finals where no-balls succeeded in giving the West Indies a couple of reprieves before they blasted India out of contention. It was a day of excess, none of which flowed in India’s direction. There were too many extras given by the bowlers, bastsmen were given extra lives and none of the extras on offer went India’s way. It’s like watching it rain here in another area from your terrace but not a drop falls where you are standing.

But the Pakistan cricket team succeeded in doing something else too.  For a few hours, they made India look outward  and realise that there was more to life than cricket.

When Sunday, June 18th dawned, no one knew Kidambi Srikanth was playing a super series final against Kasumasa Sakai. No one knew India were taking on Pakistan in a hockey encounter. I remember a joke a friend had sent after an Indian  loss; he said you know India is losing when you see kids playing on the street and you can hear the sounds of traffic.

Everyone loves a tale of redemption, a tale where the underdog overthrows the Goliath. Seven years ago, an 18 year old Mohammad Amir left England in shame and nearly set his career on a path of no return. 

He is lucky to have survived the near fatal mistake he made. Jasprit Bumrah’s no-ball may or may not have cost India a victory in a final. Mohammad Amir’s no-ball could have cost him greatness, immortality and his livelihood.

There is another thing about redemption – it’s always sweeter when the person or side you are rooting for wins. If Mohammad Amir came looking for redemption, he returned with a canonization. He made a comeback to cricket over a year back but June 18th, 2017 was his moment of crowning glory. The sinner had returned from near death to become a saint.

If someone with no inclination towards sport had peeked into a facebook or twitter feed when the match was going on, they would have been mistaken. People were tweeting about hockey. And an unknown entity, Kidambi Srikanth was trending. My love for cricket has been written about eloquently in these pages but a one-sided contest makes for tepid viewing. The hottest dish on offer on that Sunday, India vs Pakistan in a Champions Trophy final, turned to a cold dish no one was interested in partaking in.

Hockey, the country’s forgotten national sport, rose from the ashes to inject some life into proceedings.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And couldn’t recall the last time I watched a hockey match.

Penalty corner, drag flick, goal. Penalty corner, drag flick goal.

When Pakistan tried to score, goalkeeper Sreejesh made some beautiful saves. It was like one of those moments when you realised that was billed as the party of a lifetime was a damp squib and the fun was happening, as always, at a place where you least expect it.

At that moment, there where only two things that people wanted – for India’s torture to end in cricket and for the hockey match to go on forever and ever. In the end, the Indian hockey team thrashed Paksitan 7-1. The Indian cricket team lost by a massive 180 runs.

Two weeks is a long time in sport. Since that fateful Sunday, Kidambi Srikanth won back to back Superseries titles in Australia and Indonesia.

Anil Kumble was unceremoniously ejected from the post of head coach after differences with the captain became ‘untenable’. Indian Cricket, it seems, has been going from one crisis to the other, each making the people and the board look small and amateurish. India is playing West Indies in an inconsequential ODI tournament. Soon, life will be back to normal and cricket will swallow all the eyeballs, the writer of this piece included.

On May 26th, 2017, KPS Gill, the former Director General Police of Punjab, passed way. Credited with quelling the insurgency in Punjab, there is another thing that many obituaries failed to mentioned – the fact that he also systematically killed off Indian Hockey as the head of the Indian Hockey Federation. Like most officials who function like monarchs and have to be dragged out from their thrones or overthrown, KPS Gill was no different. It is safe to say that he probably scuttled a couple of generations of Indian hockey at least. Viren Rasquinha, a talented midfielder, retired at the age of 27 to pursue an MBA. Can you imagine Ravindra Jadeja retiring to pursue an alternative career?

To see how poles apart hockey and cricket are in our country, look no further than the titles of these autobiographies.

Playingitmywaybookcover

Sachin Tendulkar’s bedtime story in the guise of an autobiography is titled ‘Playing it My Way’. On the cover is an image of Sachin playing in his final test, his head looking up at the heavens, thanking them for everything he has been given. Contrast that with the autobiography of another legend, Dhanraj Pillai, who was arguably one of the greatest hockey players after Dhyanchand. It is titled ‘Forgive me Amma’ and the picture is of a desolate Pillai looking down, perhaps ruing his fate and the cards that he had been dealt. Two champions whose journeys were vastly different because of the sport that they chose.

amma

It maybe sedition to say this, but I will say it nonetheless – thank you Pakistani cricket team. Thank you for giving hockey its day in the sun, even if it was just for an hour. For laying waste to our best laid plans on a Sunday

In India, if hockey, badminton or any sport needs to get its day in the sun, it looks like cricket has to lose. Such a long journey to traverse before we call ourselves a sporting nation.

 

 

 

 

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