To India, To Zaheer!

on Tuesday, April 5, 2011

I know it is a protracted response. By now, much of the ecstasy-laden-disbelief would have subsided. By now, most of us would have accepted that we are world champions. The dancing, singing and shouting would have been over. The inebriation after gulping down bottles after bottles of alcohol would have become history. The SMS chains would have broken. The tears would have dried. The demands of a National Holiday ended. Yes, many of us are still congratulating each other, but the instant laughter has metamorphosed into a more smug smile, which will linger on with a firm cognizance of the fact that we are number one! Our greatest national passion, Cricket, has triumphed! Our team has won, and made us all proud.

Yes, I am a little late, but I have to express my absolutely crazy delight at the Indian victory.

It was a perfect catharsis. The moment we won, my apartment building reverberated with a collective roar of jubilation. Everyone ran out. Gathered in the society park, and broke into impromptu jigs, even before a Dholi was summoned to make our celebrations more rhythmic. Even as everyone was shouting for me to come out, I remained firmly glued to my television set. We had won, but my favorite part was yet to come. No, not the Presentation Ceremony, but the celebrations on field. Players were crying on field, and I was crying with them. I had still not registered what had happened, but I knew it was a major event, and I knew about millions of us were happy. I was happy to be happy with them. My neighbourhood aunty remarked- 'This is the third Diwali I am witnessing!" She was so true. Crackers, and fireworks coruscating the sky. It was a national festival, only this time not bound to some religion. It was bigger. Much bigger.

It is for him that they claimed they did it- for the legend, the phenomenon, the God of Cricket- Tendulkar

It was sheer pleasure being treated to this site (gratitude to HT photo gallery for preserving such amazing moments). I was left pondering for a long time as to what would be crossing the mind of this great man. So much adulation, so much love, so much respect- a living, breathing idol. 

And even as I was thinking all of this, my eyes were searching for that face which has made me sit in front of the television set for hours to catch a single glimpse of his while India fielded. He is that cricketer, who made my teen years more cherishable. I had a mad crush, and it was, of course, him! So while my two best friends, in an innocent eighth standard classroom, somewhere around the 2003 world cup declared a war between Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, I would proclaim in all snobbishness that they both did not stand up anywhere in front of Zaheer Khan- my one and only love from the world of cricket. Even before I completed my sentence, the whole class would be staring at me incredulously. In fact, contemptuously. While in my heart I would feel a little sheepish, I would never allow the sheepishness to reflect on my face. With an air of conceit still accessorizing my face, I would then go on to defend my choice. I would offer 'expert' opinions of his bowling in that naive tongue of mine (most of it a repetition of what the commentators would have said extolling Zak). More than the bowling, I would rant on about his looks- his athletic physique, his intense eyes, his boy-next-door appeal. I has a pathetic teenage crush on him, something I in no way will ever regret. 

At that time, Zaheer was an upcoming talent, and understudy of the much revered Javagal Srinath. I was smitten by him the first match I saw in World Cup 2003- India versus Holland, which India, conveniently won. I had no understanding of the sport, so I could never understand why experts criticized him, whenever they did. For me, every ball of his was a wicket taking delivery. It was a celebration for him when he would be declared the Man of the Match (I remember two such occasions, one from WC 2003 itself). On his birthday, I would be silly happy. My fondness for him was so well known, that once, one of my friends gifted me a print out of his bio data, just because she wanted to make me happy. And happy I was. Very very happy! 

The naivity had gone now. The fondness has not. I still watch cricket matches to catch as many glimpses of his as I can. And I still have that eight year old copy of the bio data. It is torn along all folds, but, it is still very cherishable. 

So, as Kumar Sangakkara put India in to field first, I was obviously waiting for our bowling spearhead to give our team an awesome start in the Final. Honestly, I was scared. The memories of WC '03 Final were still ripe. Zaheer had to bury some very ugly ghosts from the past. He did it! And in style! He gave India the best start possible, made the Lankans starve for runs, and got the first breakthrough by taking Tharanga's wicket. He bowled three straight maidens in the Final, a feat, I believe, is unparalleled in any records. His last two overs did yield some 30 odd runs for the opposition, but for me, it is insignificant. From being plagued by persistent injuries, to losing his place in the team to upcoming stalwarts like Irfan Pathan, Zaheer has bounced back as India's pace spearhead, has been touted as second Wasim Akram, and regarded as a bowler with tact and adroitness to make India stand tall in front of the most intimidating batting oppositions. For me, this World Cup was about seeing him shine. Even when he has performed bad, I have never felt let down. But this time, what was special was, he did not let the country down. Every one sang his praises. Those praises were honey to my ears. Kudos Zaheer! You made us proud!

(A little photomontage of his best time frozen moments I could find on Google images)