The one feeling which dominates India as a nation is cynical pessimism. And why shouldn’t it be so? The country has been repeatedly let down by its political leaders, whether it’s the anti-minority speeches made by members of the BJP, or the infighting in the Aam Aadmi Party.
But there is one thing that defuses the negativity that permeates us most of the time. This colossal force is called cricket. When Team India won the ICC World Cup in 2011, the streets of Mumbai came to a standstill as the world conquerors celebrated from the top of a bus. This time too we are witnessing a similar feeling, even if only in anticipation.
The World Cup semi-final against Australia offers Team India the opportunity to accomplish far more than just another win for the country.
The mood of a nation
Team India’s performance during the last one month has brought a smile on the face of Indians. It has altered the mood of the nation. For a moment we seem to have forgotten the outrageous comments made by two Indian lawyers in a BBC documentary about sexual assault. For a moment we seem to have chosen to ignore everything that is going wrong, and all of this is because we are expecting to see our country emerge victorious at an international sports tournament. If Team India manages to win yet another World Cup, it will certainly create a shift towards optimism and positivity.
In terms of cricketing history, Team India will be guarding Asia’s legacy in the match against Australia on Thursday. Since 1992, there has not been a single World Cup final without an Asian team. And with Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh out of the picture, Team India will representing the whole of Asia.
An old rivalry
Another thing which we cannot overlook is that India and Australia share a nail-biting rivalry on the cricket field. Can any Indian forget the humiliation that India faced at the finals of the 2003 ICC World Cup when Australia posted a mammoth total of 359 in Johannesburg? Can any Indian forget the manner in which India edged past Australia in the quarterfinals of the previous World Cup with five wickets to spare and ended Australia’s 12-year reign at the top of the cricketing world? The cricketing history between these two great sides is too immense and intense to be ignored. Hence, the match at Sydney is bound to be a cracker of a contest.
The overseas factor
However, the principle reason why this match is being projected as the ultimate opportunity for Team India to prove its ability is because of the overseas factor. Remember that Asian teams are known for roaring as lions while playing at home but they fail to make an impact when they travel abroad. India for one has never won a test match series in South Africa.
Besides India, the other three contenders are Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. The Proteas and Kiwis, despite not making it to a single World Cup final, have always been forces to reckon with. This is because these two teams have produced world-class seam bowlers like Shane Bond and Dale Steyn who never failed to make an impact on the fast pitches outside of the Indian subcontinent. Surely these teams do not possess the mental conditioning to break past the semi-final barrier. Lack of mental preparation is the only reason why somebody like Lance Klusener failed to score that winning run against Australia during the semi-final in 1999. But this time around, things have changed. New Zealand topped their group and convincingly marched past West Indies. South Africa also commands one of its strongest sides ever and very soon, one of these teams will be playing in their first World Cup final.
India has an opportunity to prove that they are no minnows or pushovers when it comes to playing overseas. During the last World Cup, India had the home advantage against Australia. This time the Kangaroos have it. Team India is bound to reach the pinnacle of cricketing glory if they are able to best the “baggy green” in their own backyard.
If India wins, it would pave the way for a truly unexpected final, with the reigning world champions pitted against World Cup finals rookies and in a venue neutral to both.
(This article was originally published in The Huffington Post.)