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How national chauvinism 'overtook' sport despite cricketing glory of World Cup 2023

By Harsh Thakor* 

The recently-concluded cricket World Cup was a testimony or manifestation of the thrills, intensity, twists and turns in sport and evolution of the game of cricket. It carried on the trend of the World Cups of yesteryears. Possibly, this was the best ever Indian team in a World Cup, and arguably amongst the best ever to contest a World Cup.
Before losing the final to Australia, India achieved a record streak of 10 unbeaten games, appearing as invincible as past champions West Indies and Australia. It dispelled every opponent effortlessly, simply rolling over them. It ripped the flesh out of South Africa, , who were close to the best side in the league stage.
India also convincingly chased down targets set by rivals New Zealand and Australia. It looked like a perfect well oiled machine, or close to an invincible army battalion. It excelled in every department, with brilliance in batting and bowling. No team even pressed it. India was the only team that played consistently well. Every other side faltered at some stage.
Before the final, no team in the history of the cricket World Cup has been as head and shoulders above the opposition, or asserted superiority than equal scale, as India in 2023. Considering the strength of opposition, the number of games and the margins of victories, India was overshadowed only by the best West Indies and Australian teams. Indian players blended mental resilience in their powerhouse of talent. Rarely has any team as clinically devoured opposition, shattering the base of the strongest opponents.
In my view, West Indies of 1979, Australia of 2003 and 2007, and possibly South Africa and Pakistan of 1999, were better teams. They overpowered stronger opponents. I feel India’s talent should be tested in English, Australian or South African conditions.
On the day of final, Australians were the best, but overall India was best. India should take heart in exhibiting dominance at an unparalleled scale. History repeated itself, with a hot favourites being overpowered, just like in 1983, 1987, 1992 and 1996.

Other teams

A sensation or budding flower in this tournament was Afghanistan, who defeated former world champions, England, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, and came within a doorstep of defeating Australia. I wish them the best in future World Cups, who stole the show, and all but qualified for the semi-finals: echoes of the rise of Sri Lanka into a cricketing giant three decades ago.
Regretfully in the league stage, England and Sri Lanka were almost ineffective and Pakistan inconsistent. Towards the end Pakistan dramatically overpowered the Kiwis on the basis of run rate scoring 200 in 25 overs, after chasing a 401 run target: one of the most spectacular rearguard counter attacks to upstage a rival.
In spite of flashes of brilliance, and being the best batting side, South Africans were magnificent when setting a target, like against Australia and New Zealand, but vulnerable when chasing, as shown when losing to India and romping home by a mere whisker against Pakistan after appearing to be sailing home earlier.
New Zealand made a sensational turnabout in a run chase against Australia, coming within inches of the target -- resurrecting every time it looked dead and buried. Strangely, it was inflicted a massive defeat by the Proteas, chasing target of 355.
Australia made a poor start with 2 losses, but then knit themselves together, to perform as a formidable unit. It resurrected from the grave at 91-7 against Afghanistan due to Glen Maxwell’s 201, which was batting exhibition in the heights of the divine.
Australians, which I backed to win mid-way the league stage when starting their winning streak, were deserving winners. It brilliantly resurrected like a phoenix from the ashes. In the end the Aussie mental resilience and strength prevailed over India, which was the ultimate powerhouse of talent: man-to-man and performance wise it was the best team of the tournament.

Evaluation of 2023 World Cup

This edition had some enthralling tussles and cricketing skill taken to zones not transcended. In this edition we missed out the games that went to the wire, with hardly a whisker separating sides. In my view, in 2023, we did not witness as many thrillers, epic finishes or turnabouts as in 1975,1987,1999 or in 2019.
Perhaps we missed out on teams like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka and England, playing as they did in earlier tournaments at their best. The Aussies and the Proteas displayed vulnerability in departments, the former in middle order batting and the latter in run chases and bowling. India was the only team that played consistently well. Every other side faltered at some stage. There was hardly anything between the four teams who finished behind India in the league stage.
We hardly witnessed great all-round performances. Teams also rarely overcame crunch situations to turn matches. I feel pitches were overloaded in favour of batsmen, paving the way to regularly plunder 350-400 scores, and making a 325 target highly chaseable.
Virat Kohli compiled a record run aggregate of 765 runs for a cricket World Cup, and became the 1st ever to score 50 ODI centuries. Other prolific batting stars were Rohit Sharma, Quintin Decock, Darren Mitchell. Mohamed Shammi was the champion with the ball, capturing 24 scalps. He made the most penetrating breakthroughs to win games.
For sheer strike rate in first 10 overs, Rohit Sharma surpassed any batsmen in World Cup history. Individual performances took a leap, topped by Glen Maxwell’s double hundred against Afghanistan. Darren Mitchell took virtuosity to heights rarely scaled in a World Cup, while Rachin Ravindra was talent personified.

