It was a gigantic event, but a small game. After all the weeks of anticipation, the days of travel by fans across India and from the diaspora to the destination that this epic bowl had become, and the hours of them lining up and then flowing into the ground, the decision was made in cricketing terms Hardly more than the blink of an eye, that’s how long it took for Pakistan to collapse.
With almost no Pakistanis in the stands, the game ended almost as one-sided as the crowd. Mickey Arthur, the Pakistan team manager, complained that “to be quite honest it didn’t look like an ICC event, it looked like a BCCI event”, but admitted that his team “worked up a bit of a sweat ” be.
Pakistan now have a record of 0-8 in these World Cup games – this was not the first time they had shied away from the occasion. But in the middle of the 30th over they were 155 for two, Babar Azam had just reached his half-century and Mohammad Rizwan’s was not far away. They had been scoring slowly, but most importantly they hadn’t lost any wickets, had two set batters and looked ready to post a challenging score.
From that moment on, they faced 78 balls, scored 36 runs and lost eight wickets. The 82-run partnership between Babar and Rizwan was followed by sequels of Seven, Four, Two, Three, 16, None and Three. There was good bowling and good captaincy – as soon as Pakistan began to reel, Rohit Sharma pushed Jasprit Bumrah back to deliver the knockout blows – but the team in green finished with a total that matched their miserable resistance. “We succeeded by going deep and then making money out of it at the end,” Arthur said. “That was our style, that was our brand. But we didn’t play the Pakistani way tonight.”
Only twice in the last 20 years, both in 2011, has a team successfully defended a total below 200 at the World Cup, and it never looked like it would turn into a third, not with Rohit in that mood. He hit his first ball for four and by the time he was out, 63 balls, six fours, six sixes and 86 runs later, India were 36 away from victory, after which Shreyas Iyer took control. Rohit’s game was an innings full of ambition, good timing and occasionally sheer contempt, in which he did some particularly nasty things to Haris Rauf. “For us, it was an opponent we wanted to play against,” Rohit said. For Pakistan, it appeared to be an opposition they wanted to flee from.
A bad game, then, but a damn good party, made all the better for those in attendance because everyone was able to start celebrating so quickly – and despite the chaos predicted, the event seemed as smooth as India’s triumphant march. By 9 a.m., five hours before the start and an hour before the gates opened, the local roads were already closed, and the lines of suddenly crammed cars had to come to terms with the fact that the streets they were merrily cruising along were dead right now By the end, the parking lots were almost full and fans – the vast majority wearing India’s blue jerseys – gathered at the gates.
Outside the main entrance, they streamed down the street and into the distance as final preparations were made for their entry. There was a heavy security presence – at least nine different police or military uniforms, plus a private security company – but the atmosphere was relaxed as people outside blasted air horns and chanted to pass the time.
Nearby, India’s National Disaster Response Force – a bit like St. John’s Ambulance but with a much scarier name – stood ready for action. While the Times of India focused primarily on first aid, it reported that it had also prepared emergency arrangements “for all chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear emergencies during the match”, which was not entirely reassuring.
Four hours before the scheduled start, the gates opened and the area slowly filled up. Early arrivals were treated to an opening ceremony that featured locally-known singers, which seemed strange but not entirely outlandish before the 12th game of the tournament. The previous 11 had all suffered from not being this one, standing in the shadow of this beast. Now that the rest of the tournament is behind them, the question is how long will Pakistan be stuck there?