This day, last year, schools shut at 2:00pm, bazaars were to close down by 2:00pm, auto rickshaws and taxis came to a standstill. Stock exchange offices too wrapped up early; offices had declared a half day and if they would have not, nine out of 10 employees would have suddenly contracted fever, suffered from loose motions or some relative of theirs would have passed away.
It was March 30, 2011. Was it date of Armageddon? No. Then what was this situation of epic proportions that a country was to come to a standstill? It wasn’t an emergency declared either. Yet the airport authorities in the city of Chandigarh were told to create space for landing of 50 aircrafts before noon. No prizes for guessing what the event was.
Yes, arch-rivals, ready to go on war neighbours India and Pakistan met in the World Cup semi-final exactly a year ago. The affair carried such significance that the head of the states of both the countries decided to meet over a cup of tea at the picturesque Punjab Cricket Association stadium in Mohali. No wonder this beautiful city had turned into a fort for over a week leading to this historic day.
The hysteria surrounding an Indo-Pak encounter is difficult to be expressed and when it came with the topping of being a World Cup semi-final, it was war time. Hats off to the 15 men from both the sides and the match officials, for being sober on the field as countrymen from either sides of the border were high on jingoism. Mohali would have never hosted a bigger and better match than this.
The two sides were led by two contrasting leaders. The home team skipper MS Dhoni was the calculative, poker-faced strategist while Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi led his side with passion, exuberance and of course by example too. On a flat as an LED TV wicket, much to the crowds delight, Dhoni won the call of the coin to bat first. It was a win-win situation for both as India chose to play on their strengths, i.e. batting and Pakistan would have loved to bowl first as that was their strong point anyway.
Virender Sehwag’s burst in the third over of the match ensured everyone stopped debating R Ashwin’s exclusion or rather Ashish Nehra’s inclusion and looked forward to a day to remember. Umar Gul was hit for 21 runs including five boundaries in an over, all by Sehwag. Chasing his 100th ton in international cricket then, Sachin Tendulkar too came to the party.
But little did anyone know that it Wahab Riaz’s day. In the sixth over, he got the rampaging Nazafgarh butcher right in front of the wicket much to the joy and relief of his teammates. But Tendulkar had sensed the occasion and was up to take the bull by its horns. In Gautam Gambhir he found an able ally going on for 67 runs together. In that association, Tendulkar was time and again troubled by wily Saeed Ajmal.
Gambhir’s downfall too came to another off-spinner, i.e. Mohammed Hafeez. Tendulkar was leading a charmed life honestly. He was twice dropped off Shahid Afridi’s bowling, first in the 14th over and then in the 20th. After the exit of two Delhites, the Mumbai maestro was joined by a third, Virat Kohli. The Gen X Indian cricketer could not do much in his stay in the centre.
He became Riaz’s second victim playing a strange shot to backward point ending his 21-ball stay at the crease for nine runs. And all hell broke loose the very next ball as man-of-the-moment Yuvraj Singh was cleaned up while stabbing at an in-swinging delivery. Riaz justified his team management’s faith in him over an experienced Shoaib Akhtar. But the left-armer failed to take a hat-trick as captain cool Dhoni avoided the embarrassment for the home team.
The scorers were kept busy and it looked as if the whole of universe was conspiring for a Tendulkar ton. Much to the horror of Pak skipper Afridi, Tendulkar, on 70, was dropped once again off his bowling, this time by butter-fingered glovesman Kamran Akmal. And later his brother Umar dropped him while he was on 82. Afridi could not find a place to hide.
Skipper Afridi realised that he had to do the job himself as he held on to a stinging cover drive of Ajmal to send Tendulkar 15 runs short of what could have been a historic ton on a historic moment. This is when India lost their way as Dhoni could not do much and Suresh Raina in company of lower order did some repair job to put India up there at 260.
In reply, Pakistan made their intentions clear scoring at over 5 runs an over. But Zaheer Khan’s guile proved too much for enterprising Kamran Akmal. A slower ball was sliced straight to Yuvraj at point in the ninth over. Hafeez on the other hand was keeping Pakistan in sight with new man Asad Shafiq. But the probing line of Munaf Patel forced Hafeez to improvise or rather say play a stupid shot before edging it to Dhoni in the 16th over.
Yuvraj, Nehra and Harbhajan Singh choked their neighbours for runs. Yuvraj benefitted from the situation in the 23rd over as Shafiq tried to cut a straight and slightly flatter delivery rattled his timber. In his next over, Yuvraj snared the big ticket wicket of Younis Khan and that’s when the balance slightly tilted in favour of India. In the centre were cucumber cool Misbah Ul Haq and talented Umar.
Umar played some audacious strokes keeping Pakistan’s hopes of a trip to Mumbai intact. The situation was getting tighter and there was no room for error. Needing 119 off 102, all Umar had to do is give company to Misbah. But he just did the opposite playing a no brainer of Bhajji to see his stumps disturbed. Though there was some more fireworks left in Pakistani side in the form of Abdul Razzaq and skipper Afridi.
But neither of them could do anything notable leaving Misbah with nothing but the tail. Afridi left the centre when his team needed 80 of nine overs with three wickets in hand and before him Razzaq’s stint was nothing to make note of. This is where Mumbai police got into action, they realised that a World Cup final with India a certainty in it is coming to their town.
A boundary here and there by tailenders and Misbah were mere formalities. Nehra justified his inclusion taking Riaz and Gul in his kitty as the writing was on the wall of an Indo-Lanka final. The prospective 30,000 spectators at Wankhede were to live a dream seeing their home side play a World Cup final. And the nail on the coffin, a mere formality one this, was hit when Misbah and Pakistan’s end came just a ball earlier than the mandatory 50 overs.
The final before the final was in favour of the home side winning it by a decent 29 runs. Mumbai got the match it could have only dreamt of. Though the dropped catches and slow batting by Pakistan at different stages of the game gave journalists a lot of scoop to cash on later. But then India were in a World Cup final. That was the story. Period.