Best matches of the league stage

Although Pakistan went down to South Africa in the World Cup game at Chennai in cliffhanger they must take credit for spectacularly resurrecting themselves when a Proteas victory looked a mere formality. After dismissing Makram at 251-6, they all but pulled off miraculous win. Pakistan made South Africa's task an arduous and gruelling one. .At junctures of 206-423, 6-5 and 250-6 the Proteas looked home and dry., before Pakistan clawed themselves back like tigers.
Overall it was cricket which was the winner, even if South Africa made heavy weather of the target. The match manifested the glory of World Cup cricket. It also proved South Africa's vulnerability in run chases, with their lower order often buckling. The first great contest of the tournament going down to the wire: cricketing intensity at it's superlative height, with South Africa holding their nerves, to scamper home.
Debatably the league match between Australia and New Zealand ranks amongst the best ever or most intense ODIs with suspense of a Hollywood thriller, with a possibility of twists or turns in the plot to the very end. New Zealand staged one of the most heroic acts of defiance or rear guard actions facing a challenge to mammoth total in an ODI or a World Cup.
At every juncture, when they were in dire straits, they relentlessly clawed themselves back, whether after the fall of Mitchell or Ravindra. In my view arguably the best ever performance in a losing run chase. Combative spirit was shown in heights rarely transcended in a World Cup.
The Australians were most calculated and clinical, always clawing back to wrest the initiative to be in the drivers seat. Midway they lost the plot in their innings, but finally staged a great recovery. Possiblh, in the end they were unable to nail the Kiwis after Ravindra was dismissed. Ravindra's batting was classical, transcending brilliance in heights rarely surpassed in big run chases.
One of cricket's epics at Wankhede stadium or equivalent of a miracle was Australia dead and buried at 91-7, chasing 291 runs against Afghanistan to win, before Maxwell resurrected them, creating the sensation of a divine intervention. Cricketing glory transcended zones unprecedented, with close to the most sensational turnabout ever.
Full Marks to Afghanistan for all but pulling of a famous win, or a series of successive wins. A dropped catch off Glen Maxwell robbed them of untold glory. The manner Maxwell batted was as though a win was a walk in the park or a foregone conclusion.

Semi-finals

The first semi-final at Mumbai was classic in its own right with the Kiwis heroically coming within touching distance of climbing or scaling an Everest, or penetrating regions of the divine. India raced to an invincible position amassing 398, reminiscent of a coming operation by a bulldozer. No semi-final ever witnessed such a clinical, surgical or ruthless batting exhibition.
In spite of looking dead and buried, New Zealand resurrected themselves at 220-2 to still remain in the reckoning. Till 10 overs were left or at around 295-4,there was still glimmer of hope, but India nailed them, giving the final knockout punch.
The 2nd semi-final at Eden Gardens was a great game of cricket with Australian mental resilience and temperament making all the difference. Few games ever have ever been so determined by the first 10 overs when the Aussies literally strangled a noose around the neck of their old adversary, the Proteas.

Till the final, BCCI gave India unfair advantage, doctoring pitches. In semi-final pitch was changed at last minute, letting India choose how to play
After the flesh was ripped of the South African batting, it resurrected itself, with 2 major partnerships, to reach a fighting total. Australia started with a boomerang or performing a combing operation at 60-0 in a mere 6 overs.
However, with unflinching resilience the Proteas clawed themselves back, or put themselves back into the reckoning when the game looked like slipping away, and at 137-5, with the dismissal of Glen Maxwell, almost drew level.
In the end the Aussies just scampered through, with the South Africans sending them jitters with the wickets of Steve Smith and finally Josh Inglis. Australian batsmen were floundering and tormented with the spin .South Africa also dropped 3 crucial catches. History repeated itself with South Africa lacking the required temperament to rise to an occasion, or adapt to adverse conditions.

