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Why India owed me this World Cup victory
Vinod Kambli was not the only one who cried on March 13, 1996. Somewhere in the heart of a developing suburb called Thane, a twelve-year-old girl was inconsolable. Her favourite God had betrayed her. The four heartfelt trips she had made to the nearby residence of Lord Hanuman had been futile. India had lost the World Cup semifinal and, worse still, "by default". There were angry bottles on the green onscreen pitch and the Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga was now smiling like his country's famed mythological demon. The girl could even picture him flicking his moustache like Ravana, but the Sri Lankan captain didn't have one at the time, thankfully.
She looked around her living room through the blur of tears. It looked like the aftermath of her maths report card. Her father, who hadn't budged from his position on the sofa throughout the match, was now cursing in Tamil. Aloud. Her mother gave up the Gayatri mantra chant, looking a bit distraught. Her sister was too young to understand the complexities of the irrational game, but by virtue of having accompanied her sibling to the temple, two out of four times, sensed that their wish had not been granted. Lord Hanuman had to face a lot of questions that day as a consequence of his country's loss. This should have been her first cue to give up.
But, for some reason, the girl did not lose faith in either religion.
Three years later, in 1999, the next World Cup arrived. Her sister had now grown up enough to learn the hysteric language that the family spoke every four years. So the duo was now united in their potential misery. That year, the Times of India had come out with a very compact, informative booklet with the time-table, names and details of every player and a little bit about their strengths. She memorised it to the point where she could now rattle off names of players in the UAE team (yes there was one).
Scratching had become a national pastime that year. A brand of cold drink had come out with scratch cards that held the the promise of a chance to attend the World Cup in England. But every time we bought one, the card would say "Try again. " Once, in fact, her cousin scratched one and sighed when he saw the first letter- "T". But later, when he probed further with the coin, it read "Tiger biscuit". He was ecstatic.
We watched every match at his place in Chennai, where the entire building would descend to exchange adrenaline - high-fives and grunts followed every ball. These juvenile viewers even gave Tamil names to every new player irrespective of their nationality. Zimbabwe's ace bowler Henry Olonga, for instance, became Podolonga (snake gourd in Tamil). He was seen as the biggest threat and proved to be one, during the India-Zimbabwe match. Just like the recent India-England qualifier match, we stood a tremendous chance here.
We were chasing and had to make 253 from 46 overs. But the wickets crumbled fast.
In the end, though, the men in light blue merely had to make four runs to win from over seven balls. This was hardly ambitious, even for a bowler, they thought. Then Venkatesh Prasad, the last man, came in to bat. All they heard was a loud thud. The pad had hit the ball. LBW. The umpire's finger went up. Though she did not know what qualified as an LBW, it was a pathetic way to lose the match. "He can't even hold the bat properly, " a seething neighbour exclaimed.
Going by the silence that followed, they could have been at a funeral, mourning the death of someone called "patriotism" or "faith". She wept again and, this time, keeping her company was another boy - her cousin. They slept at 3 am that day, after a prolonged tearful hypothesis of what went wrong. Though she does not remember the details, she is sure Venkatesh Prasad may not want to hear that conversation.
This should have been her second cue.
The subsequent chronology was, of course, even more depressing-the match fixing scandal, some more match-fixing exposes and the notorious 2003 final. The clues were now so obvious, they were tangible. That year onwards, cricket lost its endearing irrationality, its superstitions, its tears and its religious aura. It then became just a game, which is never a good thing if you are a teenaged female cricket fan aching for the drama of heartfelt prayers, pop patriotism and innocent crushes on married players. She gave up crying or brushing up on cricket trivia. The faces of UAE players evaporated slowly from her memory. As a result, her knowledge is now in a time warp. Every time a match comes on, she looks for Henry Olonga and Ranatunga. Her husband likes to call it the generation gap between them.
She even started asking deep questions about God and the Force. Perhaps He does not exist or if He does, He is Australian and looks like Shane Warne. Perhaps 1983, the year in which she is supposed to have kicked for the first time inside her mother's womb when India won the World Cup, was just a fairytale. Perhaps this time, too, we may not be able to avenge the dreadful sight of 1996 semifinal or Kambli's tears. Last Saturday, she was proven wrong on most counts. Fifteen years since that fateful India-Sri Lanka semifinal, the Cup was right where she wanted it to be. Paulo Coelho would say she wanted it so bad this time that the universe conspired for it to happen and cynics, on the other hand, would say, "No, it was the BCCI. " Whatever the case, she felt extremely vindicated. And this time, when Yuvraj, Sachin and Harbhajan broke down, she happily joined in. India had just managed to rip through the doors of her heart again. By default.
(The author is now busy memorising the names of Canadian players)
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