Sunday, 1 June 2014

23rd March 2003, Jo'Burg

The usual Australian finesse, with their bulwarks at the top lining a feast for the later ones to share, they put up a gigantic 359 on board. The score came only second to India's 373 which they scored against a febrile Sri Lanka in the last edition of the most coveted tournament in world cricket, the World Cup. 4 years of hardwork, and 4 years of restitution that ensues after sides concede defeats, culminates in another slugfest, another fray on the 22 yards. While the Australians, the English and the Kiwis might have other sports to resort to, the Asian subcontinent craves and preaches cricket like anything. At least till that time when the game was unsullied, it was extolled as a way of life.

 With fraught audiences on the ground, most of them largely Indian immigrants who had their provenance in Colonial exodus, there was an eerie sense of misfortune all around. Yes, everyone knew our bowling prowess was wayward, like a switch had to be turned on for it to go live, but this had left everyone's hopes in a macabre state. Indians have a habit of turning livid and using pejorative terms for the bowlers while they go bereft of any element of swing or spin. We didn't have the ubiquitous Internet or the importuning WhatsApp, but we did have our social circles and milieus in which these critiques were prevalent. However, this performance by a rudderless bowling squad, had left people in tatters. There was no hope, the damage was beyond control. Or was it?

Just when I thought it's time to quickly gulp the Pepsi sparkling blue world cup edition which I saved for the second innings and just when I started devouring the Poori Subji brought from the nearest Bikanerwala so that we had a good companion with the game, Sehwag walked out on the ground. I don't know why but Sachin, despite his virtuoso, couldn't be entrusted for playing that blitz. He was ostensibly also going to get the golden bat but this inning was not going to work out. This inning called for a kamikaze which is against his usual style of play. Sehwag was the only trustworthy guy. Sachin got out post hitting a 4 and we all knew this insinuated a drastic and a poignant defeat. No fight! The very thought of getting all out for 54 chasing a big score like we did against Sri Lanka sent shocks across my nervous system. But wait, let's see what the valorous Sehwag can do. 

The Aussie triumvirate was beaming with swing and seam and Indian batsmen were finding it hard to swallow the shells of the bullets. Astonishingly though, Sehwag held his ground and looked at the helm of his best. Just like he always says, playing his natural game! It seemed he was intrepid about what was going to come of the battle. He knew equally well how the odds were stacked against them but he thought why not go down with a fight. Kept hitting the 4's and the 6's and suddenly, commentators prognosticated rains. One idiosyncratic commentator even suggested India was at par if the D/L comes into play. Are you crazy, I thought! Suddenly everyone rhapsodized the idea of India winning through D/L courtesy of Sehwag's surreal attack. 

Sadly, rains went away soon. The track got worsened in fact. Sehwag couldn't hit boundaries with that sheen anymore. He found a few partners but none of them could hold on. Irrespective of whom he had with him, we were always having enough overs in the bank as run rate was never a problem. In fact Sehwag is a stark contrast from conventional thinking of saving wickets. He takes the attack to the opposition. Hence as long as Sehwag was there, we Indians, smitten by the paradigm of a single hero decimating and effacing an entire army and a single Tendulkar having ripped off entire bowling attacks on his own, found a new hero to vest our faith in. "Match to gaya lagbhag lekin Sehwag jab tak hai, keh nahin sakte" was all that many were uttering. Renewed and restored hope since when we got Gilly and Hayden out just to see two new doyens replacing them. That hope was uncalled for and as uncanny as it can get. We knew what chasing down 359 means, we knew how accurate Aussies were with the ball and how our so called batting supremacy was lacerated. But still, that one guy, that valiant Sehwag, kept putting up a fight which he knew would go in vain. A lot of people ask me why is it I exalt him so much. It's not the usual fact that he holds the records for the highest score by an Indian in all formats and the highest score in an ODI ever, it was that innings, that flair of looking eagles right into their eyes and heading towards them, at a pace as unprecedented as it could get.

Sehwag tipping it off his toes in the 03' WC final