In the subsequent days, and even years, people would ask him whether it was fear or desperation or both that made him shut his eyes in that defining moment. He never had a clear answer. Perhaps he didn’t want to ask himself. Perhaps there was no need to ask that question.
World over, Sahil was toasted as the best batsman ever. His records were astounding, better than any other cricketer in the history of the game. His averages made statisticians dizzy and fans drool. His stroke play was said to be stuff that made pundits revise their textbooks.
His scoring consistency was like the beating of a healthy heart. He has had his highs and lows, but he was the best, the crowning glory of the Indian team. He had raised the game to the level of an art form, his rivals applauded him and felt no envy.
But Sahil never felt complete. He had done it all but one.
He had entered international cricket at a very young age. He broke record after record and matured in the game at jet speed. But one achievement kept eluding him—The Cricket World Cup.
In his fifteen years of international cricket, he had played in three world cups. He was a newcomer, and then he was a senior, but he was always the promised one. The vagaries of a team sport ensured that his reputation and stroke play couldn’t see the Indian team through.
But Sahil knew that everyone had tried his best. His reasoning was different for the world cup continuing to elude him. He wasn’t superstitious, but he sure was god-fearing. And he was certain that god had kept the world cup away from him because he didn’t want him to have too much success too soon: What would be left to strive for? He was a hard-working, practical chap. He believed that success needs maturity to carry it; otherwise you stumble and fall.
It had been too long…and this was the moment.
The ‘tock’ of the leather on the willow sent massive shock waves through Sahil’s body … and through the opposition … the stadium audience … and all the TV viewers and radio listeners all over the world who were watching and listening to that last ball of the last over with bated breaths.
Three runs to win—last ball of the 50th over. At that exact moment, Sahil left his body.
Floating above the pitch, he could see himself—frozen—with eyes shut, the ball in mid-air, not yet across the pitch, bat swung back. He thought he looked silly with his eyes shut: “Why am I doing that?” As he rose further above, he could see the bowler frozen in the follow through, with a devilish grimace on his face. Fielders—some gasping with open mouths, some staring hard at the ball, as if their looks could halt its advance.
Sahil could see his teammates in the pavilion. Skipper had an expression that was somewhere between ecstasy and shock. Some junior team members had covered their eyes, but he could see that they were peeking through the gaps between their fingers. The coach was calm, as usual, but with a grim look on his face. The entire stadium, Indians as well as others, were either jumping or beginning to. And, like the fateful ball, they were suspended in mid-air.
Strangely, in the horizon, he could see his wife, kids, mother and other kins watching him on TV. His wife had turned her face away, his mother was praying with folded palms, his brother was a replica of the stadium crowd.
He rose further…
He could see hundreds and thousands of Indians all over the world frozen, motionless, their eyes on that ball. Had they forgotten their beloved Sahil Joglekar? No, but it was their defining moment too! A moment they could brag, or alternatively, despair about, for the rest of their lives. A moment that an entire generation would identify itself with. A moment thousands will take inspiration from. A moment forever frozen in time like a glass palace in the middle of a windless desert.
A moment when Sahil Joglekar had to shut his eyes tight to not let the cacophonic light of the expectations of millions blind him.
He knew now why. And he swung.
He knew he had connected well. It was as if it took him ages before he could gather enough courage to open his eyes. He just saw the ball distancing itself from him in the direction of mid-off. At that stage, no one could gauge where it would land. He neither had the time nor the patience to do that.
India needed three runs—just three runs. And Sahil ran like a maniac!
He didn’t care anymore—he just had to do this—everything else could wait. Did he get caught, hit a six, a four?—no thought crossed his mind. All he could do with his breath right now was this—run like the wind!
Some Indians may not be good at driving, but almost all of them are very good at judging the trajectory of a flying cricket ball. Even before the ball crossed the boundary, [unfreeze crowd] the polarization was complete, clear and overwhelming. Even before the ball hit the stands, the Indians were shouting with joy and hugging each other. On the other side, the rivals were frozen, again, with shock and despair on their faces—“IMPOSSIBLE!”
Sahil kept running; so did his mate on the other side.
It was close to two runs when they noticed the changed patterns of the crowd. Sahil didn’t trust his senses and kept running, but his mate stopped and looked at the umpire.
It was a SIX!
He jumped with joy and ran towards Sahil, hugging and lifting him up. Sahil was furious: “What the hell are you doing! Why are you not completing the run?” It was then that he let the scene seep into his senses, and it dawned upon him.
India had won the World Cup!
Providence had taken a long time, but Sahil knew that now, after years of slogging, literally as well as figuratively, he deserved it and could carry it on his broad shoulders. He stood in the middle of the ground with his bat and helmet raised. Another frozen moment—he absorbed it all—the cheers and the tears, the silent thunder of the applause. He became, for that moment, one with them. That was his reward, the uplift, the spiritual, ‘in the zone’ feel—he absorbed it all.
The moment had made its definition and he felt complete.
It is said that destiny is a lady who favors the brave and the impulsive. That moment, as he swung hard with all his might, Sahil won over lady luck. He now knew why he had shut his eyes. But there was no need to ask that question anymore because they had won.
But if you ask him in private, his answer would be simple—blind faith.