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Confessions of a World Cup addict: How an anglophone Anglophobe became an India-lover

One of these days, truth be told, cricket might well have a new GOAT. Much of India’s massive cricket-mad population is likely to bristle at that suggestion; for them, Sachin Tendulkar’s place as the greatest batsman of all time has never really been in doubt…and never will be.

Maybe they will be consoled, however, by the news that the potential new GOAT is also Indian. His name? Virat Kohli.

Interestingly, Tendulkar first focused my attention on Kohli.

Photo: Star India batsman Virat Kohli.

“He has carried us on his shoulders for 24 years,” Kohli said immediately after MS Dhoni’s men had captured India’s second World Cup title in 2011. “I think it’s time we carried him on ours.”

They did. Literally.

And not long after that, Kohli began to metaphorically carry India’s cricket on his shoulders, with here and there a little help from able team-mates. So in England in mid-July, there is every chance that, just like after that 2011 Mumbai final, the India captain, who is determined to win title number three. will literally be carried triumphantly on able shoulders.

However, the odds are also good that it will be the home captain. Or perhaps a former India captain, whose contribution through the years has been massive.

We shall return to that shortly. But having already explained why I am an Anglophobe, I want to make a zigwah here to highlight why, the massive 1983 upset notwithstanding, I am an Indianophile. I now support the team from the sub-continent against all comers, except, of course, WI.

I was won over by two former India captains, one a genuine tragic hero, the other an authentic inspirational icon. Like me, both were opening batsmen, maybe just a tad better, I grudgingly concede, than I was.

Photo: Legendary India batsman Sunil Gavaskar on the attack.

In Barbados in 1962—in those days I was as cricket-crazy as any modern-day Mumbaian—India captain Nari Contractor almost lost his life after a Charlie Griffith bouncer hit him flush on the head. This was not in a Test match, mind you, but in the territorial game against Barbados. Thankfully, after multiple emergency operations, he survived.

Here, incredibly, is what his online bio says: “Almost two years later, the left-handed opening batsman, the very epitome of courage, was playing first-class cricket. But despite a brave attempt to stage a comeback to Test cricket, he never could quite make it.”

Hero number two is a man who lost the captaincy to Kapil Dev just before the 1983 World Cup win. I can sum Sunil up in 16 borrowed words: It was Gavaskar, the real master/Just like a wall, they couldn’t out Gavaskar at all.

I have issues with Relator’s ‘treachery’ but none at all with the admirable performances that inspired it. The die was cast.

Which brings us right back to Kohli.

Here is his story in figures: In 67 T20Is, the 30-year-old has amassed 2,263 runs at an average of 50.28. In the 77 Tests Kohli has played, his aggregate is 6,613 runs, his average rising to 53.76. His 227 ODIs have yielded 10,843 runs, at an average of 59.57.

Photo: India star batsman Virat Kohli on the attack.
(Copyright Indian Express)

Extraordinary! He averages over 50 in all three formats. No wonder his ESPNcricinfo profile gushes. Calling him “passionate, (…) one of the best batsmen in the world, (…) a ruthless captain (…) [with an] emotional, effervescent and at times firecracker character,” it tells us that, “By his 29th birthday, he had more ODI hundreds (32) than anyone apart from Sachin Tendulkar (49), and (…) is the only batsman to have achieved the feat.

Ominously for the other nine teams in this year’s tournament, the profile ends with the warning that Kohli who, barring the unforeseen, possibly has two more World Cups ahead of him, “has set his sights [on] creat[ing] a legacy like the ones established by all-conquering captains like Clive Lloyd and Steve Waugh.”

Lloyd’s West Indians won the first two World Cups in England; Australia have won five, with Waugh in charge in 1999.

No less ominously for the nine, Kohli is but one of the multiple very real assets India bring to this six-week contest. They also have in their ranks Kohli’s predecessor, Dhoni, a man who is nearing his 350th ODI and has accumulated 10,500 runs at an average of 50.72. According to ESPNcricinfo, his “exemplary cricketing smarts” make off-the-field data analysis almost redundant.

Add to those two Rohit Sharma. In addition to 41 half-centuries, he has three ODI double-centuries among his 22 three-figure scores. And Shikhar Dhawan, who has 16 centuries and 27 half-centuries in ODIs to his credit. And Jasprit Bumrah, whose current ODI stats read 49 matches, 417.3 overs, 85 wickets for an average of 22.15 per wicket and at an economy rate of only 4.15 per over.

Photo: India batsman Rohit Sharma in action.
(Copyright Getty Images)

That’s merely a sampling of the array of talent that the India squad boasts. Factor in the unsatisfactory result of their tour of England last year and you’ll see why Kohli’s men know they have more than a little to prove.

The tournament schedule has them playing South Africa, Australia and New Zealand first, which means they have to bring their A game from as early as next week Wednesday, their opening match.

The critical encounter with England is carded for Sunday 30 June, by which time both teams are more than likely to know just what they need to do to qualify. And if we are not lucky—I hoping the big pressure to show deh home crowd how good deh is go buss England pipe—this could be a dress rehearsal for the 14 July final.

With the playing field level and the teams evenly matched, common sense dictates, you don’t write off the home team. But I have already discussed the reasons why for me the irrational is always in play when England are involved.

Reading my many race-related stories right here on Wired868 over the years, many have concluded that I am racist.

I’m not worried; I’m confident they’re wrong.

Some of my best friends, after all, are Indian.

Photo: The India cricket team will be contenders for the 2019 ICC World Cup title.

About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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