Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Match

For once I wished I was on twitter. As it happened, I couldn't even blog from the stadium because I'd carried an old junk phone, just in case the police decided at the last minute not to allow mobiles inside. This is what my liveblog would've been, as best I can remember. I'm putting this in without having read any accounts of the match or heard any experts commenting on it. Will be interesting to compare my take to theirs once I'm done.

10.30am: I get to Churchgate early, having encountered no traffic on the inside roads.

My companion Nikhil calls to say he's running late. I have an ice tea at Tea Centre.

I join the Divecha Pavilion queue. They're confiscating all food items, all bottles, all bags. Some women are very upset. It's difficult for a woman to go ten hours without a handbag. Friction between female security personnel and handbag toting ticket holders.

We're in, after being felt up by five different guards, police, army, NSG, whatever. I'll never get used to being frisked.

We are pointed to the seats marked on our tickets. Those are not the seats we'd have chosen within the Divecha pavilion. Besides, if we knew our places were reserved we could have come two hours later; but I'm happy it's being done. Eliminates interlopers in one shot.

Our position is high and a bit square. There's a nice breeze blowing.

Lots of Indo-Brits around us. Were foreigners favoured in the ballot? I was told last evening that I entered 'Kuwait' in my address, instead of India. Providential slip of the mouse?

We hunt for food and drink. Only samosas available, greasy. I eat two, and decide to taste Gatorade for the first time. It's blue and disgusting.

Our seats are far too narrow. Only thing in their favour is they're better than the benches they replaced.

The sound system and acoustics are atrocious; announcements are really loud but we can't understand a word being said.

The teams come out to practice. Everyone's eyes are on jersey number 10. Sachin's hair looks orange-y. Definitely a bad hair colour day.

Gambhir isn't limping; Sreesanth's bowling quite a bit; Pathan and Ashwin aren't doing much of anything. Interesting choice, if that's what the playing eleven's going to be.

The toss. Dhoni wins it, or seems to, but then they do it again. This time, Sangakkara calls right. The crowd groans. They're going to bat. Memories of 1996 always in the back of my head. Will the ball start turning square under lights?

The squads come out, each member accompanied by a child. Some of the 'children' are gangly teenagers. National anthems. The Sri Lankan one is interminable. Sinhalese, being an Indo-European language, sounds much more familiar to me than Tamil or Malayalam.

Zaheer bowls a great first spell. Trying to erase the memory of the 2003 final. It's impossible to lose a 100 over match in three overs, but Zaheer came as close as humanly possible eight years ago. This time, he bowls three straight maidens, and adds one scalp to his collection.

Sreesanth's bowling rubbish; the least you can do if you're bowling rubbish is not give free hits, but he oversteps. What pressure Zaheer creates, Sreesanth releases.

The ball's doing nothing. Looks like a 300 pitch, but Zaheer's first spell has virtually taken that score out of the equation.

Sangakkara and Mahela are looking very comfortable, batting well within themselves. Mahela's getting a run a ball without seeming to try hard.

It's a joy watching the cat and mouse game between Harbhajan and Sangakkara. Live, one sees the huge difference between a specialist bowler and part-timer. Bhajji's variation of length and pace is superb, Yuvraj is one-dimensional, but lucky.

Imran Khan says weak bowling sides should prepare pitches that favour bowlers. It's counter-intuitive but dead on. Play to your weaknesses, not your strengths. We beat Pakistan, which has a better bowling attack, because the semi-final pitch assisted bowlers.

On a pitch like this, the difference between real quality (Zaheer, Harbhajan, Murali, Malinga) and the rest (every other bowler in India and Sri Lanka) is accentuated.

India are like Real Madrid in the reign of the Galacticos. We know our defence is weak, but back ourselves to score more goals than the opposition.

Mahela steps it up at the death, as do his partners. 65 runs in the final powerplay. People around me are despondent, but if the pitch stays true it's not a great score. I'd rate India's 260 in the semi-final a tougher chase given how oddly that pitch was behaving. Lanka seem to have decided to play for a baseline score of 250 and taken everything beyond as a bonus. Mahela gave them a good fillip, but I still think it's a 300 pitch. Unless it begins turning.

The break. We get a free lunch / dinner box with our ticket. It's from Croissants etc. Dry bread with two kinds of chicken, a fruit drink and brownie. Better than greasy samosas.

Malinga's bowling at one stump. He hits it over and over. His express pace is apparent even in these practice deliveries.

Second ball of the Indian innings, Sehwag is trapped plumb. As usual, he asks for a review without consulting the non-striker. Review shows it's plumb, one of Malinga's straight and low specials.

Sachin and Gambhir demonstrate there's nothing in the pitch; they play through the line comfortably. Sachin feels confident enough to drive on the up; one of the most breathtaking sights in cricket.

Malinga gets Sachin fishing and snicking. Henceforth, he's the villain of Wankhede, booed whenever he touches the ball.

