World Cup: Hope, belief in the air after India beat Bangladesh, reach semis
Ah, that feeling again. India are in the semi-finals of the World Cup. Triumph is on the horizon. Hope is in full bloom. An entire nation is waiting to explode in celebrations. It feels so alive to able to wake up with a grin, memories of a happy night, and the promise of a lot more.
India have been there in the past. Six times. Only Australia have been more consistent. A few more times and maybe, like the Aussies, we may actually start treating it as an entitlement. Or, in a bout of magnanimity, step aside to allow the Pakistanis or the Bangladeshis to jump the queue.
Not this time, though.
India reaching the semi-finals seems like an inevitability the day we beat Australia. Then we believed we can do it. So far we have kept our tryst with the Lords.
Against Bangladesh on Tuesday (July 2), India did an encore of the game against Australia, minus the trademark flourish at the end. Rohit Sharma started in trademark fashion, pulling one pitched short to the shorter boundary at mid-wicket. That set off a run feast.
When Rohit is at the crease, like they claimed about India’s Prime Minister in the recent election, everything is possible. Once he settles down and reaches his 50, first comes the prospect of a quick acceleration, then a hundred, and in the end, pure mayhem.
Against Bangladesh, like each and every time he hits a hundred before the second drinks break, a 200 loomed. The Hitman, as is his wont, was in full flow, hitting lofted sixes over mid-wicket, showing the straight bat to the ones pitched up to make them sail over the bowler’s head, hitting cover boundaries on the up and being absolutely nonchalant about his hundred, as if it were just a minor milestone in a bigger journey. But, he fell, hitting a lazy shot.
Once he left, we had a glimpse of the wonder that Rishabh Pant could be. There is something about Pant when he is at the crease. He looks confident, happy, and busy and, if that’s a flaw, overeager to get on with it. Some batsmen, like Vivian Richards, come to the crease with a swagger, giving the impression that they are walking into a battlefield, ready to decimate rivals. Some step out with the easy joie de vivre of youth, treating the world as a happy place to party. Pant has that look and feel to his game.
With two wickets — KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya — having fallen in quick succession, Pant came to the party, hitting three fours off different angles. The message — pressure is nothing. The kid is in his first World Cup, flown in as a replacement, but he has come out with have-bat-will-hit written all over him.
The advertisement for his motto came in the first Mosaddek Hossain over he faced. With the over headed towards the end after a string of dot balls, Pant shimmied down the track, showed the full face of the bat and the ball sailed into the second tier over long on. A daredevil who can conjure boundaries at will, at acute angles, a youngster who will dance in the middle of a battle holds the promise of an age defining innings in this World Cup. Fingers crossed.
And what can you say about Jaspreet Bumrah that has already not been said. Against Bangladesh, he did what is expected of him in every single game. In the bowling crease, while Mohammad Saifuddin was waiting to become an overnight hero, thinking of hitting 29 off 12 balls, with two laser-guided yorkers, Bumrah reminded Bangladesh what sudden death means. Two balls, two wickets, game over. Bye, bye Bangladesh. Good night, Saifuddin. Well played, but, kiddo, you shouldn’t have taken that single off Bumrah.
So, back to that feeling again. The promise of another World Cup.
Out of the five times India have reached this stage in the past, only twice they had the aura of invincibility, the tag of the favourites. In 1987, India had a great batting unit that went right down to No 9—only Maninder Singh was a bit of rabbit. And, on India’s dry pitches, they had a decent bowling attack led by Kapil Dev. The defining memory of that World Cup is the shared belief between India and Pakistan that they were destined to meet in the finals. But, Graham Gooch swept India out and Australia sent Pakistan into mourning.
That sense of entitlement surfaced again in 2011. India were on a roll with Sachin Tendulkar, Virendra Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni making up a formidable line up. With Zaheer Khan reversing the ball in the middle overs, Indian bowling had the luxury of a brahmastra (a weapon that always destroys). India lived up to the expectations and brought the cup home.
In all other editions, India were on a prayer and a dream. In 1983, West Indies loomed like Goliath. In 2003, Ricky Ponting’s Australians waited like those men in the film 300, each raised to the power of 100. India, frankly, had more hope than ability in these World Cups.
But, 2019 is slightly different, like 2015. By turn, India, Australia and England have been the best teams on display. In the semi-finals, with three evenly matched teams, one innings, one over can turn the game. For India that magic can come from Rohit, Kohli and Bumrah, or, that X-man called Pant.
Belief is in the air again. And what could be more beautiful than a week of hope, optimism and dreams of a triumph. Thank you Team India for that feeling again.