History written in gold and green

Jaideep Ghosh

Australia_winBy the time Steve Smith scored the winning runs at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the ICC World Cup 2015 had effectively been over for a long time.

In fact, the first over of the day had ended the contest. Once Mitchell Starc had dismissed New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum for a third-ball duck, the match was over. The rest was just fine print.

Australia were champions again, fifth time in World Cup history and for the first time at home. In terms of records, it was quite an achievement, especially since the side had just recently been in real turmoil.

As for New Zealand, they had reached an unknown stage, a platform which they had not experienced. It was a big step-up and they just couldn’t handle it.

This World Cup saw huge figures. Over a million spectators, according to the International Cricket Council (ICC), over 3500 runs and some other big numbers.

For the first time, the tournament saw double centuries. Not once but twice, with Chris Gayle and Martin Guptill creating World Cup records.

South Africa, led by AB de Villiers, crossed the 400-mark twice, another new landmark.

But when it came to final reckoning, there weren’t too many surprises really. After all, almost everyone following cricket anywhere in the world had forecast the semi-finalists pretty accurately – Australia, India, New Zealand and South Africa.

But some had backed South Africa to finally really be counted on the world stage. Others had backed the Kiwis.

Then there were the proverbial Billion, backing India.

India’s World Cup: Cricket is made by India. More so by the Indian spectators. People thronged to Australia and New Zealand from all over the world – the US, UK, Europe and India – to back the Boys in Blue.

Everyone was convinced, or hypnotised into believing that India would indeed keep the Cup. The official broadcasters went on a farcical campaign to suggest so.

But in truth, India reached exactly as far as they were expected to by real estimates, irrespective of whether they were keen to ‘give it back’ or not.

As we have discussed earlier, India’s World Cup is always played in two chapters – pre and post the Pakistan game. The first chapter was played fairly early in the piece, and once that was taken care of, the ‘billion’ pairs of eyes turned towards the real issue.

As India won, and kept winning, the voices of demand reached a crescendo – win, win it again.

Even when India got all set for the semi-finals, the supporters were sure this was another final in the making. But it wasn’t to be.

Though India had Australia a little unsteady in the middle overs, the Aussies were too good in the final estimate as some of India’s biggest names, including Virat Kohli, failed miserably.

So India left, and the steam just went out of the tournament. Though there were over 93,000 people at the MCG for the final, a fair portion of them were Indians who had bought tickets, convinced India would be there.

A dispassionate person would know that no one could beat Australia in such form. But passion is what fuels Indian cricket. Also the game worldwide.

Final hurrah: Every World Cup sees the end of many careers but this one was especially noticeable in that way.

First, the duo of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.

Sri Lankan cricket will struggle to fill those shoes. Sangakkara signed off like a king, with four consecutive centuries, another record, in a World Cup. He had declared before the tournament that he wouldn’t continue, so that was some sign-off.

Mahela Jayawardene will continue with Test cricket for a while, but not long.

Lasith Malinga has been quiet through all this, but he won’t be around for another World Cup for sure. Nor may Tillakaratne Dilshan.

Among the other stars of the limited-overs game, we may not see Gayle again in a 50-over World Cup, nor Misbah-ul Haq and the one and only Shahid ‘Boom Boom’ Afridi.

Daniel Vettori won’t be there. Dale Steyn may also not be seen.

Michael Clarke, whose recovery and eventual lifting of the World Cup was a story akin to fiction, also departed on a high, focussing on Test cricket.

Will we see Mahendra Singh Dhoni in another World Cup? Maybe. Maybe not.

He has already relinquished Test captaincy. One could guess that the Indian Premier League and the 20-20 game may appeal to him more than the 50-over format. Only time will tell.

Looking ahead: Every big tournament is a lesson. India’s lessons were learned the hard way in the final analysis.

For one, there surely is a need for reducing the workload on the players. India had been in Australia for practically as long as the Aussies themselves prior to the World Cup and it was a miracle that there wasn’t any serious breakdown among key players.

Also, getting kept hammered by Australia didn’t help. Even after a nearly two-month hiatus between the last match and the semi-final, the mental scars had not healed. Maybe there is a case in not spending too much time against the same rivals. Especially if you’re not winning.

The bowling accounted for itself better than the batting, in a final analysis. That is an irony, as well a testament to their mentality. All the bowlers will emerge stronger from this exercise.

The batsmen were all great against mediocre or hesitant attacks. Kohli began with a bang against Pakistan and gradually went downhill, reaching the depths of despair in the semi.

The others were too erratic. It’s just the format of the tournament, especially the league stage, which made them look so good.

But then, this is cricket. India will rule the TRPs, the sponsorship, TV rights and advertisements. They don’t necessarily have to be good on the field all the time.

Cynical it may be, but there’s no denying that this is what runs cricket. But we hope for real quality on the ground too. Hopefully in 2019, in England.