Flipkart Leaderboard

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The unreasonable men

I write this on the eve of the India - Australia semi final match. Or, to put things into perspective, a day after the NZ -SA semi final. I write this quickly, before I'm overcome by patriotism - should India qualify.

Yesterday, I saw something I thought I'd never see in a semi final clash.
Dale Steyn was hit for 25 runs in 6 balls. The situation didn't dictate this. In fact, it said quite the opposite. The best bowler in the world, fresh, fast and furious in his opening spell. A chase threatened by rains and the Duckworth Lewis method with its over-emphasis on preserving wickets. Yet, McCullum steps out and clobbers Steyn to midwicket, long off and over his head. The last one charging down the pitch.

I must admit that we saw it coming. This has been a regular feature of NZ in the world cup. In the course of the past few weeks, they have defied every bit of cricketing wisdom. They bowled out their best bowlers in the first 30. Batsmen attacked and attacked when wickets fell around them, and then attacked again without a pause. Even with Dale Steyn or Mitchell Johnson at the other end. Even when 9 wickets were down. Madness. Recklessness. Imprudence. Exciting.

In many ways, NZ is a team unlike any we have seen before. It's a fine line between aggression and rudeness, like the Australians have shown us over and again. None better than Pakistan to tell us that recklessness quickly translates to unpredictability. If there is any team that can be compared to McCullum's men, it is the old West Indians. 

Both are aggressive, yet eminently likable teams. No sledging, no pre-match talk downs. More importantly, both are teams built around an attitude of defiance and disregard - of economics and power structures in the first case, and of collective cricketing logic in the second.

No one expects/expected NZ to have a sustained run with this strategy. It's risky, it's illogical, we say. That's part of their allure, how they don't care about what we say. "All progress depends on the unreasonable man" - GB Shaw.

I have always felt that World Cups have a larger purpose beyond reaffirming perceptions. That purpose is served if it can set the stage for a change that revitalizes the game itself. Martin Crowe almost did it in 1992 till they were stopped by some magic. Reverse swing then owned cricketing talk for a decade. 1996 saw a Sri Lankan version of Crowe's methods, and the first 15 overs were never the same again. 2015 is about how Wahab Riaz and NZ reminded us what we have been missing all this while.

It is only fair that the team with the better story should be remembered the most. On that basis alone, NZ deserve to take the cup home. Cricket has had enough of tactical maneuvers, containment and formulaic chases. Time is ripe for belligerence. Time is ripe for the new, again.