There are three Asian teams in the Champions Trophy semi-finals. Host England, a rare favourite in this lot despite never having won an ICC trophy in 42 years, have their task cut out in the next one or two games. Can England stop this Asian resurgence being enacted on their very soil? This is cricket being played in early English summer, avowedly on flat and dry pitches prepared as per ICC regulations and the surfaces have suited the Asians to a T. Only the pressure of do-or-die cricket can undo the good show of temperament on the part of the Asian teams, all of whom came back from at least one poor team performance to make the championship most interesting.
Complaints are being heard in England about the loud support for the Asians, which in the background of recent terror events, is understandable. The authorities there must appreciate that all teams have been going about their business of playing sport without the kind of enormous fuss they tend to make when such events take place in Asia. The kind of security, at least in numbers, that Asia provides at sporting venues is far tighter than what we may have seen at the India-Pakistan clash in Birmingham.
The cricket has been totally insulated from other dramatic events in the host country. While Australia seemed distracted to the point of looking forward to an early exit thanks to a lingering pay dispute, South Africa proved they continue to be inventive in finding ways to snatch defeat. The tragic-comic situation of two batsmen racing to the same crease leading to a photo finish was symptomatic of the panic that sets in them when it comes to playing a key game. South Africa won an ICC Knockout event in Bangladesh ages ago since when they have only been enhancing their reputation as world cricket’s most notorious chokers.
The Indian bowlers, driven to despair on a plumb pitch against Sri Lankan batsmen who batted in the islander’s finest tradition of having nothing to lose and everything to gain, found their discipline on the field against the Proteas. It is a moot point whether anyone has to beat the South Africans as they are experts in beating themselves, but then the opponents have to push them into that abyss from which there is no escape. The Indians did that splendidly, with pace, spin and good fielding and throwing alike. The dramatic comeback of the defending champions has given the CT a fresh lease of life.
Against Pakistan, the Sri Lankans got too conservative after suffering the yips with the bat. They were terribly nervous on the field when the game was in their grip. This was unusual for the sunny islanders who are more famous for being the free spirit of the game. The Pakistanis didn’t look the gift horse in the mouth, with the young skipper and the quick bowler Amir, who is no slouch with the bat, carrying them through in a tight contest that was decided by the two catches that the Sri Lankans put down in successive overs. The Lankans simply let the ‘quarter-final’ slip away.
We are in for three days of great cricket to come in the next five days. The team that keeps their nerve best will naturally enough emerge the winners. There is something about knockout cricket that can be elevating or enervating depending on how the players react. Among the four left in the fray, Team India has won the most ICC trophies, including two 50-overs World Cups, besides being finalists in the last edition held in Australia. India is easily the most reputed side among four, but has to prove it each time they enter the field.
The bookies have changed their opinion now to make Team India marginally ahead of Team England as the favourite for the cup at 13/10 while England are 137/100, a difference of just seven paise between them. Pakistan, famously mercurial, are six to one and the eternally aspirational Bangladesh are rank outsiders at 18 to 1. Team India have already bucked the championship odds after starting out at 5.5 to 1. I had predicted just last week that India would buck the odds and they have done that already. The big question is can they win two out of two from here.