It's over, right? The addictive, emotional, roller-coaster of a ride called ICC Cricket World Cup. Is it still on?
The tournament schedule tells us that it has ended. The aching heart, the joyous heart, every kind of hearts right now tell us a different story. The players have vacated Lord's, spectators have left, TV sets are off. No cricket commentary to listen too. No notifications of teams being knocked out, batsmen breaking records or bowlers taking hat-tricks. Yet it feels the phone will buzz anytime and there will be news of a match either marred by rain or heading towards a finish fixated by its reputation of being a game of glorious uncertainties.
Yeah, let's face it. World Cup is over. But before it went, it has written a golden chapter in the history of the sport.
England, the country that gave the world a sport that we dearly love today, finally won a World Cup 44 years from its inception. New Zealand, a country now less known for Kiwis and more for producing nice guys, played and lost the match which they did not lose. It was a sort of a day when cricket shocked itself. It came down to rules. Bizarre for a country mourning the loss, boon for another celebrating the win. These rules, in a nutshell, is why someone called cricket a funny game. However, Kiwis finding humour in this defeat is highly unlikely, even if they are so nice.
As the World Cup 2019 ends, there are quite a few nerve-wracking and unforgettable moments, which will stay with us for a long, long time.
What Carlos Brathwaite did with bat, with West Indies down and out at one stage, requires a terrific heart and writing skill to explain. Mohammad Nabi’s calm presence in the middle that had India huffing and puffing till the last over could have become a great cricketing story. However, it was the other Mohammed (Shami) who had decided to own that moment. Kane Williamson’s monk-like knock, his touch to the third-man boundary on the last ball of the penultimate over in a stiff chase is probably why a cricket fan does not leave his/her seat ever when the genius from Tauranga is batting. Also, Babar Azam living his dream at the world stage by proving that he is more than his cover drives. He became the first non-opener to score a World Cup century for Pakistan since 1987 and that was definitely a historic development. Shami's upright seam position hitting the deck hard might not be a cricketing event but it was not less than a stroll back in memory for those who have seen Kapil Dev bowl. For those who have not, it was like watching a dream where an Indian fast bowler was on song, at the peak of his skills. Ravindra Jadeja inspired by a commentator's criticism, revealed the person in him on Twitter and then the cricketer in him on the field a few days later.
And then there are other stories and not mere events. Rohit Sharma's golden run with the bat. Shakib Al Hasan going one notch above his own self at No 3. Jasprit Bumrah's sustained excellence, Jofra Archer's exuberance, David Warner's grit. These were some standout cricketing performances.
But as we look back, we realise that any sport at such a grand stage is much more than that. Some cricketers have created stories with the skills they possess. Some by merely existing on the pitch. Some with an act of gratitude as well. Some by showing affection when least expected. Some by holding on the grudges and some by letting them loose.
While some of these acts were clearly visible on a cricket pitch, some were not so much.
Like the Pakistani cricketer who rejoined the team after saying goodbye forever to his little daughter. He will tell you a lot about the clarity of mind or the lack of it when donning the national team's jersey and stepping on the field. Asif Ali may not have played a single game in the World Cup but did catch a flight to England after completing the last rites of his daughter. It takes a hell lot of strength to gather the pieces in you after being blown away by this massive personal tragedy and move on.
It takes a similar amount of gratitude and affection to share the pain of the opponent who failed to take his side home after reaching the brink of victory. Carlos Brathwaite failing to hit the six off the last ball of the penultimate over might be the most tragic moment in World Cup 2019 for Windies but the next second Kiwis made it the most remembered as well for a different reason with their human touch. Ross Taylor consoling a devastated Carlos Brathwaite after he was caught at the long-on boundary is a moment capturing the profound feeling of humanness. While we live for such last-ball thrillers, the sport exists for moments like these. This is when the wholesome objective of the sport is achieved, that it reveals character. And it reveals not only when the chips are down, but also when you have won something. That you are not just engrossed in your win, but someone's loss also.
A similar amount of courage is required to step on the field for the first time in your national team's jersey after having served a year ban from cricket. How does it feel to be heckled by the crowd every time your name is announced on a cricket field or the camera cuts on your close up? Ask David Warner and Steve Smith, who have experienced all of this in front of a camera in the last year or so. To grind and to make a comeback requires a lot of courage.
It also requires the similar amount of compassion as shown by Virat Kohli, who took a moment to make the India fans realise what they were actually representing when they heckled Steve Smith. It was a moment when Kohli was not just the batsman trying to win his country a cricket match and collect 2 points, it was a moment when he also became a role model for the millions of kids who idolise and dream of playing like him every night before they go to bed.
It also takes a similar amount of mental strength to be Sarfaraz Ahmed. Leading Pakistan in a World Cup is an achievement, it does not matter where you end up on the points table. He experienced so many emotions. A bit of that was revealed as he covered his face with his left hand after Rohit Sharma square cut the ball for six off Hasan Ali. His two press conferences revealed a lot that Sarfaraz wanted his feelings and emotions to himself. In the one before the Australia game, he was confident of the fact that Pakistani supporters won't heckle Smith and Warner. But post the India match, he was physically heckled by a Pakistani fan himself at a mall where he went with his family. If that was not enough, he was also caught yawning against India in what many consider as the biggest match in this sport. Ironically, this was the same Sarfaraz who had said that Pakistan will play every match at World Cup with the same intensity as an India-Pakistan match.
It did not take the Pakistan captain long to say that it was just yawning, a natural occurrence and it could happen to anyone at any time. Sarfaraz constantly proved himself wrong, on and off the pitch. It appeared as if he kept talking to himself, made himself believe that he can lead this team to glory, as it happened in 1992. He fooled himself at times but all of it was to keep himself motivated. But like his team's quality of cricket in the early phase of tournament, he kept on surprising himself each day. It appeared as if he was a leader engrossed in self-doubt. And while self-doubt is important as it leads you to many answers, its importance also lies in how much of it is healthy. If the Indian team lacked it throughout, only to grieve in the end, it was something Pakistan had in abundance.
While all these things were revealed, a lot was also hidden. Hidden in smiling Williamson at the post-match press conference. He smiled even while passing the trophy two times on the dais. Was it an act to show his big heart or a picture of the environment back home he is grown in? A lot of emotions were also hidden in MS Dhoni's walk back to the dressing room with India on the cusp of a World Cup semi-final exit. Was it the beginning of a new journey or the final walk to a grim end?
There was a lot hidden in Ben Stokes' reaction when he raised his arms to apologise to Williamson, as the ball hit him and went for four after a deflection. Was it fear of not letting a match go off his hook or an act of generosity during crunch time? Then it was Archer, who sat on the ground, smiling foolishly as his other teammates celebrated the win. Was it the happiness having achieved something unbelievable or the belief that anything was achievable? A lot was hidden in the gloom and celebration at Lord's on Sunday. Some rules, some laws, debates, despair, discussions, drama.
Witnessing what World Cup presented was an incredible experience. What it kept hidden will always remain a mystery. The tussle between experience and mysteries will keep cricket going – on the pitch in cricketing action and off the pitch in debates and discussions. Now on to the next one.