| United we stand: Sachin calls a teammate into a huddle during the semifinal. (AFP)
If it’s big boys who play at night, Sourav Ganguly’s boys in blue must surely now have graduated to the men in blue.
The second semifinal was played out almost completely under lights, as Durban went dark, but there was no stopping the Ganguly gang. This young-old side of ’03 has managed to give Indians around the globe plenty to be proud of, fired the imagination of South Africans, silenced the critics and impressed even the Aussies.
The obvious batting prowess and bowling firepower aside, after the kayoing of Kenya, it’s time to take a bow to the body language of the boy from Behala. Sourav, observe all those who’ve watched him closely through the 53-match Cup, has grown steadily in strength and stature.
“There is a certain air about Sourav that borders on arrogance, but when he speaks, what he rather conveys is an almost understated performance-enhancing aggression, something that does not come with any pill that your mum gives. It’s just a deep desire of a proud man to do well under the enormous pressure that the people of India put on the team,” observes an Aussie cricket watcher catching his fifth World Cup.
It’s that steel that shines through at the post-match press conference in Kingsmead. Indian cap pulled tight over close-set eyes, and black Loafers on his feet, the Indian skipper strokes his way through the questions just as he had handled the Tikolos and Obuyas out there — looking for every possible scoring opportunity.
From backing Rahul Dravid (“okay, he had a bad day, but a huge reason for the way we have been performing is the role played by Rahul behind the stumps and at no. 5) to shutting out any talk of his opening the batting (“I am not eyeing the opening slot. Sehwag has been doing a good job and he just has to continue from the starts he is getting and get us a big hundred”).
From having an eye on the Duckworth-Lewis list during the Kenya reply (“Sachin saw a flash of lightning and alerted me. After that, we got through our overs as quickly as possible to get to 25”) to whether an easy semifinal would mean that the Indians would go into the finals under-prepared (“We have won eight games on the trot, is that not good enough preparation'”).
From the impish (“I won’t tell you what we said to each other at the final huddle after the last Kenyan wicket fell. I’ll tell you only after we’re successful in the finals) to the insistent (“I don’t think what happened at the homes of Rahul, Kaif and mine should happen, such things don’t have a place in sports”).
From the blunt (“It’s been a high-quality World Cup but India and Australia have played at a level that is much higher than the rest.
And to put it properly, all matches India has won have been one-sided”) to the baiting (“The Australians are the best Test side in the world, but whether they are the best one-day side we’ll know at the Wanderers on Sunday”).
Sourav, clearly, has emerged as a star, both with bat and bite.
“If there’s one guy who can beat the Aussies at their own game, backed as he is by the best batsman in the world, some exciting young strokeplayers and an excellent pace trio, it’s this guy,” sums up a British scribe, who refused to return with his team “just to see Ganguly snatch Ponting’s Cup”.
Dhols rule Durban
“It’s great to have good support,” says the skipper. And that Sourav’s men had in visible, vocal measure for the semis — Indians, South Africans of Indian origin, South Africans and miscellaneous.
Whenever things would go a little quiet, a blood-curling “Indiaaaaaaa, jeeeetegaaaaaaa” would cut through the cloudy Kingsmead night, sparking off the dhaks and dhols, dancing and singing. It came from a shady-looking toughie in black who you would never bring home for dinner, but on Thursday one was almost grateful to have him there, praying for the rain to hold off and cheering India on to a quick win.
“Yeh dosti, hum nahin chhodenge…” from Sholay proved to be the most popular anthem of the night, biryani the hottest-selling food pack, and abeer — red, green and even blue — and bhangra — even to Las Ketchup (!) — the stars in the final celebrations.
Bollywood in backseat
The only minor distraction during the Durban night was provided by Shilpa Shetty, the sole Bollywood belle to make an appearance. “Main aayee hoon Durban, Jo-burg lootne; Kenya, phir Australia ko harane,” was the pat parody (of the Shool number) that greeted a wave from the “dance-item” heroine. But the excitement was short-lived as Bollywood took a backseat, despite a plaint from a Tricolour trio: “Aishwarya, tu kahan hai' Aa, taal se taal mila.…” Sorry, folks, Ash (who’s just next to AB on the craze count here) is back where she belongs, at least for the moment.