Despair in the crowd at Sachin's dismissal. I say to Nikhil, "Come on, you can't expect the thirty plus guys to do everything. Let the youngsters show why they're in the team."

It's lucky Murali doesn't like bowling in the powerplay. The Lankan attack, like India's, is twenty overs of quality and thirty of garbage. Gambhir and Virat consolidate in peace.

Gambhir lofts Randiv, bisecting deep cover and long off, but the ball just hangs in the air and suddenly there's a fielder under it; but then maybe it dips and Kulasekhara can't get to it even after a dive. Really peculiar episode: a certain boundary turns into a certain dismissal only to end up as a dropped catch.

Moment of truth. Murali comes on to bowl. No turn, at least nothing troubling. This from a guy who could get the ball to deviate on a laminated board. Now it's entirely down to our mental strength. The Sri Lankan fielding is falling apart. No mental strength there.

Murali isn't hobbling, but doesn't appear 100% fit either. Even a 70% fit Murali would be deadly on a helpful track, though.

Kohli gets out needlessly. Dhoni comes in ahead of Yuvraj, a half-expected move with Murali bowling. He begins striking the ball cleanly, as all other batsmen have done beyond the first couple of overs in each innings.

We stay in touch with the required rate. Slowly, gradually, the match equation begins to favour India. We get ahead of the Duckworth Lewis requirement. The breeze is strong and has a monsoon-y feel to it. Nikhil says he'll take a thundershower and the win now.

Luckily the breeze isn't being felt downstairs. No drift in the ball. Dhoni and Gambhir reeling the match in like a giant marlin.

Malinga back on. A last throw of the dice. Any hint of reverse swing? Nope. After two fiery overs he's taken off. Soon after, Dhoni crashes a ball straight past the bowler and Malinga at long on chases it down. A tired pick up and a defeated throw.

Gambhir gets himself out before the fish has been landed. Yuvraj comes in and looks comfortable. 50 runs in 50 balls should be an easy win for this team. Not Indian teams of the past, of course, which have lost from more dominant positions. That, right there, is the crucial difference between this squad and previous teams.

Yuvraj and Dhoni bring it home. A hugely satisfying match which hinged on the behaviour of the pitch. Sanga depended on it helping the bowlers in the evening more than it actually did. 275 is always going to be a tough chase in a world cup final, but a little movement off the track could have made it impossible.

Lots of announcements. All better seen and heard on TV. We stay till the cup's in Dhoni's hands, and then head for a beer or two.


Anonymous said...

I actually wondered if you were tweeting and wished I had checked with you on friday.

Enjoyed reading this.

Anonymous said...

Hey Girish!!!

Lucky you to be in the stadium , we enjoyed neverthless!! and boy I have never been so glad in my life before!!! Cheers Srikanth

Girish Shahane said...

Thanks, Surabhi! Srikanth, it was a real treat being in the stadium, as you can imagine. I'm pretty sure India will never again win a world cup final in Bombay, so truly a once in a lifetime occasion.

adrian mckinty said...

As a neutral observer I didnt think there was much drama. The victory was never in any serious doubt though was it?

Girish Shahane said...

You're right, Adrian, there wasn't the drama of previous matches for sure. About the victory being in doubt, we've depended on Tendulkar and Sehwag so much in the past, that once both were out cheaply, lots of people thought India's chances were dim. The last six overs of Lanka's innings and the first six of India's handed the initiative to the visitors. If they had one more exceptional bowler in thier line-up, they could have driven the advantage home.
Indian pitches have a habit of deteriorating quite fast in the second innings of a one-day match. The 1996 world cup semi final between the same two teams is a case in point. India restricted Lanka to 251, on a pitch that didn't look frightening. Tendulkar played one of his gems and soon India were 98 for 1 wicket and seemingly cruising to victory. Then part-timers like Jayasuriya began to turn the ball viciously and, just a few overs later, we were 120 for 8 wickets and the match was lost. Sri Lanka went on to win the World Cup that year.

adrian mckinty said...

The good news is that Tendulkar wont retire on that high. He'll keep going until he gets one more century...

Girish Shahane said...

Yes, one century more, or maybe two to make it 50 one-day hundreds. My guess is he'll retire at the end of the year, though he appears so fresh and is enjoying cricket so much, he says he isn't even thinking of retiring. He had injuries and niggles for a number of years, and we were all reconciled to never seeing the Tendulkar of old again. But these last two years have been fabulous.

Ragu Kattinakere said...

"head for a beer or two" - Why do you have to show that you drink? This is a pathetic practice with many journalists as well. Everyone has a life but that doesn't mean one has to appropriate liberal tag only by demonstrating drink worthyness!

Girish Shahane said...

Ragu, 'head for a beer' is, for me, like saying 'head for a sandwich'. It doesn't have anything to do with *being* liberal, leave along trying to *demonstrate* liberal-ness.