How does one brace for madness? Is it possible to prepare for chaos? A day before it plays host to 25,000 screaming hordes rooting either for India or Pakistan, a day before it loses its very identity for a while, the Oval seemed an ocean of calm.
Workers meticulously went about their preparations. Security drills were run through, and then run through again. Volunteers even rehearsed signals for traffic diversions. And the cricketers went through their paces with religious zeal, clenching their jaws each time the magnitude of the game threatened to creep up at the back of the mind.
Toil. Preparation. Repetition. Both teams will be hoping these three qualities can take them over the line on Sunday. Experienced sportsmen seem aware of how big contests can begin to acquire a life of their own, a tapestry involving both those watching and those playing, become ebbing, flowing beasts with their own momentum. These big-game hunters can insulate themselves just enough to ride with the tide and fashion their own destiny .Which side has more of these players? Does endless training blunt even fear of failure?
India, it would seem, have everything to lose. They are the only team to have lived up to the pre-tournament billing. They finally seem to have a settled combination. They have scored the most runs, 1074, of any team, with their top three batsmen scoring 81.38% of those. On English soil, they have beaten Pakistan three out of four times in ODIs stretching back to the 1999 World Cup. Their seamers have managed to throttle the opposition’s top-order batsmen. Even part-time spinners have sizzled.
The only time the illusion got shattered was against Sri Lanka but that slip-up has since been rectified with a personnel change. The tweaked pairing of Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah has worked. Add Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli’s ice-cool scything of opposition bowlers and you have the perfect winning machine. Barring fitness issues (Ashwin has an injury scare), Kohli said he wasn’t amenable to changing the XI.
India have resembled the Nordic hordes of the past, ruthless and relentless, striking with impunity and inspiring fear.
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