It is finally upon us. The expectations had been set long before it’s about to happen, but now there is no escaping it. The organizers are wetting themselves over the huge media frenzy that it has created. It’s been hyped up as the “mother of all matches”, touted as the “real” final, by both the media and the fans alike. Some have gone as far as calling it World War IV. Don’t believe me? Go Google it (or Bing it, if you’re so inclined!) for yourself.
This is War? Really? No!
Absolutely not. Far from it. It is but the 2011 World Cup semi-final match between two bitter political & sporting rivals – India & Pakistan – with the winner simply getting another shot at World Cup glory. As big a stage as it is, and as big as this rivalry gets, equating this to war is simply belittling the impact of, and disrespecting the victims of real wars that have been fought, and are being fought around the world right now. Try as hard as we might, there are no lives lost in sport, are there? Do these two guys – captains of Pakistan and India – look like they are getting ready for war? No!
Sure, there is a lot at stake, and I would love nothing more than to see India beat Pakistan in this match, but I draw the line at raising this to anything more than a sporting event. Huge event, but at the end of the day, it remains just that… a sport!
The Pressure Of Expectations
Calling it anything other than a big sporting spectacle not only puts undue mental stress on the players of either teams, makes them edgy and puts a lot of emotional pressure on their fans as well. Players of both teams are going to be pumped up, with emotions and adrenaline at an all-time high. Some will be unable to handle the pressure, while some will thrive on it. At the end of the day, one of these teams will emerge victorious, or will they?
There is a price to be paid for associating this with anything more than a match being played for a spot in the final. What goes up has to come down, and so it is with emotions and adrenaline. How often have you seen great performances followed by a let down?
You don’t have to go too far, but to the last time these two played in a World Cup match, dubbed the “the battle of Centurion” in 2003. The atmosphere and the setting was eerily similar to what we see right now. For most of the fans on both sides, this was the one to win, the “real” final. It didn’t matter what else either team achieved in the tournament, this was it. Set a huge target of 271 to win, the middle order managed to hang in there after a great start and eventually win it. It took a genius of an innings, from the little master – Sachin Tendulkar, despite all the pressure of expectations that he usually carries on his shoulders, blunting the high powered Pakistani attack to get India past their “hated” rivals.
No, it wasn’t the semi-final like it is this time around, and India did win a few more matches before they got to the final. However, I suspect much like a lot of other people, that they suffered an emotional let down, after having won the “one that really mattered” and went on to lose to Australia in the final. I’m not taking any credit away from Australia and its captain Ricky Ponting, who scored a fantastic 140 to help pile up a huge 356, but I do believe that India weren’t 100% there, and the “battle of Centurion” was to blame.
This time around however, there is absolutely no time for recovery, with Sri Lanka awaiting the winner. If I were Sri Lankan, I’d be hoping for an emotional and mental roller coaster of a ride for whoever makes it out of the other semi-final, because they are sure to be spent, and almost certainly will have less left in the tank for the final.
The “Real” Winner Gets The “Real” World Cup!
It sure would be a matter of pride to beat your “hated” rival, but sadly, it doesn’t get you the cup, because that is reserved for the winner, the real winner. No, not the one who wins the semi-final, but whoever wins the final, the last match of the tournament! Now, that would be the one to invest all your energies and emotions into, don’t you think?
If I were coaching either of these teams, I’d tell my players to approach this as just another match. Cliché, I know, but it is the truth isn’t it? Yes, it is much bigger than any regular game, being one step away from the final and all, but I’d get my team to give it as much importance as you’d give the semi-final of the World Cup, and no more, keeping them focused on the ultimate goal.
Irrespective of how the this match and the finals play out, this has been a great World Cup for South Asia, with Sri Lanka already in the final, and either India or Pakistan poised to join them there. The winner will definitely leave a mark in history, becoming only the third country to win more than one World Cup, alongside Australia and the West Indies. I’m keeping with my prediction, and hoping that India will send the little master off with a parting gift, the one thing that has eluded him, the World Cup!