COMMENT: Congratulations team India! —Usman Ahmad - Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Indian triumph aside, the final as a whole has been a fantastic advertisement for cricket in the region. An already festive tournament was turned into a veritable carnival as three teams from the subcontinent reached the last four

Politics and sport have an unerring tendency to collide with each other. Who can forget the 1980 ‘miracle on ice’ when an underdog United States hockey team beat the mighty Soviet Union on their way to the Olympic gold medal. The victory became a symbol of American resolve in the face of growing US-Soviet tensions following the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. To this day it is seen as the greatest achievement in United States sporting history and the moment that restored pride to a nation severely wounded by failure in the Vietnam War.

Given the fractured history of the region and the frequent sub-arctic chill in diplomatic relations between the two countries, it would be tempting for Pakistanis to view India’s victory in the final of the Cricket World Cup through the tainted prism of political and national prejudice, especially when coupled with the fact that it was ‘the old enemy’ who knocked Pakistan out of the tournament at the semi-final stage. But, just occasionally, there are times when the weight of history and personal sentiment ought to be set aside to allow for such achievements to be appreciated exclusively within their sporting context. Sunday was one such occasion.

India’s victory in the final over Sri Lanka was a watershed moment for the country’s cricketers. In a pulsating match the Indians powered their way to World Cup glory for the first time since 1983. That the best sporting team won the tournament is without question. India emerged from the tougher of the two groups in the first round stage before knocking out three time defending champions Australia in the quarterfinals. In the semis they bowled out Pakistan despite their reportedly modest bowling attack, while in the final, they batted their way to becoming the first team to win the tournament on home soil, even though at one stage of their reply they were 31-2 and seemingly headed for defeat. Three Indians were among the top ten run scorers and Zaheer Khan emerged as one of, if not the best bowlers at the tournament. And what of Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni? Many had questioned Dhoni’s worth to the national side after a number of lacklustre displays both in the field and with the bat, but when his country needed him the most, the man from Jharkhand stood up to the challenge and steered his team to victory with a brilliant unbeaten innings of 91 from 79. What was more impressive was the way he promoted himself to number five when the third wicket fell, ahead of India’s player of the tournament, Yuvraj Singh. It was Dhoni who marshalled a faltering team and it was Dhoni who hit a joyous six to spark scenes of celebration throughout the nation.

The Indian triumph aside, the final as a whole has been a fantastic advertisement for cricket in the region. An already festive tournament was turned into a veritable carnival as three teams from the subcontinent reached the last four. Despite their defeat at the hands of the eventual winners, Pakistan have much to be proud of following their brilliant displays en route to the semis and in particular the mauling of the West Indies in the previous round. The achievement is made all the more remarkable given the fact that their fantastic displays followed hot on the heels of the spot-fixing scandal for which three Pakistani players, including Test captain Salman Butt, were banned from playing all forms of the game. Whether Pakistan’s achievements and the impeccable behaviour of their travelling fans will pave the way for international matches to be played again in a country ravaged by terrorism is questionable, but for now the whole nation can hold their heads up high and look back on the last few weeks with fond memories.

Sri Lanka too have been worthy competitors and fully contributed to an engrossing six weeks of sport. Their opening pairing of Upul Tharanga and Tillakaratne Dilshan has been the best in the tournament and Mahela Jayawardene’s majestic century in the final was worthy of winning any trophy. What a shame then that he had to end up on the losing team. Also, if there is a more polished and gracious sportsperson than Kumar Sangakkara, then I have yet to see him. The dignity with which the captain of the Lions has led his team has been a joy to behold. The tournament further signalled the last hurrah for one of the true legends of the game, Muttiah Muralitharan. The send-off that was given the spin bowler following Sri Lanka’s semi-final victory over New Zealand was as emotional as it was spectacular.

There has been hope in some quarters and widespread scepticism in others whether the tournament can lead to a thawing of relations between two nations separated by a bloody partition and three intervening wars. But, whatever the future may hold, for now let us put our differences aside and congratulate team India on a magnificent sporting achievement. As for me, I am just happy Australia did not win yet again. That really would have been too much to bear.

The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at

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