An India-Pakistan cricket match is not like every other game. Cricketers say that all the time “It’s just another game”, and I understand why they do. But we know it’s not true.
It’s like saying your first kiss is the same as the ones that came after it. No one is buying it.
Because like a first kiss, an India-Pakistan cricket match is an anchor-point in your life. Not all games, but definitely some.
As time passes and one day merges into the other, like an endless march of India-Sri Lanka matches, it becomes difficult to find yourself in your own past. It’s then that you need these little anchor points, to which you can fly back at a moment’s notice when you feel the need to be nostalgic, and this need, as any forty-year old will tell you, increases as you grow older.
At least for me, so many of these anchor-points are cricket matches and out of them so many India-Pakistan encounters. What exams was I preparing for (or not) when Sohail taunted Prasad? Who did I watch that game with, you know the one with Rajesh Chauhan? How did I dance when Dada defeated the Pakistanis in Toronto? How did I jump up, in that mixed crowd of Indian and Pakistani fans at Stony Brook, that first Shoaib Akthar over in 2003? What went through my head when time froze and Misbah turned his bat around for that scoop shot?
That’s what makes India-Pakistan cricket so special. It’s not the humiliation of a country or a settling of long-standing political scores, and I just hate when the media frames it in those terms, but those little moments that make sense, not in just in your life, but in the lives of others. It’s as if the lines of millions of Indians meet at those anchor-points, and then hurry along their respective trajectories. It’s what makes them so powerful, so emotionally intense, this resonance, for only at these anchor-points that we the millions become one, running the exact same gamut of emotions, asking the same questions (“Why isn’t Dhoni playing Bhajji on a spinning Eden pitch”) and making the same jokes about AB Junior.
The Eden game between India and Pakistan had a few of these anchor-points. Mohammed Sami, Pakistan’s version of Ashish Nehra, an old-war-horse trying to prove his best days might be his last, running in full-steam and ripping out India’s top order. Shoaib Malik celebrating an early Jamai Shashti. Didi finally bringing Pakistan to the border of Bangladesh. This little story I made up in my head of Sachin Tendulkar saying “Ek thanda Dasani la” and hospitality then sending Aftab Shivdasani who says, with that smile of his, ‘Sir main Dasani hoon aur kya cool hai hum 3.’ Yuvraj Singh, for a ball or two, pushing back the years and the cobwebs of the mind.
No. Who am I kidding?
All the moments will be owned by Virat Kohli. I will be honest. I have never liked him much as a sportsman. There is no way I cannot but acknowledge his skills, the data does not lie. But a legendary sportsman isn’t just about “skills”, it’s his ability to transcend his sport, a Sachin or a Bjorg or a Pele. And in that respect, Kohli is just too much lost in the reeds of maa-behen and of arrogance and of running forward, chest extended at every provocation, for that high road the truly great take.
But then perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps you don’t need to take the high road. Perhaps all you need to do to be truly legendary, is to go to a place no one has gone before.
And Kohli went there today. He became India’s Ponting, the champion batsman who can consistently and single-handedly win crucial encounters. Something we have never had before. A Sachin yes, but no Ponting.
With further progress in the World Cup on the line, with the weight of the expectations of a volatile 65,000 in the ground and billions outside, against historic rivals, on a spit-fire of a pitch, with the top order gone and in company of someone who inspires confidence in flashes, he played the innings that anchor-points are made of. Like Sachin and Sehwag at their prime (and only them in the Indian team), Kohli has that rare ability to take the pitch and match condition out of the match, being able to play the exact same way, and you realize only how bad the pitch is when you see the other batsman trying to handle the same situation.
Like Sachin and Sanjay Manjrekar in that hell-hole of 96 World Cup Eden pitch, one batting with consummate ease, other flaying around like a cockroach turned on its back.
Like Kohli in that hell-hole of a 2016 World Cup Eden pitch.
And when at the end, Kohli bowed down to the pavilion and the camera went to Sachin’s beaming face, I felt as if a connect had been made, from the anchor-points of my past to those of the future, and I knew, that I would be visiting this moment again.
In the future.
So thank you Virat Kohli. Thank you for the memories made. And even more, for those to come.