I cannot seem to stop thinking about the World Cup. Although I am not as big a cricket fan as some other people are, World cup certainly brings out the fan in me. The very first world cup I have memories of is 1992. Faint though the memories are, this was the first time I felt like cricket was a sport that evoked emotion in me. All I remember now is Imran Khan, handsome in green, lifting the transparent, crystal trophy to loud cheers. I had no idea of the Indo-Pak rivalry, and was mighty pleased that our neighbor won. That, until my very smart, jingoistic friend said – “pagal, Pakistani apne dushman hain, kyun unko support karri?”. After that I never loudly cheered for the men in green, although I liked a few of their players.
Obviously now I was pumped and couldn’t wait for 1996. But 1996 was Sri Lanka’s year from the get go. Scoring atleast 100 in the first 15 overs became the norm and that left me huffing and puffing, until they reached the quarterfinals, and were facing Pakistan. It was a do or die situation, for the Indian team, as well as for me, because that same year, a month later, we had our 10th class board examinations! And I was supposed to be preparing for the exams, not sneaking out to watch cricket with friends. But that is precisely what I did. Helped amply by my sister, we both sneaked out to a friend’s place, whose parents were out of town. Boy! Was I glad I ditched studying for this. Where Aamir Sohail’s 4, and his gesturing to Prasad enraged me, Prasad’s clean bowling Sohail a few balls later brought a lump to my throat. Was this really the Indian cricket team? That quarterfinal win felt amazing, and little did I know that this win was the last one of the tournament. We then ran into the Sri Lankan juggernaut in the Semis at Eden Gardens. Eden Gardens has never sounded the same to me me ever again. The only memory I have of that match is Kambli crying. Crying his eyes out because he really tried to play well, but wickets kept falling, the pitch kept disintegrating. Such a shame.
1999 was a blur again. I was excited about cricket going back to its country of origin, but we crashed out in the super six. The good news, though, was that we defeated Pakistan yet again. The whole tournament seemed iffy for India, we barely scraped out wins! This was a year to forget.
2003 brought the tournament to South Africa. This was the year we came closest to winning, after 1983. We were in top form, starting with the indomitable Sachin. I was in Mumbai at the time and my dad was visiting the day India was to play Pakistan in one of the early rounds. My dad was to take the afternoon flight back to Hyderabad, and I refused to go see him off because I wanted to watch the match And it was totally worth incurring my dad’s wrath. Sachin brought the stadium down with his masterful strokeplay, and was fittingly, the man of the match. I had high hopes for the Indian team, and they did deliver, until the finals, that is. Australia, led by Ponting, did a complete dhulai of the Indian bowlers and scored 359 in their 50 overs. India could not stand up to McGrath’s fury and were bowled out for a measely 234 in 40 overs. It was a sad sad match to watch, but Australia did deserve to win.
2007 is one world cup year I would love to forget. India lost to Bangladesh in its very first match. And things only went downhill from there. Pakistan fared similarly, and for the very first time in years, India and Pakistan did not play each other in the World cup. I checked out of the tournament as soon as we lost to Bangladesh. And that was that. I swore never to trust the Indian team again.
But here we are. 2011 is when the World cup comes rolling into India. And this year, I hope we win. For this would be the very last time we would see the little master play in a world cup. In all likelihood he would have retired by 2015, and what better way to go out of the game than to win cricket’s most coveted trophy, in your home stadium? I am sure Mumbai is on tenterhooks right now, waiting for the world cup to be brought home. I hope this is the year the rest of the team does not let the man down, and he does not let a billion people down. Bring home the cup Sachin!
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