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|May 31, 1999||
The alarm bells are already ringing in Scotland Yard and at the home office. 'Old Ttrafford on June 8', a security nightmare. And Britain gets ready to play not its old role as colonial master, but to preserve peace in its own racial and cultural melting point.
Indian and Pakistani fans will be mingling with each other on the terraces. Cricket seating is egalitarian. Anyone can sit anywhere provided he has a ticket. There is none of football's segregation of supporters here, no empty spaces in the stands to keep partisan fans apart.
In normal times, this meeting of Asian cricket talent in a country in which India and Pakistan can expect to have equal support (there are a million people of Indian origin resident in Britain and over half a million of Pak origin) would have been viewed as a great contest of the World Cup. But now it is viewed as a matter of war and peace.
Bangalore was different. There were only Indian fans and half a dozen Pakistanis who may have come over to be spectators at the World Cup of 1996. The police will have to contend with rivalry that may come to a boiling point. There is a week to go and the Manchester Police are busy already.
Meanwhile, the Indian carnival continues. There is no saying how important an Indian presence in the Super Six is. The economy of the World Cup would have been shattered had India not made the elite group. Many of the big spenders at the cricket World Cup are Indians, including the many thousands who have come over to England for the event.
A majority of ticket seekers to India's matches have, naturally enough, been Indians. As an economic group they are very powerful and have a real capacity to buy tickets. Also, they are the ones who throng the bars and taverns of the cricket grounds most, as the game fails in its moral dilemma of banning the bringing of alcohol and yet selling it in unlimited quantities at the cricket pubs to keep the game's economy ticking.
The spending on telvision advertising has virtually been a monopoly of Indian companies or those foreign companies with an eye on the huge Indian middle class who make such a captive audience for white goods and so on. And what better medium than cricket can be to entice them.
The hoopla surrounding the World Cup brought to India ball by ball by the ESPN-STAR cartel would have hit the lukewarm button had India failed to squeeze past England into the Super Six.
By staying in the competition, at least for the next 13 days, the Indian team would have ensured the near fanatical type of interest remains.
The presence of a few multinational sponsors at the World Cup has also been created by the unsatiable Indian market. Interest would have sagged had India been eliminated. Azharuddin's men may already have contributed substantially towards justifying the optimism with which the companies invested in the World Cup.
On the field, India's task can be put in very simple terms - they have to win all the three matches in the Super Six to have a realistic chance of getting to the semi-finals. They carry no points into the second stage of the competition and even four from two wins may not be good enough since there is bound to be a log jam at four points.
Their batting sustained their hopes even at the terrible low of the start when they dropped two matches. Their bowling picked up when it came to the crunch at the defence of 233 at Edgbaston. Their fielding held up nicely enough. To win each of the next five games is a huge task, but if they attain that the World Cup will be theirs.
Sachin has such a hold on the Australians that to open with him would be to psyche the Aussies out. This would, however, call for a major rethink on the eve of a big game. He is happy enough at number four currently and India is getting the starts anyway. That is the essence of the dilemma.
The team can strike a further compromise if they open with Nayan Mongia and create a place for the all-rounder Robin Singh whose batting in the low order and bowling in June if the cold front persists may come in handy.
This may hardly be fair to the opener Sadagopan Ramesh, who is doing his bit in this campaign. But team composition demands must be met without reference to individual justice. That is the way forward.
In the fast moving world of the one-day internationals, to remain innovative is to give yourself the better chance to win. And win is not the key word, but the only word from now on, since defeat would mean to face the same fate as two other World Cup champions in Sri Lanka and (possibly) the West Indies.
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