World Cup 2019: One Ball, One Shot, A Million Memories

Fans celebrate in the crowd during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between India and Pakistan at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England, on June 16, 2019. (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

As a match, the India-Pakistan World Cup encounter on Sunday was one of the tamest ever, with the winner pretty much determined by the end of the first half. After conceding over 300 in overcast conditions, save for when Babar Azam and Fakhar Zaman tried to counter-attack, the Pakistan batting lineup showed no heart for a fight.

The millions and millions of fans who had turned their attention to this match will have to carry just a few precious mental souvenirs from it.

But two things- one, a corruscating shot and the other, a ball of sheer magic- lit up an otherwise gloomy, grey stereotypical English day.

First, the stroke. If one had to pick the most seminal shot in an India-Pakistan match across World Cups, it would be Sachin Tendulkar's unhinging of Rawalpindi Express Shoaib Akhtar at Centurion (Cape Town), South Africa, 2003.

No need for the re-telling of the background or the match situation. But that shot, re-played millions of times on the internet and private recordings, never gets boring for Indian fans. Like a first kiss, one never gets tired of reminiscing about it.

The match was poised on a nervous edge with India facing a total that was considered more than substantial in those days. India had to telegraph its intention and intensity to its opponent. Shoaib Akhtar, careening in like a boulder rolling down the Table Mountain, pitched it short to Tendulkar, who was actually ready for a ball from the world’s fastest bowler (then). Even as it was rising above where his sixth stump would have been, the Little Master put out his bat and slapped the ball over third man. The ball, carried by art and science and Tendulkar’s particular brand of insouciant genius, landed several rows into the spectators gallery.

The match was won then and there.

Cut to 2019, Manchester. India was cruising. So was Rohit Sharma. But India needed to put the match beyond Pakistan's reach. Hassan Ali, a metronomic trundler and certainly no Akhtar, pitched it short and well outside the off-stump.

Rohit Sharma stepped back and flapped it over the third man fence.

The ball didn’t land beyond third man, it landed sixteen years ago in Cape Town. Such was the similarity of the style and finish. One brilliant Mumbai batsman paying tribute to another.

And later in the match came The Ball, delivered by Kuldeep Yadav. Has this been a Test, purists would have drawn comparisons to Shane Warne's ‘ball of the century’ to Mike Gatting.

Kuldeep's ball to Babar Azam had the same smarts, skill, drift, depth, turn, precision, and above all, the element of surprise- in short, everything that made jaws drop around the world.

If Warne had bowled left-handed, it would have been not all that dissimilar to Kuldeep's art.

As with Sachin, so with Kuldeep: it was game over then and there

The match may not have been one for the books. But Senors, a million thanks for the million memories.

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