On Sunday afternoon, at around twenty minutes to three, a cap is handed over to the umpire.
The audience, estimated to touch a billion, watches with anticipation from different corners of this vast world. The play is titled ‘The Champions Trophy Final 2017’. It is centred around the age old rivalry between India and Pakistan and attempts to showcase it through a sport people in both countries hold very dear. The venue is the Oval, London. The protagonist, a lanky bloke called Mohammad Amir.
The events before the handing over of the cap have been rivetting. It’s caused immense joy to people on one side of the border, and extreme despondency to the other.
The script has been nothing like what the watchers, even the hopeful Pakistani ones, expected. The Pakistan team has scored 338 runs from their allotted overs, something they haven’t ever done against a half-decent team in more than two years.
While this has been magnificent, it’s isn’t the main act of the play. It’s just a prologue, though hardly anyone amongst the estimated billion would have known it then.
After handing over the cap, Amir, just 25 years of age but having lived and experienced more than most do in a lifetime, goes through a few warm up drills and marks out his run up. He has white zinc applied all over his face, his shoes are of the same colour as well. He stands still, not the nervous stillness but the meditative kind.
The holder of the highest score in ODI cricket, the one who called him just another bowler, readies himself to face Amir.
The audience took it for granted that this play falls under the genre of ‘drama’. Call the prologue heightened drama but it was still believable. But not anymore. From this point onwards, it transforms into something else. A wicked sort of beautiful fantasy. A fantasy that comes about as frequently as Halley’s Comet.
The first ball is pacy and hoops back in to the right handed opener. This opener has an eye and a half. He is never late on the ball. But off this one, he is. His feet don’t reach it and his bat, awkwardly placed and dangling as if it were a three hundred pound giant trying a tightrope walk for the first time, somehow prevents the ball from giving the stumps a concussion. The next ball goes the other way, he leaves it alone. Amir gives him a slight stare, one which most would have missed. He is bowling fast, he is moving the ball and he is creating fears.
The third one is the sucker ball. He bowls it fuller, quicker with more force put into it than it takes for wrestlers to lift the Big Show and it comes back into him faster than his eyes could ever see.
The umpire raises his finger instinctively and the opener bags a duck in the final.
But now is the real deal. The Indian captain, the superstar, unarguably the best ODI player in the world. The crowd gushes over him. He’s not just a batsman, he’s a presence that engulfs teammates, opponents and the watchers alike.
Amir somehow seems immune to that, detached from the weaknesses of the mortal world. His eyes, those Zen like eyes, size the star up.
What follows is a working over of the highest possible class, a humiliation of the big, bad bully that has dominated everyone who has ever come up against him.
He is beaten, off the outside edge and the inside, he is late to react, he is shaken repeatedly, he is dropped at slip and then falls the next ball, caught at point off a leading edge.
Amir is as charged up as is humanly possible, just the study of his eyes on that Sunday afternoon is enough artistic beauty for an entire play. When the star departs, one set of watchers fall silent, and the other set goes absolutely bonkers with joy they haven’t known for at least a couple of decades.
The star walks back, broken, with shoulders slouched, his posture akin to a man who has witnessed hell, been subject to the most heinous forms of torture and been sent back.
India has now lost their two best batsmen with 333 runs still remaining. To expect them to win is like expecting a person with multiple gunshot wounds to climb Mount Everest in the time it takes to make a cup of tea.
Amir, through superlative skill, an insurmountable amount of hard work and force of will, in the space of ten balls on 18 June 2017 kicked the Indian team in the gut, brought them down to their haunches and sucked the life out of them.
And for good measure, he got the highest run getter of the tournament in a couple of overs as well.
India lost by 180 runs. Amir bowled only six overs.
Just ten balls would have been enough.
Pakistan almost didn’t qualify for the Champions Trophy. They came here the last ranked team and lost to India by 124 runs exactly two weeks before the final.
Amir used to have long hair and was a teenage megastar once. He then conspired to spot-fix a cricket game here in London seven years back and was sent to jail. He spent five years out of the game.
Pakistan needed Hassan Ali, Fakhar Zaman and the rain to win their matches up until now, limping past South Africa, just about managing to push aside Sri lanka and thumping England. Amir helped with the bat against Sri Lanka but didn’t do anything of note with the ball in any of the games. He missed the semi-final against Engalnd.
Pakistan seemed trapped in their ODI greatness of the 1990s. The game had moved on, but they refused to. In this tournament, they played the 90s game, they forced the other teams to sing to that tune as well and just like then, with reverse swing and middle overs aggression, they sent one team after another packing.
Amir, in the final, too rewound the pitch, overhead conditions, other generic circumstances and life in general back to his glorious England summer of 2010, just before Satan struck and he bowled those infamous no-balls. He bowled like the megastar he was back then when people had begun to think five years out of the game had made him lose that special something he possessed.
Amir had no business decimating India with his regal presence on Sunday.
Pakistan had no business reaching the semi final of the Champions Trophy, let alone thumping England and India in the knockouts to win the tournament.
Right here, in London, seven years back, Amir and Pakistan reached the lowest ebb there can be in sport.
Right here, in London, one year back, Amir made his Test match comeback at Lords and took the winning wicket in a shock victory for Pakistan.
Right here, in London, also one year back, Pakistan defeated England at the Oval and became, for the first time in their history the No.1 ranked team in Test cricket.
And right here, in London, with an estimated billion people watching, Amir bowled like a supernatural force beyond God even and won Pakistan a tournament in which Uganda had more chances of winning than them.
Now tell me that this isn’t theatre.
In it’s most splendid manifestation.
Scripted not by any human, but by forces unknown.