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pakistan

It’s exactly two weeks since the last ball of the 2011 World Cup landed somewhere in the top tier of Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium, probably in the hands of a lucky fan. That monstrous six by the Indian captain, the perfect finish to India’s campaign to regain the World Cup that was lost in 1987.

Sri Lanka’s batting lineup had been throttled for most of their innings, with 45 overs yielding just 211 runs, but with the brilliant Mahela Jayawardene holding one end steady, the Lankans put on an additional 64 off the last 30 balls, pushing India’s target from the very gettable into the realms of the difficult, planting seeds of doubt in the minds of Indian players and fans.

Challenging as it looked, 275 wasn’t a very difficult target to get, what with Sachin “Superman” Tendulkar, and his swashbuckling sidekick, Virender Sehwag to open the Indian innings. If belief was beginning to fade when Sehwag went second ball, it was all but gone when the great man himself left not much later. Wait, this was not the way the script was written. This was supposed to be his crowning moment, he was going to get his 100th hundred while winning India the World Cup. Oh well. So much for well written scripts!

The script may have been rewritten, the main characters may have been recast, but the story and the ending was going to remain the same. Indian hopes arose, and belief returned as the young middle order led by Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli steadied the ship. It took a brilliant, calm, cool and determined captain MS Dhoni at the wheel however, to bring the ship into the shores of victory. Not only had India exorcised the World Cup demons that had haunted them for 28 years, the great man – Sachin Tendulkar – had finally achieved the one thing that had been missing from his resume… the World Cup of Cricket!
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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!
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Was it last weekend that the cricket teams of India & Pakistan – two of the biggest contenders for the ICC World Cup – faced the wrath of their respective fans for terrible performances? Both endured bad, very bad, losses. Sure, the results of their respective matches were the same, but one had to suspect that India likely suffered some emotional scars along the way. See, it’s much easier to recover from a complete beat down, like the one Pakistan took at the hands of New Zealand. You’ve got to chalk it up to a bad day on the field and hope you have a better day the next time around.

On the other hand, when you have a great opportunity to win against a great team like South Africa, and you squander it the way India did, that’s got to not only hurt more, but bring up questions of nerves, strategies, captaincy and everything else. So, it was no surprise that nobody on the team was spared by the fans and media alike – the bowler who bowled the ill fated last over, the captain whose instinct had let him down, the batsmen who threw away a perfectly good opportunity to put up a huge score. Heck, not even the guy who scored the century was spared, what with that pattern of losses when he does score one! More on that later.

An Exciting Weekend Ahead…

Hopefully this weekend was going to be a different for both teams, with better fortunes? While they had both qualified for the knockout stage of the tournament, the weekend’s matches had a lot at stake – better seeding and… pride. Pakistan was taking on the juggernaut that’s Australia, the three time defending champions who hadn’t lost in 33 world cup matches over a 12 year span, while India had the mercurial West Indies to deal with.

So, there I was, at 5 in the morning, Saturday, having slept less than a monk, knowing very well that I wasn’t going to get much more sleep, with a lot of coffee on the brewer, looking forward to an awesome weekend. What could make it better? Cricket AND Tennis, that’s what – it was a blockbuster of a line up at the ATP Masters 1000 at Indian Wells, CA, with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro making it to the semi-finals of the ATP Masters at Indian Wells.

My immediate focus however was on the cricket, and the first match was a cracker. Despite their poor showing in their last match versus New Zealand, Pakistan were expected to put an end to Australia’s win streak. Say what? You could see why the expectations were on Pakistan to derail the Aussies, as their bowlers throttled Australia’s batting lineup, eventually getting them out for a paltry 176.

Ricky, oh, Ricky!

Ricky Ponting, Australia’s embattled captain, and one of the greatest batsmen the world has seen, has been at the helm of one of the greatest teams in history, leading Australia to numerous victories, none bigger than the last two ICC World Cups in 2003 & 2007. So, I guess he and his team are entitled to be arrogant, but there is a fine line between being arrogant and being downright cocky.

The problem with being cocky however is that the rest of the world enjoys watching you fail. You throw in some poor attitude unbecoming of a captain, like Ricky has in the last few matches, people not only enjoy watching you fail, they actually hope you do.

Controversy…

So, there he was, woefully out of touch, struggling to find runs, his aging reflexes letting his finely tuned batting style down, when he clearly edged one to the wicket keeper. Not very surprisingly to many however, he stood his ground until the third umpire confirmed that his bat had indeed caught the edge.

Here’s what I thought of the whole thing…

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