On a strip of grass in suburban Sydney, a young boy is practising a new cricketing shot.
Nearby, his father watches on in amusement while he fights his way into an oversized rabbit costume. It is Easter Sunday, and there is an Easter egg hunt to be organised for the children from this street.
The young boy continues playing, engrossed in perfecting a highly unorthodox batting technique. For those acquainted with the antics of the Australian cricket captain in Mohali two days before, this shot is instantly familiar.
For the second time in as many years, Wahab Riaz, the Pakistani paceman, found himself in a stand-off with an Australian batsman: Once in Adelaide against a bemused Shane Watson, and here in Punjab against Steven Smith. Both times, Riaz thundered in for a losing cause, though not without gaining a legion of fans in the process.
On this second occasion, spectators and television audiences watched on in incredulity as Smith dismantled Riaz’s cool over the course of the 19th over of Australia’s innings. The display culminated in a ludicrous final delivery that saw Smith shuffle across his stumps to whip a ball well wide of off stump behind square leg for four. At the non-striker’s end, Watson shared a wry smile with Smith, no doubt recalling the contrast with the fiery spell Riaz pelted his way a year earlier.
Although the shot is one likely to turn even the most adventurous of junior cricket coaches apoplectic, it is this shot that youngsters have spent the greater part of the long weekend holiday in Australia emulating.
The timing of Australia’s match-up with India in what is effectively a quarterfinal in this World T20 could not be better. It is the Easter long weekend and, for once, the time difference with the tournament’s hosts isn’t going to keep Australia’s youngest supporters away.
After a slow start to the tournament, and a number of niggling concerns papered over by Smith and James Faulkner against Pakistan, Australia finally appear fitting opponents for the blockbuster Indian side in a match that each team must win to progress to the semifinals.
Much is at stake for both sides. The Indian players, eager to avoid the ignominy of bowing out in the group stages of the tournament on home soil, carry on their shoulders the expectations of a fan base that readily pours its soul into the game.
For Australia, this match is an opportunity to prove that the team is one that can succeed in all formats of the game, and do justice to Shane Watson in what may be his final international game should the team falter at this hurdle. An embarrassing loss today at the site of Watson’s infamous suspension from the Australian Test team three years ago will only rub salt in the wound of what could have been.
Although Australia come off a victory against the exhilarating but infuriatingly inconsistent Pakistan who more often than not lurche towards their potential in fits and starts, the more polished Indian team will pose a different kind of challenge. In their recent encounter Down Under, India raced to a 3-0 clean sweep of the T20 International series against Australia, demonstrating clinical performances against a haphazard Australia that have yet to crack the formula to dominating this shortest form of the game.
In this tournament, however, India have demonstrated a temperament more akin to the Australians, relying on a few powerful performances from Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya to give themselves a chance of progressing to the semifinal. The unique pressure points of both teams in a high-octane match promise to deliver the goods for audiences craving a showcase of T20 thrills.
In Australia, as the Christian holiday brings family and friends together under one roof, so too will the secular tradition of cricket. It is the glue that binds communities across long, languishing summers. It is the flurry of online activity after every inventive shot by the buccaneering Glenn Maxwell. It is the young boy who forgoes the promise of endless chocolate eggs to instead spend hours emulating his cricketing hero. It is, after all, the unofficial religion of Australians.