A searchlight for a spotlight

A searchlight for a spotlight

By M.J. Akbar | 21 March, 2015
Rohit Sharma plays a shot as Bangladesh’s wicketkeeper Mushfiqur Rahim watches during the Cricket World Cup quarterfinal match in Melbourne, Australia, on Thursday. AP/PTI
India, so far, has not needed the serene turbulence of Dhoni, but one of the next two matches will test India’s most successful one-day captain.

We shall know soon enough which is the champion nation of contemporary one-day cricket. But we already know who the heroes are: Bangladesh. Each one of us, the odd eccentric apart, supports our countries. All of us, the odd idiot apart, should feel for Bangladesh. Luck had nothing to do with their unsuspected rise to relevance. It rarely does. They are the team worth admiration because together they are far greater than the sum of their parts.

It is sometimes difficult to recognise cricket as a team sport in the sense that football or hockey or rugby are. In football, two complete teams are fully engaged from kick-off toss to final whistle. But cricket, a long game played in stages, has one team of 11 in the field versus two batsmen at the wicket. [Those unfamiliar with cricket, or with uncomplicated minds, can switch off now.] Then come subtle variables. One bowler takes on one batsman, while ten of the bowler's mates and the batsman's partner watch, wait, and adjust to a secondary role. Batsmen rotate. Pieces change on the fielding chessboard. Cricket can become, simultaneously, one versus one, one versus two and eleven against one.

This fragmented but not dysfunctional process inevitably shifts the spotlight on an individual rather than the team. Statistics build up a batsman's runs, a bowler's wickets, although it does remain a team's victory. But how often have you seen a television camera spread its scope to include all players on the field? Almost never, unless the cameraman has a fetish for panning shots of overgrown ants. It's all close-ups. Players know this. There is no stable face in the game anymore. Players perfect the high arts of grimace/rage/exhilaration that can win them the next advertising contract.

Bangladesh's progress has been an excellent example of team integration, which lifts average talent to higher capability. This was evident in their most important game, when they defeated England to enter the knockout stage for the first time. The result was described as historic. But although there are more commentators now than players, with acrobats thrown in to fill time gaps, no one noticed a second reason for the accolade. Every successor state of the old British Raj has now humbled the fountainhead of colonisation and the motherland of cricket. Rejoice! We can at last put imperialism behind us. We have taken our revenge. We can move on. It might even be time for some well-deserved pity for English cricket. We South Asians may not be good patrons, but we can be pretty good at patronising.

Sceptics will possibly raise an eyebrow or two at my theory of non-heroes: surely young Rubel Hossain is Bangla's star after a virtuoso performance? He certainly twinkles far more now than he did when he left Dhaka some weeks ago. Even his former actress girlfriend, Naznin Akter Happy, a bit of a star herself, has rediscovered her admiration for Rubel and forgiven a brutal break-up. But Rubel's peaks were on the same range as his team. His killer wickets against England will be the talk of his country for years, particularly since Dhaka's Bengalis have soured a bit on their favourite topic, politics.

But it will be only one of the many stories that stir up some lively cups of tea. The audio recording of umpires taking a final call on close decisions has already done what it was meant to, increase the appetite for excitable gossip. Without ifs and buts, there would be no consolation for anyone whose side lost. But they do not really change the story. The better side wins. You can only run so far in a dream run.

The team of the tournament so far is India. It is calm under pressure, composed in approach and comprehensive in victory. It is a side with many pillars, so that the structure never crumbles. It has not been undermined by complacency; it fought against Bangladesh with the intensity it would have shown against Australia.

India has taken 70 wickets in seven games. That's bowling. India has not lost a wicket during any batting power play. India has scored 300 runs in a game with intimidating regularity. When Virat Kohli fails Rohit Sharma succeeds. That's batting.

I know the bad news; this can't go on forever, can it? No. But we are not greedy. We just want this to continue for two more games. Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni did not make runs against Bangladesh; that is surely good news if the balance of probability is your measure, for the odds move in their direction. India, so far, has not really needed the serene turbulence of Dhoni because those above him in the batting order have done more than required, but one of the next two matches will test India's most successful one-day captain.

His last aria for a well-orchestrated team should be in the world's spotlight.

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