World Cup Diary: A Diwali in Bengaluru, old wounds heal and the final heartbreak

In a comforting ambience, India dished out Diwali fireworks on November 12.

Published : Nov 22, 2023 15:26 IST - 7 MINS READ

Diwali Dhamaka: India thrashed the Netherlands by 160 runs in Bengaluru on the Indian festival of Diwali.
Diwali Dhamaka: India thrashed the Netherlands by 160 runs in Bengaluru on the Indian festival of Diwali. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Diwali Dhamaka: India thrashed the Netherlands by 160 runs in Bengaluru on the Indian festival of Diwali. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

There are no breaks for the Indian team members as they reach Bengaluru well in advance for their World Cup clash against the Netherlands during the Diwali weekend. The southern metropolis has a pastoral history of parks, tree-lined avenues, salubrious weather, and a present caught up in exploding development, high-rises, traffic snarls, and a climate that still remains a balm.

The city’s heart, placed around MG Road, is a glorious mix of high-end business streets and bookshops, and most importantly, it also has the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium and the adjacent Cubbon Park. Cricket lingers in the air with a little wall erected inside the venue complex in honour of Rahul Dravid, and nearby there is a traffic roundabout named the Anil Kumble Circle.

Thanks to the Royal Challengers Bangalore connect, this is also Virat Kohli’s territory, and almost the entire Indian unit knows the ground well as preparatory camps are held here and at the National Cricket Academy. And in this comforting ambience, India dished out Diwali fireworks on November 12.

The Netherlands was defeated by 160 runs. The host’s batters flourished, with Shreyas Iyer and K.L. Rahul slamming centuries. India’s 410 for four was well beyond the rival’s grasp, and the most heartening sights were when Kohli and skipper Rohit Sharma grabbed a wicket each, and the joy that it bequeathed within the team and across the stands proved to be the ideal dessert on a surreal night.

Old wounds heal

India against New Zealand may not have the same ring as games involving Australia or Pakistan at the other end of the spectrum, yet the recent history is engrossing. Having lost to the Black Caps in the 2019 World Cup semifinal and the World Test Championship final in 2021, both in England, the Men in Blue were aware of who they were up against in the World Cup semifinal in Mumbai on November 15.

Skipper Rohit kept insisting on being in the ‘here’ and ‘now’ while playing the semifinal. India precisely did that at the Wankhede Stadium. With the Sachin Tendulkar statue in one corner and the maestro himself watching from the stands, Kohli traipsed past him to register his 50th ODI ton, a new record and one above the legend’s 49. Shreyas also slammed a hundred, and Mumbaikars enjoyed the double treat.

“We are from a small country, and we fight hard,” Kane Williamson had said, and he stayed true to his words. The New Zealand skipper, who charmed the entire media contingent in the pre-match press conference when a microphone malfunction kept all on tenterhooks, was equally tough in the chase and, along with centurion Daryl Mitchell, kept the Black Caps in the hunt. India finally won by 70 runs, and the ghosts of 2019 and 2021 were hopefully laid to rest.

From Maximum City, India was all set to head to Ahmedabad for the final. The caravan was reaching its last stop, and excitement coursed through the nation’s cricketing veins. There was 1983 and 2011, and would 2023 join that list? The answers would be known in a few days, but for now, the Indian team preferred to enjoy the moment.

The final heartbreak

Ahmedabad was a constant shade of blue as fans wore the India jersey and walked the streets. Hotels were booked, rentals and flight fares soared, and it looked as if the entire country had descended on the city. Around the Narendra Modi Stadium, people hung around just to see the Indian team bus arrive for the optional training session on a hectic Saturday.

Those with official passes entering the venue were constantly asked about what was transpiring inside, about the pitch, and if some players were already in. Rohit, as always, swore to the gospel of playing good cricket and refused to think too far ahead. He was asked about his omission from the 2011 squad, and the skipper quipped, “Let us not go back there, yaar; it was an emotional time in my career. Let us see what we can do in the final now.”

Maja ma? (All good? in Gujarati)” was the constant refrain as Sunday dawned. This wasn’t just another November 19. This was the day of the final, the culmination of a long-drawn tournament that commenced at the same venue on October 5. Back then, New Zealand defeated defending champion England. Cut to the present, this was heartbreak saloon as Australia revealed its pedigree.

Its relentless bowling and fielding skills froze the Indians on a sluggish pitch. Rohit’s men mustered 240, a target that proved inconsequential once Travis Head hammered a hundred. Pat Cummins and his men won by six wickets. It was Australia’s sixth World Cup title, and for India, just like in the 2003 final, the men from Down Under again proved to be an immovable object even after two decades.

Dravid, a member of the 2003 squad and coach of the present team, fronted up to the media. Sadness lingered, and without ever losing his grace, the former India captain spoke at length, lauded his wards, praised his rivals, and despite the odd barb from sections of the click-bait media, he retained his sense of dignity.

India was the best team in the World Cup, but on the day it mattered, Australia reigned supreme. The World Cup was finally over, and it was time for players to pause and unwind. Joy in the Australian dressing room, silent tears in the Indian one — sport is truly the biggest reality check.

K. C. Vijaya Kumar


Old is gold

No Indian city reveres its bygone era quite like Kolkata. When director Dibakar Banerjee shot the film Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! in 2015, there was a running joke that he could have filmed the 1940s story in present-day Kolkata without having to recreate a thing. It is perhaps this image that a lot of the international media still have of the eastern metropolis. A senior local scribe covering the World Cup match between Pakistan and England was visibly upset that foreign journalists were still shooting videos near Howrah Bridge and Victoria Memorial. “A lot of Kolkata is old. But it is also new. Finer things have come up. They should also showcase that to their people back home,” he mumbled. The stadium Disc Jockey (DJ), though, was impervious to this line of thinking. With 80-year-old Rolling Stones star Mick Jagger in attendance, the DJ belted out the Beatles’ iconic 1960s number, Love Me Do. Hardly the song to rev up the atmosphere, but it fits in nicely with the city and its eternal charm.

N. Sudarshan


Indian hand in Aussie win

A few weeks before the Australian team reached India for a long tour — first a bilateral series, followed by the World Cup — Pritish Joshi was called up by the team management.

Joshi, a side-arm specialist from Vadodara, had worked with the Australian team during the Border-Gavaskar Trophy earlier this year, and the Aussies wanted him to be part of their support group again.

Over the last month-and-a-half, Joshi worked with the Australian side that went on to beat India in the final on Sunday to clinch its record sixth World Cup title. It was certainly not an easy task to master the Indian conditions, but the players and the support staff made it a point to cut out the noise and focus on the job at hand.

“Initially, they looked tired after a long tour of South Africa and the three-match ODI series against India. They were exhausted, and perhaps that played a bit of a role in us losing the first two games,” Joshi told Sportstar. However, as the tournament progressed, Australia aced its game. “The environment was very chilled out, and everyone was in the right headspace. The best thing about this team is that they are very clear in their planning and everyone knows what to do,” he said.

Joshi has befriended Marcus Stoinis and Cameron Green. “We practised regularly, and it was also a learning experience for me to work with a champion team and understand how they handle crunch situations. It was fantastic,” Joshi said. Ahead of the final, the environment in the camp was quite relaxed. “A lot of the players did not turn up for practice and just tried to stay calm. We had a look at the wicket, which was dry, and accordingly, the plans were made. They approached the game with a positive mindset,” he added.

Joshi hopes to work with the Indian team in the future. “As an Indian, I really hope to see our team win the World Cup title,” Joshi said, adding, “I would be happy to contribute.”

Shayan Acharya

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