Tuesday, April 12, 2011

When the time stood still

It was the perfect setup made up of dreams conjured in the most hopeful of the mindsets. Sachin Tendulkar was expected to complete his century of centuries in international cricket at his home ground, the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai in a world cup final. According to him, the reason he picked up playing cricket was because he wanted to win cricket world cup for India. No moment would have been better than that one on 2nd April, 2011. The country waited eagerly, praying in religious places, holding its breath in anticipation. The script was written for him, so did everyone think.

But life seldom follows a script, and rarely conforms to the whims and fancies of its actors. Though in my mind I had no doubt that Sachin was destiny’s child and was on the road to win the cup. That feeling came from the luxury of lives he had against Pakistan in the semifinal. It was strengthened further when the day before the final the news came that Angelo Mathews was injured and not going to make it to the Sri Lankan team in the final. Regardless of that, when Sachin got out to that slinger Malinga’s deviously angled delivery, just a few minutes after Virender Sehwag went for duck, my heart was in my mouth. The time stood still and threatened to send me into endless pit of depression. If Sachin waited for the cup for 21 years, the people also waited for that many years, some more and I waited for not less than 15 years, from when he first raised the hopes in 1996 tournament. The crowd was devastated. It was the scene so familiar to the whole country for last 20 odd years. Sachin getting out meant colossal loss of any hope of winning. God of cricket was not infallible – Gods never are. Those painful moments felt like time had suddenly stopped moving for worst. Then came the relief which is experienced only when you have lost everything. Suddenly heartbeats returned to the normal pace, nerves cooled down and hopes floated in air. Something inside refused to believe all was over. In fact, if anything, it was vociferously screaming with all might for an inevitable win.

4 years back, when Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s little-known Indian team won inaugural T20 world cup, I had feeling that he was the man who would help Sachin realize his dream in future. It was sort of neat arrangement – God wanted an angel to bridge the gape between him and the devotees. Dhoni would be that angel. While Gambhir and Kohli steadied the Indian ship, Dhoni later on propelled it towards the harbor. When Kulasekara started his strides towards wicket in the 48th over, the time stood still once more and the moment Dhoni hit it in the crowd, it erupted like it was shackled there for centuries and wanted to break free. The whole country was in a happy sort of delirium.The celebrations went on till late night across the country. On Bangalore’s MG Road, people were dancing, burning fire crackers, high-fiving each other, hugging each other. I must have high-fived at least a hundred people, if not more. The tricolor shone bright thru the whole celebrations. I met Mayank, a friend and one of the finest cricket experts I know. We jumped like little kids in small pools of water and embraced each other. Such jubilant scenes on the streets were never seen before in this country. As somebody rightly put, it was the biggest street party in the world

Nothing is beyond the reach of excesses though, and this world cup was no different. Some people equated the India-Pakistan match with the previous 4 wars the two countries have fought for the territorial gains. We need to be reminded that sports and wars are different things. A sportsman lives to see another day and have another chance to win; a soldier can only live in his beloveds’ eyes and hearts if died in a war. On the same lines, terming Indian team as God Rama’s side and the Sri Lankan team as Raavana’s side is equally jingoistic. What can you expect when war is used as a metaphor for sports! Even to see sports games as revenge matches do not comfort the heart. Everyone gets a chance to take revenge, to use their term, in sports. That’s the best thing about sports – you get a second chance. That chance should be taken as an opportunity to up your performance, to raise your game, to be a fierce competitor but a good fellow off the field. Sports is all about celebrating human spirit to excel, nothing more, nothing less.

In the end, some things would stay in mind for a long time. Afridi’s friendly smiles to Sachin lightened up the match. Kevin O’ Brien set the ground ablaze with his once in a lifetime innings. Sachin celebrating the victory with his kids delighted the hearts. In retrospect, the 21 year long wait was worth every second. How rewarding it is for a father to see his children capable of appreciating his achievement! How satisfying to see pride for him in their eyes! But the image which will never cease to amuse me and please me is that of Sachin sitting on the shoulders of his teammates parading the ground. The man who made all of us happy for so many years finally got what he deserved and valued the most – a cricket world cup. In his boyish laugh reflects the ultimate happiness – of living to see your dream come true, of belief and faith, of not giving up. That time now stands still in my eyes.

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