New Zealand vs Sri Lanka match [Photo: ICC]Like a mirage, the dream date has disappeared.
Cricket’s incurable romantics spent a good part of the past week or 10 days rejigging travel plans, and fantasising about an India-Pakistan semifinal in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023. It had the potential to overshadow the November 19 title clash in Ahmedabad.
The fans were getting ready to pay through their noses for a ringside view of the possible fireworks at the Eden Gardens. The prospect teased supporters around the world, not the least in the sub-continent, for a week and more. The excitement and the suspense only grew when Pakistan beat New Zealand via the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern Method in a rain-hit match in Bengaluru.
The young and the old, women and men, were constantly being nudged in that direction by a series of results that saw New Zealand go into a downward spiral and Pakistan make a revival. New Zealand, who started with four straight wins, seemed to lose steam and faced a string of four successive defeats, while Pakistan breathed life into their campaign.
It was the ultimate marketing dream – an India-Pakistan clash in the knockout stages of a cricket World Cup. For, it has been a dozen years since the two giants clashed in a World Cup play-off match. And six years have gone by since India and Pakistan met in the knockout stages of an ICC 50-over tournament.
While an India-Pakistan match in the league stage draws the most eyeballs, a knockout game would be in an altogether different league. And who would not have loved to test the ability of their heart to experience the whole range of human emotions during the course of such a dream match-up?
But New Zealand arrested their slide in the nick of time with a powerful performance against Sri Lanka on Thursday, to add layers of challenge to the improbable, even impossible, mountain that Pakistan have been left to climb in their final league match against England on Saturday. The result forced fans to reorganise their thoughts and expectations.
A billion and more hearts ached at the thought of the marquee match not materialising. But even if it must be muttered under the breath, the remote chances of that dream India-Pakistan semifinal materialising at the Eden Gardens have efficiently subdued whispers about unseemly constellations conspiring to set the game up. All talk that the match had been made possible by those operating in the shadows has been set to rest.
This has been one of the biggest gains that cricket-lovers can take heart from. For far too long, many who follow cricket – but do not qualify as fans, leave alone as students of the game – have vilified the game by watch through jaundiced eyes. They will be most disappointed that such chatter has no basis in truth.
Be that as it may, disappointment will be the dominant emotion in several boardrooms, where many were tempted to start licking their lips in anticipation of a battle royale between the sub-continental neigbours. Come to think of it, the countless roadside merchants who sell a range of emotional props – from flags and jerseys – for fans to wear or carry into Eden Gardens will be vastly disappointed that a great business opportunity would not come their way.
An India-Pakistan contest would have piqued interest like little else. But fans will have to learn to find their joys in other contests unfolding before them instead of lamenting missing out on the joy of watching another India-Pakistan game.
Of course, Pakistan and their fans will have to deal with the disappointment that their stay in India will not extend to the final week of the World Cup. India might well be relieved that they do not have to invest energy in an emotion-sapping contest against Pakistan. Rohit Sharma and his team can focus on winning another game and getting past the penultimate hurdle, where they fell in both 2015 and 2019.
As for cricket romantics, they can now turn their hearts to two enticing clashes – one featuring India and New Zealand in Mumbai, and the other pitting Australia and South Africa in Kolkata. And a third one, the final, in Ahmedabad.
For the romantics – and for everyone else — there is so much to look forward to. They have little to complain about. While the mirage around an India-Pakistan semifinal has dissolved into thin air, the prospect of the business end of the tournament being as beautiful is too powerful to ignore.
Like a mirage, the dream date has disappeared. Cricket’s incurable romantics spent a good part of the past week or 10 days rejigging travel plans, and fantasising about an…
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