It was just a game of cricket. You know the kind of thing: a few mates getting together and a couple of sides get picked by some settled system. Maybe everyone standing around while the captains take it in turns to choose.
– I’ll have Chris.
– OK, I’ll have Lasith.
The poorest shepherds with time to spare were doing this five hundred years ago on the breezy uplands of Southern England; kids on the village green do it; workers at lunch time.
Two hundred and fifty years ago England was beginning to undergo an industrial revolution. The old aristocracy found their land – and they had lots and lots of it – could be used for other things than farming.
Some of the most worthless wastes had fast running streams that could power the new processes driving industry. Some had coal, black gold, scattered across the fields And there were plenty of trading opportunities secured by a navy that ‘ruled the waves’.
Riches were gained. Others inherited. Gambling was rife. Fortunes won and lost on whether the next man through the door would be wearing a hat or not, or on which raindrop would reach the bottom of the window first.
Cricket proved a perfect vehicle for these gamblers. A bit of fresh air, a lot of fun, the chance to rap your rival on his ankles with a hard ball or watch neighbours barging into each other when one tried to run and other tried to stop him.
So, the ‘Gentry’ or ‘Quality’ as they were known started to form their own teams and put the whole thing on a higher level of organisation.
– My house in the first week of August.
– A bet to make it interesting?
– Sure. How much?
– One point two million dollars?
– A million a man and one for the boss?
– And the loser pays for the fireworks.
– You’re on!
The Royal Challengers Bangalore came to Chennai having chased down a total of over 200 not just once, but twice in a row. In Chris Gayle, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Virat Kohli they had the in-form batsmen.
But that was in Bangalore and those were the quarter and semi-finals.
This was Chennai and a wicket as slow and stubborn as an arthritic mule. This was the final of the Champions’ League. This was cricket.
The Mumbai Indians set a paltry target of 139. For RCB seven an over – little more than a run a ball – would win it.
Yet, as they say, the runs were ‘on the board’.
Pressure makes time accelerate. It erodes the quality of thought. RCB set off in a dash like the hair racing the tortoise in old Aesop’s fable and, after four overs, they were going through the formalities at 38/0.
Then, when Harbhajan with little alternative had deployed his principal weapon for a third consecutive over, Dilshan, gambling, played across the line to Malinga. Now another gamble, as Bhaji pressed into the attack himself.
Gayle in deep concentration played all six balls with caution. But the second delivery had been a wide and with the extra ball the MI captain came around the wicket to the left hander, bowled one that went on with the arm and struck Gayle in front of the stumps. Goliath fell to the sling-shot.
It was at that moment, with the score on 42/2 and 92 runs required from 78 balls (of which Malinga had only 6 left), that RCB needed to change tactics. But they could and they did not.
Pressure and fast running consciousness prevented them from knocking the ones and stealing the twos. They swished and they swiped in vain as if they were still at home in Bangalore. The ball got slower and lower, the target steeper and more distant.
It was any kind of cricket match, it was this special match.
It was the mistake of the least experienced, and made by the most experienced.
It was why cricket continues to entertain, to amuse, to frustrate, to bewilder and to illuminate the human experience.
It was, as it always is, team against team, one against one, you against yourself.