What if Wednesday | What if Cape Town ball-tampering scandal never broke out in public

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A single moment of misfortune can turn the history upside down and send a whole new generation to a new normal. Well, I am not talking about Coronavirus here, but that day in Cape Town, when Cameron Bancroft found his hand struck down in his pants.

The incident not only has brought about a complete transformation to the Australian team culture but it also ensured that Steve Smith became hungrier for runs than he was and David Warner attending a whole new spiritual level of run-scoring ability that is akin to Buddha. Justin Langer got his due for being one of the effortless man managers and Cricket Australia eventually endeared themselves to the common public. But what if the world was actually moving on a parallel universe and not the way it is now? Let’s find out.

With Australia being on the backfoot in the Newlands Tests, the result becomes an inevitable one, with the hosts securing their second win of the series to take the lead 2-1. However, Australia then make a sounding comeback on the back of a Steve Smith century in Johannesburg to make it 2-2, raising a toast to their comeback skills. With a high level of self-confidence, their players enter the Indian Premier League season, with David Warner leading Sunrisers Hyderabad and Steve Smith in charge of Rajasthan Royals' leadership.

The IPL play out with the usual script, with Sunrisers Hyderabad taking on Chennai Super Kings in the final of the 11th edition when David Warner cut a poignant pose. Defying the challenge posed by the CSK spinners, Warner scores a brisk 113 off 56 deliveries to post a 232-run target for Chennai. Shane Watson gives his all to cut the bridge but his majestic effort falls short with CSK ending their innings with 214, losing the game by 18 runs and Sunrisers lift their second-ever IPL trophy, with Warner equalising Dhoni’s record as a skipper. 

Australian players, fresh off a great season of IPL, scamper the same errand against England in the ODI series that followed the IPL and riding on great form of David Warner and Shaun Marsh, the Aussie side secures a 3-0 series lead as the caravan moves to Chester-le-Street. Jason Roy plays a breath-taking innings in the fourth game with Jos Buttler adding a fine 56 off 32 balls to turn the table. But normalcy is restored in Manchester as Australia, with Steve Smith and Aaron Finch smashing centuries, secure the series 4-1. England are now in tatters when they play India next, where their fragility results in India winning both T20I and ODI series. 

After being touted to shake the whole damn thing, England are now in pieces, which forces them to change their successful strategy, with the home World Cup being just a year away. That results in Trevor Bayliss sending Jonny Bairstow down the order, in order to accommodate Buttler at the top, where he is now united with Jason Roy. While the duo was decent at the top, Bairstow renders ineffective at the end and that starts to expose England’s fault lines one after another. Eventually, they are caught in a trap, leaving everything in a mindless fray.

India, meanwhile, have concentrated all their energy in the Australia series to defend the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, but after winning the Adelaide Test, they lose track in Perth and then in Melbourne, Steve Smith continues his purple patch to score 245. India then go on to lose MCG while rain-affected SCG Test means Australia win the series 2-1. India return home being disappointed after losing three consecutive Test series away from home, while their golden boy Jasprit Bumrah just had a terrible outing. His confidence is at an all-time low, for which BCCI rests him for the ODI outing, replacing him with the impressive Ishant Sharma, whose seven wickets in three games help the side win the 50-over outing 2-1.

Now, Indian team’s fragility makes Ishant Sharma a permanent option in the ODI side, which he backs up with a solid IPL - the same tournament that sees Kuldeep Yadav’s stock degrading game after game. India then decide to take Ishant to the World Cup as the back-up option, especially for the pacer’s familiarity with the conditions in the past, as the country’s campaign gets underway against South Africa. Meanwhile, Australia have also gotten rid of Aaron Finch, who is going through a bad run of form, replacing him with Travis Head as the opener alongside Warner. Under Smith, they are a force to be reckoned with and now they have all the chance to defend the title they won four years ago at their own backyard. 

England, however, are pushing hard, uncertain by the difficult situation posed to them, with India and Australia scampering ahead with surgical precision. Half-way mark, India don the top spot with Australia second when Pakistan, eerily moving similar with the script of 1992, get the better of New Zealand, West Indies, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan to bolster their chances to qualify. As India beat England in their group encounter, the line-up is concluded - India, Australia, Pakistan, and New Zealand.

India go on to face Australia in the first semi-final and New Zealand takes Pakistan on. The game seemed to be evenly poised on paper, but Australia do suffer a body blow when Warner, on his way to the Old Trafford pavilion after practice, slips on foot, creating havoc of missing the bus for the all-important game. Although he is declared match fit, the soreness gets the better of him as Ishant accounts for his wicket before sending Head, Smith and Carey back to the pavilion for a combined score of 45. Australia are in danger and in no time, India exact the revenge of the 2015 World Cup semi-final. On the other hand, Pakistan, riding on a Shoaib Malik century and a fifer by Mohammed Amir, thrash New Zealand once again to set up for a clash for the ages. India and Pakistan are in the final of a World Cup and this is going to be a path-breaking one.

Lord’s was all set to host two archrivals, with the stands being filled hours before the toss was done. On the day, Indian skipper Virat Kohli invites Pakistan to bat and it is a glorious beginning for the Virat Kohli-led side, with Bumrah and Ishant dismissing the first three wickets for 123. Pakistan's most trusted batsman, Babar Azam kept on delivering goods at the other end, craftily playing KulCha, to the merit with Asif Ali for company. India, however, fail to strike in the middle overs as Babar hits a century and Malik, Pakistan’s specialised India tormentor, adds 165 runs for the sixth wicket, pushing the side to 279 in 50 overs.

It is never a safe target but after Amir dismisses both Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli for 13 and 17 respectively, KL Rahul follows suit, walking back to the dressing room. India’s entire structure comes crashing down in just one encounter, with the side being 39/3 when Dinesh Karthik joins Rishabh Pant in the middle. The duo add runs by a tickle and takes the scorecard to 144 but Pant’s dismissal starts a domino effect of sorts, with Hardik Pandya and India’s colossal man MS Dhoni failing this time. 79 runs still needed in 15 overs, with Jadeja and Ravindra Jadeja being India’s only hope. 

They scamper ahead giving Pakistan fans jitters, but Amir and Riaz strike twice in consecutive overs to virtually end India’s hopes. Jadeja is the last man standing when Shaheen Afridi bowls Mohammed Shami to bring an end to the proceedings. Pakistan win their second World Cup after beating India for the first time in the 44-year-long history of the mega event and the entire country finally were put a smile on their face. But India have been left in desolation, thinking about what could have been...

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