GAME PLAN: The day of the giants

Jaideep Ghosh

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FILE: Kolkata: West Indies cricketer Chris Gayle arrives at NSCBI Airport for the T20 World Cup series. Photo-PTI

Often, we think of the landmark days in our lives, days that have left an indelible mark on the way we live. For a cricket buff, March 16, 2016, will be one such day.

It was a day when we saw two giants of the game wield their bats like the Hammer of Thor, with the near-divine powers bestowed to their arms that make them members of an elite club of giants.

Shahid Afridi and Chris Gayle – two of the best-ever, made this day their own.

Afridi has already been in the headlines for saying something that was, in all honesty, sincere if not smart. However, whatever he said wouldn’t have been taken so seriously had the side been winning.

But we can safely say that all the indignation would have been washed away in the sheer power of his hitting as he decimated Bangladesh.

What was fascinating about the knock was the maturity. Afridi has always been a great killer of the cricket ball, but his essay at the Eden Gardens was played almost in a trance. No histrionics, no lip with the rival bowlers, just shot after shot.

Nineteen balls are all Afridi took to end Bangladesh’s hopes. He went for 49, but those runs were better than many half-centuries he has scored in his career.

There has been talk of Afridi retiring after the T20 World Cup. But then, his retirement has been a subject for almost as many years as was his being 16 years of age – always bringing a smile on everyone’s lips.

But this knock had something else in it. It had focus – towards a target he’d like to achieve before possibly hanging up his boots, for real.

There is something about Pakistan and World Cups. They may come into one staggering and struggling to stand, their fans almost sure that this would be another disaster.

But once there, they find their feet and look unbeatable most of the time.

At the same time, it would be a little presumptuous to think that this is Pakistan. In fact, even the players themselves possibly do not know which Pakistan would take the field on a given day.

The big one approaches for them, when India come to Eden on Saturday. How their World Cup progresses would depend on how they do against the hosts.

Big match for India too, but the loss against New Zealand is possibly a good thing for them, since they’d rather lose at this end of the tournament rather than the business end.

As Wednesday’s action traversed the breadth of the country to reach Mumbai, we saw Christopher Henry Gayle do what he does best – hit the ball long and far.

England could have believed that they had a winning total when they carved up over 180 runs and then kept things under control for a while before Gayle began.

He didn’t stop till it was all over.

A hundred runs off 47 balls deliveries saw the Caribbeans win at a canter. Then followed a jig to celebrate team-mate Dwayne Bravo’s music album.

The music has just begun for the Windies.

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Nagpur: New Zealand players celebrates the wicket of India’s batsman Rohit Sharma during the ICC T20 World Cup match played in Nagpur on Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Photo-PTI

Spin and tumble: A word needs to be added about how India’s campaign took off.

The loss to New Zealand at Nagpur wasn’t the first time that India began a World Cup with a loss, so there is no real panic at the moment.

But that being said, one is once more brought back to the entire argument about how much ‘home advantage’ is too much.

Surely, if your team falls face down against visitors who have, supposedly, an inferior attack, then there is something that we are either missing or ignoring.

The truth is that the Indian batsmen will struggle against any good bowling attack. For one, when they are one song, the middle and lower-order hardly ever get a look-in.

At the same time, they don’t play the best spinners in the world. Not on a real, turning track.

This was evident from the way in which the top-order played. Rohit Sharma simply walked past one from the left-arm spin of Mitchell Santner.

Hard hands against the ball spinning into them took care of left-handers Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh while Shikhar Dhawan played absolute rubbish against the part-time stuff from Nathan McCullum.

Essentially it was a show of weaknesses, which will be noted by all concerned.

At the same time, New Zealand must be applauded for choosing the side they did.

To go in without the veteran Tim Southee and left-arm spearhead Trent Boult and opting for three spinners turned out to be an inspired choice.

India need their inspiration too, and nothing boosts them like a match with Pakistan.

Maybe there is salvation waiting for them at the Garden of Eden.