It is the first time that India have gone into the Champions Trophy as the world&’s champions and, even if their so-far-so-good, as-easy-as-ABC passage into the semi-finals might induce in excessively patriotic hearts vague fears of an anti-climactic conclusion – the boy admirer of the swashbuckling batsman always sees fire-breathing demons in rival bowlers, even if they are only honest trundlers – you have got to hand it to the boys.
They have been doing rather well, right from the word go. Our collective memory of India&’s previous visit to England is scarred by so many heartbreaks and mind-numbing, abject capitulations, especially in Test cricket, that the currently unfolding scene simply defines turning over a new leaf. Here we are, watching a demonstration of it.
Bung in something suggestive of a complete turnaround to the note of newness and the transformation will truly seem as dramatic as anything you may have seen in a film or read in a book, virtually ever.
Well might Harry Potter have been proud of it, even if cricket is not Quidditch. Not yet, at any rate. From start to finish, India have looked like they cannot put a foot wrong, laying to the sword all comers. Conditions, whatever the reason, have suited the famous Men in Blue and they have made merry.
The last time they were there, Rahul Dravid was perhaps the only one who seemed to know what batting on occasionally spiteful wickets entailed.
Collapses were reported like they were fated to happen, humiliating and inexorable. Sachin Tendulkar seemed a mere mortal.
All that, happily, is now a thing of the past. Something akin to a wish-fulfilling story. And unlike during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, when home-grown former stalwarts began letting out howls – when India looked like placing themselves the right side up – to the effect that wickets in the country had been neutered well in advance to ensure Indian batting&’s welfare under pressure from sponsors of the sub-continental variety, there is now no sound bite alleging dirty doings out there in the middle. Or, boardroom scheming. Tim May, at least, has yet to make himself heard on this, and he is so characteristically voluble about how India alone corrupt the game, skilfully eschewing commercialisation as the root cause of a lot that is wrong and unwholesome.
In 2003, of course, Sourav Ganguly&’s team found themselves squashed flat in the final, but Australia, though continuing to turn out in the same colours as then, are no longer the invincible outfit they were.
They might have one or two players who compel attention, and penal action, by dint of their hand-to-hand combative prowess in bar-room brawls but that, alas, falls well short of match-winning skills. We do not really know if the 2003 allegation was founded on reality – our own men on the spot are generally like Gandhi&’s monkeys – but today&’s thoughts would surely be focused on how it was going.
Which is just as well …because if and when the trophy is won, it might only be an excuse for burying the Indian Premier League’s spot-fixing scandal.