Walking on eggshells
Some images from Saturday’s game linger in the mind. There were the ghostly faces of players shrouded in sunscreen. There was Mohammad Yousuf’s grim, expressionless concentration - a man of fortitude and endurance at work. There was the close-up of Harbhajan’s gleaming kara, his hand cradling the green-stained ball that looked like a moss-covered relic from a bone yard. There was 17-year-old Mohammad Aamer blowing Gautam Gambhir a kiss, Sachin Tendulkar’s exquisite square drive, the whirl of Simon Taufel’s finger to signal yet another free hit.
The surroundings played their part. As the stadium resounded with shouts, whistles, drums and music, the fierce light of a Highveldt mid-day seemed to belong to another continent entirely. Then slowly the Indian players’ uniforms began to turn darker shades of blue, night crept up unannounced and the broiling arena was transformed into a clammy, floodlit film-set.
It was compulsive television. And even though by the standards of one-day cricket it was not a nail-biter, you didn’t want to leave your sofa. We owed the players that much at least. They seemed to be walking on eggshells. Every movement, every gesture, every run, no-ball, misfield and stumble brought instant feedback from the crowd. The audience were part of this drama, not mere onlookers. The pressure was evident in the muted behaviour of the players, unleashed in moments of celebration and sometimes in wild, pleading appeals. India were the more inhibited team, made more bad decisions under pressure, and so they lost.
And in the midst of all this sweaty tension, there were some bizarre musical interludes. A failed Harbhajan sprawl and claw at third man was greeted with the chorus to “Come On Eileen”. A short while later, RP Singh had only just begun to wipe the grass stains from his trouser knees after an inelegant fumble when Abba’s “Dancing Queen” blasted out across Supersport Park. Either the DJ was a Pakistan supporter or he had a dangerously mischievous sense of humour.
Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England