Steady nerves

Thursday’s stirring victory over Australia has reignited the passion and expectations of Indian cricket fans. The team’s unconvincing run in the league phase of the World Cup had disillusioned many, and when Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men drew the three-time defending champions as their quarterfinal opponents, even the most die-hard supporter feared the worst.

Even if this Australian team didn’t appear as invincible as the squads that triumphed in 2003 and 2007, they knew what it took to win big matches, and appeared a formidable, fearsome unit determined to atone for defeat at the hands of Pakistan in their final league encounter. What was most satisfying in India’s five-wicket victory was that it was fashioned by several pockets of individual and collective brilliance.

Yuvraj Singh was the obvious stand-out for his contributions with both ball and bat, but India had other heroes as well. Team triumphs are seldom based on one or two extraordinary efforts; it’s collective will and desire that have spurred the great teams in all sports, and Thursday drove that point home with emphatic effect as Australia were consigned to their first knockout defeat in the World Cup since the 1996 final, making their earliest exit from the competition since failing to advance beyond the first phase in their own backyard in 1992.

Tempting as it might be to believe that, with the conquest of the world champions and avenging the crushing defeat in the 2003 final, the job is already done, the fact remains that India’s biggest battles lie ahead of them.

It is just as well that the team, and the country, has five days before the semifinal, against Pakistan in Mohali on Wednesday, to regather focus. While the showdown might be the coming true of the worst nightmare for security personnel, it is a promoter’s dream, just the fillip the tournament needed with the climax imminent.

India-Pakistan cricketing battles have tended to rise above the ordinary in terms of edge and competitiveness. That the teams don’t face each other on a regular basis will add to the anxiety, the hype and the expectations. It’s inevitable that the players, as much as the average fan, will be caught up in the hysteria.

Emotion, however, is a dangerous pitfall in the unforgiving cauldron of competitive sport; in the charged atmosphere that Wednesday will be, it is calm heads and tempered hearts that will ultimately carry the day.

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