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All in a month's time

By Sujata Prakash
March 12, 2003 13:43 IST
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A month has gone by. A month is usually not enough to turn sporting worlds upside down and inside out. But this World Cup has managed to be different than the previous ones. All bets are off, as they say. Top teams have been shuttled out while minnows benefited from rain and riots. The South African board will get their wish; their tournament will be remembered for a long, long time.

Consider how many greats have been turned into degenerates in a matter of days. It's an endless list. Virtually the whole Pakistan team, it seems, is facing the axe. A few have tendered their resignation to outwit the PCB.

Nasser Hussain, a product of a country with a massive guilt culture, probably wrote his farewell speech while watching his batsmen collapse against India. Beating Australia was never a serious option, not even when England had Australia in a noose at Port Elizabeth. All Michael Bevan and Andrew Bichel had to do was tug at the rope and it loosened in a flash.

Meanwhile, Shaun Pollock sits with his head in his hands, staring despondently at the manicured greens far away. His team was supposed to be there, playing either Australia or India, except that they dropped the calculator, and the World Cup with it.

The mood in the Sri Lankan camp is a degree warmer, but only just. They can still reach the semi-finals by beating Zimbabwe, but the humiliation inflicted by India was one of gigantic proportions. The Lankans will have to shake that off and roar like the lion on their flag if they are to resemble Arjuna Ranatunga's world beaters.

And weaving in and out of these debacles are the Indians who are playing the most incredible cricket of their lives.

When the extraordinary happens, the mundane gets lit up in stark relief. It's no coincidence that with every win India registers, a tidal wave of recriminations follows the loser. Had the contests been even handed the reaction would have been less severe. Imagine if there had been no Ashish Nehra at Durban or Sachin Tendulkar at the Centurion or Javagal Srinath at Johannesburg. Imagine if, instead, there had been the usual close game with one waiting for the other to make a mistake. It could have been put down to 'we tried our best but the better man won'.

But the Indians have fallen on the opposition like tigers on their prey, giving them barely a warning before devouring them. And it's bound to invite comparison. Suddenly, Sourav Ganguly's counterparts are labeled 'old' and 'tactically deficient'. Reputed bowlers have lost their line and length while the Indian pace trio, despite the substantial extras conceded, have 'probed and prodded' the batsmen into committing hara-kiri. The middle order, still a little suspect, is miles ahead of other teams barring Australia, and possibly, New Zealand.

As for Tendulkar, what can one say? Which eulogy has been left out that might be employed here? Let's skip the gushing and just whisper, on bended knees, thank you, God, for making him Indian!

And thank you, men in blue, for making it to the semi-finals.

The real test starts now. New Zealand must win on Friday to reach the semi-finals. The Indians must go all out for a win, too, to avoid meeting New Zealand for their Day/Night encounter at Durban. It will hardly be pleasant to chase 250 under lights with Shane Bond steaming in. The Indians would ideally like to meet Kenya, Sri Lanka or Zimbabwe.

But Ganguly will have figured this out for himself. Besides, he's not into losing these days.

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