India’s cup of life 1

A nation of a billion was in prayer. A nation of a more than a billion was on tenterhooks.

Life in the vast Indian nation and its ever-growing diaspora had almost come to a standstill as Irfan Pathan and James Hopes went head-to-head during the amazingly tense last over of the second CBS final at the Gabba in Brisbane.

It was the last episode in a marathon that had stretched for ninety days, a journey full of agony, controversy and abuse. The young men under Dhoni were carrying on their shoulders the demands of a billion, it was their biggest inspiration and also their biggest pressure on cricket’s biggest stage Down Under. Once the marathon ended in victory, the country turned hysterical.

It was a moment that happens seldom in a lifetime. This time it took 23 years in coming. After 1985, possibly the single biggest one day tournament win in India’s cricket history alongside the 1983 World Cup, this victory over the games undisputed world champions in their own land is well and truly a cricketing fairytale. And that it has come after a keenly fought Test series makes the success sweeter. Justly, it is sweet, sweet, revenge in view of all that has transpired on and off the field in the last three months.

After three months of following the Indian team in Australia, for the first month and a half in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Adelaide and since then on television back home doing analysis, I had been praying that India would at least stretch the final to the third game at Adelaide.

Not only were my prayers answered, but what eventually transpired in Sydney and Brisbane has sent an entire nation into delirium. If Indian expatriates could have made Sydney and Brisbane theirs in the way they did after the finals ended, one can imagine what happened in the streets of Kolkata, Mumbai or Delhi and also in Indian enclaves around the world.

Let us once again recreate that crucial moment, the instant when a billion cried out together in ecstasy. Bowled out for 259, after 280 looked a certainty thanks to Sachin Tendulkar once again giving an exhibition unparalleled, the Indians were surely up against it with Australia desperate to protect their crown.

But, as has been the story all summer, India’s bowlers kept the Men in Blue in the game by scalping Australia’s top order cheaply. An unlikely hero in Praveen Kumar swung the ball prodigiously and creamed through the first three mighty Australians without showing much emotion in the middle.

The Aussie middle order fought back though and with just 13 runs needed of the last over, and with James Hopes still batting, the odds were even. More because Irfan Pathan was having a nightmare of the game yet again, conceding 51 of his 8 overs. Six balls, thirteen runs. It was very possible.

But this time a bunch of Indians who were absolutely determined not to concede an inch stood in the way. And once Pathan had Hopes caught by Chawla at mid on, history had been scripted. It had ensured that Tendulkar, already a great in the pantheon of Indian cricket, established himself as the greatest sportsman India has ever produced.

His arms out-stretched in celebration, his face ecstatic, the big little man of Indian cricket, had yet again scripted himself into the nation’s folklore in style. 117 not out and 91, Tendulkar had silenced his critics once and for all. India’s little master had done what Zidane had failed to do for France in 2006. It was a moment of pure romance that seldom happens in sport. In fact it is why we watch sport. First came the madness, then the reality. His ultimate dream fulfilled, Sachin has justly ranked this victory as one of his best ever moments.

Sydney and Melbourne, so it seemed, had been taken over by Indians and Brisbane looked more like Mumbai during Ganesh Chaturthi or Delhi during Diwali. As soon as the Cup was won, fire crackers coloured the sky, Indian supporters doing everything possible – from ripping off their shirts Saurav Ganguly style, to kissing everybody and anybody.

After a long wait, history had repeated itself. Tendulkar, 11-years-old in 1985 when Sunil Gavaskar’s Indians had shocked the cricketing world in Australia, and one who had danced in celebration on Mumbai’s streets that fateful day, had now brought the Cup home again.

March 4 2008 was a night when Indians, across the world, did not sleep. We were all, back home and in the diaspora, midnight’s children who had just begun yet another tryst with destiny.