A few thoughts before the World Cup semi-finals:
The high-octane clash between the two South East Asian neighbours—India and Pakistan—is the most eagerly awaited game of this tournament.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Gary Kirsten managed to keep a lid on the pressure of expectations and beat Australia with a sangfroid not expected from usually jittery Indian sides.
It will be nothing short of a minor miracle if they can continue in the same vein at Mohali, especially in front of Messrs. Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani.
The run-up to the game—on television—has featured highlights of games past, a reminder of a time when Team India would choke at the mere mention of a clash with their north-west neighbours—a legacy of the last-ball six at Sharjah by Javed Miandad against Chetan Sharma.
The full-toss converted into a six scarred an entire generation of Indian cricketers.
Imran Khan suggested sleeping pills for Dhoni and company the night before the clash—advice that could well be extended to millions of fans either side of the Wagah border.
The former Pakistani captain does not shy from indulging in mind games. He would dearly love to see his country triumph; Team India remain favourites.
A Pakistani World Cup triumph is the stuff of dreams for any hack. Few Indians will see it that way, though.
Shoaib Akhtar will probably play. If he can reproduce just one or two balls of sheer magic to account for Sachin Tendulkar and/or Virender Sehwag, he would have done enough.
Shahid Afridi spoke of denying the Little Master his 100th ton. The great man will take a deserved victory over another personal statistic—any time.
The other semi-final between Sri Lanka and New Zealand has melted into the shadows. The Lankans are favourites to make the finals. Can New Zealand play spoilers once more?
The men in blue will prefer the antipodeans to another sub-continental side. Any team that has come this far can go all the way.
John Wright’s benign hand is not to be underestimated. Daniel Vettori is an inspirational skipper and a determined man.
Spare a kind thought for Graeme Smith. His South African side was the form team of this World Cup.
They had it all: great seamers, wonderful spinners and a robust batting line-up. Yet, the sorry tale of World Cup knockouts continues.
Smith leaves the stage—quitting the captaincy to focus on his batting. He will still be around; it may not be the same for his Australian counterpart, Ricky Ponting.
The number of critics baying for the Australian No. 3’s blood increases by each passing minute.
The lack of a clear-cut, standout successor has spared the Punter the selectors' axe. Michael Clarke has not covered himself in glory.
Will Cricket Australia opt for a slow transition, asking the Punter to forego the ODI game? Or will the denouement be swifter with Ponting shown the door in all formats of the game?
Ponting may prefer the latter.
Steve Waugh found it incongruous to be considered good enough to lead the Test squad yet not good enough in the shorter version of the game. Ricky Ponting was ODI captain then.
Funny how things can come full circle.
A quick demise is sometimes preferable to a slow,tortuous,drawn-out one.
Quote of the day:
If the fans don’t wanna come out to the ballpark, no one can stop ‘em. – Yogi Berra