|Photos||Video & Audio||Blogs||Statistics||Archive||Games||Mobile|
So India won.
I know it's silly to get carried away, but not since Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi have Indians watched their cricket team being led with such nerveless flair. And the Nawab was born hosed and shod with Winchester to help and a silver service in his mouth. Our current skipper does a commercial where he talks about how he could have been a ticket-collector in the railways! There's something about Dhoni …
People keep saying that he represents India's new mofussil man, the hungry provincial, but he's more than a stereotype. If stamping their feet and scowling at errant players is typical of the find-someone-to-blame reflex of Indian captains, then Dhoni is the first grown-up skipper we've had in decades. I don't think giving Joginder Sharma the last over twice-running was such a stroke of genius: he bowled short and wide and it was the tension of the game rather than Sharma, that kept Misbah-ul-Haq at bay, but Dhoni had his reasons and he backs his hunches without looking oppressed by the need to make big decisions. For that we should all be grateful. They should give him the Test captaincy. Not because Twenty20 is a guide to Test form, but because he's the only adult in Indian cricket.
Deciding to bat first turned out to be the sensible thing to do. I think the Pakistanis bowled brilliantly, better, collectively, than our lot, but Dhoni had gambled that runs on the board, batting first, would be worth a few wickets in a World Cup final and he was dead right. Umar Gul was unplayable: to bowl yorker after yorker at nearly ninety miles an hour in the bedlam of a Twenty20 game, you have to be a very superior player. And Shoaib captained like a young genius: the decision to go with spin at both ends the moment Yuvraj walked in at the fall of the second wicket was inspired. He thought him out.
When the team was announced at the start of the match, half-a-dozen times through the match and then after it was over, I thought of the parents of the Brothers Pathan. To have two sons in India's eleven, to have your older boy hit the second ball of his international career for six, to see him bowl an over, then to watch your younger son return triumphantly to form when it mattered most, to see him made the Man of this Mother of all Matches, must have been more magical than a fairy tale. Rajdeep Sardesai tells of the time Irfan took him to the home he grew up in, just to show him the improbable origins of an Indian champion. Two rooms in the compound of the mosque where his father was the Imam. Talk about happy endings!
"First of all I want to say something over here. I want to thank you back home Pakistan and where the Muslim lives all over the world."
This is what he said word for word because it's important to quote him correctly. The problem here isn't the syntax, it is the sentiment. I don't expect Shoaib Malik to be a politically correct intellectual, but it is reasonable to expect him to know the world of cricket that he inhabits.
It is a world where Muslims, Hindus and a Sikh currently play for England, where Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and a Hindu play for Sri Lanka, where Hashim Amla turns out for South Africa, where a Patel plays for New Zealand, where Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Hindus play (and have always played) for India. Why would Shoaib think, then, that the Muslims of the world were collectively rooting for the Pakistan team or that they felt let down by its defeat? Did he stop to think of how Danish Kaneria, his Hindu team-mate, might feel hearing his Test skipper all but declare that the Pakistan team is a Muslim team that plays for the Muslims of the world? It is one thing to be publicly religious—Shahid Afridi thanked Allah and Matt Hayden and Shaun Pollock are proud, believing Christians—quite another to declare that your country's cricket eleven bats for international Islam.
Is this the forum to talk about this? Shouldn't Cricinfo and cricket's online community stick to cricket and leave issues like this alone? No we shouldn't, because Shoaib Malik chose to make it our business by saying it in team colours at the end of the ICC World Twenty20 final. He said something that goes to the heart of cricket's loyalties, its culture, its plurality of race and faith and language. If Shoaib took in nothing else about the final, he must have noticed that the bowler who took his wicket was called Irfan Khan Pathan, that the Indian team's most visible cheerleader, the guy who was hugging Indian players in turn at the end of the game, was one Shah Rukh Khan. I feel a residual distaste in even mentioning their names because both Shah Rukh and Irfan are admired in India for what they've achieved, not who they are. But sometimes it is important to spell things out and Shoaib could do with the instruction.
|Comments have now been closed for this article
Mukul Kesavan teaches social history for a living and writes fiction when he can - he is the author of a novel, Looking Through Glass. He's keen on the game but in a non-playing way. With a top score of 14 in neighbourhood cricket and a lively distaste for fast bowling, his credentials for writing about the game are founded on a spectatorial axiom: distance brings perspective. Kesavan's book of cricket - Men in Whitewas published in 2007.