Final at Ahmedabad

The final continued the trend of cricket World Cup with the mentally strongest team and best on the day triumphing. India, after making a blistering start after Rohit Sharma’s blitzkrieg, succumbed to the Aussie juggernaut. The Aussie attack literally, after dislodging Rohit Sharma and Shreyas Iyer, put the brakes on India’s middle order, reminiscent of a barricade being built. The likes of Virat Kohli, K Rahul and Ravindra Jadeja were trapped in a cocoon. 
Chasing 241 runs, although facing a mini-collapse at 47-3, Australia raced to the target with remorseless ease. Travis Head resembled galleon in fill sail, when scoring a match-winning century. Rarely have I witnessed any team in the field like this Australian side, playing in such calculated, clinical and organised manner, doing just what the doctor ordered.
Quoting my Facebook post a three days before the final, “Australia has peaked at right time. India was a more balanced, but the Aussie mental strength or tenacity will come to the fore with killer instinct. It has more potential match winners like David Warner, Steve Smith, Glen Maxwell, Hazelwood, Michel Starc, Adam Zampa etc. 
India is no doubt on paper and its performance is the strongest and more powerful team, but in my view it will be the Australian mental resilience and tenacity to resurrect from adversity that will prevail. On its day the Aussies will blow all cylinders and conquer opposition in the manner of a combing operation.”
India was beaten in final but not humiliated. Heartiest congrats to the Australians for their phenomenal tenacity, fighting spirit, far superior big match temperament and mental resilience to adapt to conditions. No team has ever been as calculating. Rarely has any team placed the brakes in such an effective manner on batting side as the Aussies here, giving virtually no respite to the Indian middle order.
On pure merit India was ahead, but did not match the Aussie big match temperament. Reminds me of the fighting and collective spirit of Alan Border-led team of 1987, when upsetting Pakistan and England.

Reasons for India’s defeat in final

In 2011, India resurrected themselves from dire straits later a series of hard fought games, which made all the difference. Similar was the case in 1983. Here India was hardly stretched by any opponent, which did not bring the best out of the side, or tested it sufficiently.
India were too plateaued and one paced with no hard opposition or faced no hard-fought battles till the final. Conditions always suited them till here. India had top class specialist, but lacked all-rounders and sufficient bating depth. It also was accustomed to playing on flat pancakes, unlike the wicket in the final.
In previous World Cups the best teams played stronger opponent when winning. I feel past Sri Lankan, English, South African or even Kiwi teams were stronger than here. I feel we missed the experience, diversity and all round skill of 2011, with ranks of Sehwag, Tendulkar, Yuvraj and ex-factor of Dhoni. Possibly India peaked too early in this World Cup. India simply looked to run out of petrol or lacked the fuel for a final, in complete contrast to Australia, who garnered their forces to perfection.
Losing the toss or batting first led to India’s debacle. The due in the 2nd part of the game made the bowlers helpless, creating equivalent of graveyard. When India batted, the wicket was dry and slow, which curbed stroke making flourishing.
Coach Dravid trained this team to be unbeaten until the script was followed but on the final the day the script deviated; they were unable to bounce back because they were prepared to only excel at playing skill, but had no training in developing a formula in match situations.

Doctored pitch, chauvinistic crowd

Till the final, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) gave India unfair advantages, doctoring pitches to suit India -- like in semi-final  -- when the pitch was changed at last minute, letting India choose where they will play while no one else can. All this has pampered the team, and so they were not at their best in truly neutral conditions. In fact, there is strong evidence to suggest that the tournament was being rigged in favour of the Indian team, with balls being doctored and pitches prepared to favour the Indian team.
I was ashamed of the absolutely partisan nature of crowds in the final at the Narendra Modi stadium, which not for a single moment applauded the Australians. It manifested very powerful nationalistic chauvinism, similar Germany in 1936 Olympics in Berlin. 
I remember Englishman applauding West Indies in 1975 and 1979 and India in 1983, Indians applauding Australia in 1987 or Australians applauding Pakistan in 1992. It is a very sad reflection on the chauvinist character of almost two lakh people and how essence of sport has turned into a war.
I am not referring to a small faction of trouble makers which you will find in every country, but at a grander scale, never have I seen a more hostile and less sporting fans in all my life. I understand hostility towards Pakistan, but towards Australia? Let’s not forget the absence of team India during the presentation! A social media post threatened Travis Head’s family!
Note the connection between BCCI and Jay Shah. On the opening ceremony on the day of the Pakistan vs India match, the denial of visas for fans (in particular Pakistan), the closing ceremony/ presentation was planned for an Indian victory (no plan B) and RSS show-boating, coupled with next year's General Elections.
I am not referring to a small faction of trouble makers which you will find in every country, but at a grander scale, never have I seen a more hostile and less sporting fans in all my life. I understand hostility towards Pakistan, but towards Australia? Let’s not forget the absence of team India during the presentation!
Turning cricket into a multi-billion dollar business has elevated nation chauvinism or power struggle. Intervention of globalisation or money has killed the game. World Cup cricket 2023 is a testimony of this, manifesting the goals of globalisation and how sport has been turned into a war.
---
*Freelance journalist

Comments

Anonymous said…
Terrific analysis Harsh , India just had a bad day on the field , that happens in sport . But the blatant political overtones associated with the world cup were over the top.

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