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Sports

Who will win the World Cup?

May 30, 2019 05:30 AM

COURTESY MIRROR MAY 30

Who will win the World Cup?
Has there been another World Cup in the 21st century in which so many teams go in with something to prove?
I don’t know about you, but the last time I felt like I put my childhood behind me was on a warm April night in 2011. Perhaps you, too, left the TV playing in the other room and went out to the balcony to listen to the wordless commentary of your neighbourhood. One man’s gasp in a living room is barely audible even to himself. But a collective gasp in a Mumbai housing society is as loud as the sound of an airlock opening over the planet. The soundtrack was brief but expressive. The last few overs consisted mainly of groans, choked-off screams and cries of hopeful relief. You could hear the wheeze of the fireworks before they started exploding across the sky: for once, the thunder came before the lightning.

If England win the World Cup, which begins today, they will be the third team to win the tournament at home, and the second to win it at their home ground. India accomplished both by winning that 2011 final. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, including Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy’s oldschool joy in opening the batting, I think they will squander the home advantage again. Why?


It’s hard to describe, apart from the sense of emotional unfitness that has clearly plagued England since the very inception of the tournament, and that not even the successes of the last couple of years have entirely allayed. Of course they ought to win, given their many strengths and virtues. But all World Cups are basically quadrennial ceremonies of public hysteria, and prey on our superstitious beliefs more than our rational minds. In that universe, the odds on them are long yet.

Superstition, it’s true, prevents anyone from putting their faith in South Africa. But they are also a team that look like such a far cry from their swashbuckling previous avatars that it would only be poetic justice if they did turn around and win the whole thing, with AB De Villiers watching from the stands at Lord’s.

For what it’s worth, this columnist will be backing them, as I have every World Cup since 2007. Mock me, if you will. It’s a wish that’s got to come true sometime.

Calculations based on India’s talent, bench strength, even the good omen of KL Rahul putting an end to our quest for a #4 batter in the line-up, will keep us close to the top. I don’t think this is a matter of short-term satisfaction with the team that Kohli will field over the next six weeks. Quite simply, bowlers like Kuldeep Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah deserve to be World Cup winners; it would be ridiculous if they ended their careers without their names on that trophy. But they are, hopefully, very far from the end of their careers yet. In the meantime, there is one catch. At this late hour, all calculations seem like superstitions, too.

Has there been another World Cup in the 21st century in which so many teams go in with something to prove? Australia are returning to clear their name. Sri Lanka are hoping to be more than the failure even their well-wishers are gloomily expecting they will be. The West Indies have one more chance to be something other than a fizzing, sparking flash in the group-stage pan. Then there are the dark horses. New Zealand? Why not? Bangladesh? Surprise me. Pakistan? They exist only to surprise me. Afghanistan? Yes – one day soon.

Jokes apart, forecasting this World Cup to a reasonable degree of accuracy is not all that difficult. Like the exit pollsters who called our just-concluded election correctly when so many journalists got it wrong, it’s possible to put your faith in the method and the numbers and come close to the truth of the future. But fans are neither pollsters nor journalists. And I write this column as a fan, one whose earliest memories of sports are bound up with the cricket World Cup. We are, perhaps, closer to party workers: baselessly confident, baselessly paranoid, full of tall stories about the future that are really just variations on our conceptions of the past.

So onwards, to six weeks of hearing the thunder before lightning strikes. We will watch games that seem like doovers of their unforgettable counterparts in history. We will watch games that give us reason to be surprised, perhaps even shocked. We will passively consume more advertising than we have at any single point in our lives before. This time, we may even overwrite the past.


Captains fantastic: At a press conference in London


SUPRIYA NAIR

The halfway line: on the intersection of sports and life

For what it’s worth, this columnist will be backing South Africa, as I have every World Cup since 2007

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