MUMBAI: Blitzkrieg, a German word meaning ‘Lightning war’, was a term used by Hitler to avoid long wars. It was used ‘to describe a method of offensive warfare designed to strike a swift, focused blow at an enemy using mobile, manoeuvrable forces, including armoured tanks and air support. Such an attack ideally led to a quick victory, limiting the loss of soldiers and artillery’.
India’s inflicting heavy defeats to all of its opponents in the league stages of the World Cup was not just poetry in motion. It was a performance on a battlefield. And like Hitler, India has kept the games short by using the same military mantra - Blitzkrieg.
But on this Wednesday, the Wankhede, a ground on which several players of this team have transformed from boys to men, will be different. It’s the same bull ring, but a different fight.
And what makes this fight riveting is that the other party isn’t really a bull raging down the pit, to gorge your guts out. The Kiwis are a lot like their national bird. Graceful, swift, calm and effective.
If they are moulded into one being, they could be a Roger Federer playing a forehand down the line, or a Lionel Messi touch, or a guitar performance by Eric Clapton.
Like these greats, the New Zealand cricket team floors you with its performance, seducing you and then quietly strangling you, with a smile that never leaves.
Ken Williamson is one of the nicest blokes to have ever played cricket. If cricket remains a gentleman’s game, Ken Williamson would hold the torch right up there. The fact that he is one of the greatest cricketers the world has produced, adds to a package that is extremely potent.
And this Kane is perfectly able to upturn the famous quote, of 1948, of the legendary baseball manager Leo Durocher - “nice guys finish last”. The Indian team knows perfectly well that the understated and underrated black caps have the potential to make India’s post-Diwali game a dark night and finish first.
But the possibility of this potential becoming practice, is at the moment, going strictly by what has happened in the last nine games, as remote as getting a heat stroke in Alaska. And that is what the 34,000-odd at the stadium and million fans outside would believe.
But then this is cricket. Around the nice man Kane, New Zealand have a 23-year-old Rachin Ravindra, a Kiwi whose grand mom and pop live in Bengaluru, already playing like Brian Lara and a galaxy of stroke makers like Darryl Mitchel and Glen Phillips. For the Indian batsmen, who have steamrolled every bowling attack, the nightmare of “45 minutes of bad cricket”, a phrase used to describe India’s monumental semi-final loss in 2019, may have gone but will never be forgotten.
Because of that nightmare, left-arm seamer Trent Boult will be streaming in at the Wankhede today. For the record, he got Kohli out LBW on 1 at Manchester.
Mitchel Santner comes from an assembly line of fine spin bowlers New Zealand has had and comes after another left-arm great Daniel Vetorri. Santner’s figures in the 2019 semi-finals read 10-2-34-2. This was better than even test match bowling, a master class of accuracy and guile.
But they are up against a different Indian team, where each department, like an armed independent contingent, is scripting runs and taking wickets in a pack, with the overall armed forces combining to deliver a blitzkrieg.
Look at some of the margin of defeats inflicted. After chasing down scores in the first three games, winning by 6, 8, 7, 7 and 4 wickets, India then took its game a notch upwards when batting first. England succumbed by 100 runs, though India scored just 229.
Sri Lanka managed barely five more than their 50 all out in Colombo a month ago and lost by 302 runs. Next came South Africa, arguably the most complete team in the tournament. In reply to India’s 326 for 5, South Africa got bowled out for 83, yes 83. And finally, the Netherlands played for pride and got it when they scored 250 while chasing India’s mammoth 410 for 4. But they went out with their heads held high and their honour intact.
If Hitler wanted to see a sporting reincarnation of his war philosophy, he would do well to watch India in this cricket World Cup.
But then Rohit Sharma’s team is not fighting cricket’s war. They are just climbers of the highest mountain peak of their sport. And they are doing it with zeal, wearing boots of happiness, camaraderie and solidarity.
It’s a happy and joyous team. When they travel, they look like a great Indian family on a holiday, conquering peaks as they go along till they have reached what is surely way past the base camp. But as any Everester will tell you - the longest night and the hardest one is before that last final push to the summit. Cheered and egged on by a billion sherpas - fans in blue, all over the world, they have two steps to glory - the semis and the finals. But then there’s also that one step to ultimate dejection, if they don’t make it.
Is cricket just a game? Try asking this today and the mountains will throw this echo back at you – Indiaaaaaaaaa, Indiaaaaaaa.