No better day to go back to the 1990s. A cloudy morning (In Delhi as well as in Manchester). Check. An outrageously talented Mumbai opener failing for the first time in a big tournament. Check. Two single digit top-order wickets. India chasing a modest target, but of course, suddenly everyone has forgotten how to bat. Check and double check!
And finally, a game where India were the favourites, but conspired to fall apart. That too in a One Day International held over two days. It was ridiculous. This was supposed to be easy. Or the easiest of them all. But it wasn’t. And yet, it almost was in sight.
A friend boarded a flight when India were 24 for four. Four hours later when she landed, India needed 42 off 24, and they had four wickets in hand. They had fought back the possibility of a meek surender. They were going down, but not without a fight. The India of the 2000s was alive.
A flight to the present, please. Thank you very much.
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Virat Kohli has been stressing this point throughout the ICC World Cup. MS Dhoni is more than runs. He is more than the big hits, the finishing ability and the instinctive wicket keeping. He is more than the captaincy advice and the field placements. Dhoni’s value was in how he took the pressure off his partner on the pitch. Not by scoring the quick runs via the big hits (not anymore), but by just dropping words of advice, providing calm in the middle of a storm.
For a while it seemed this could work out. Words of advice, a voice of calm. Dhoni on controller, playing Ravinder Jadeja. Jadeja, the man who started a Twitter storm, playing the innings of a lifetime. This was his first fifty in five years, to cap off a wicket and two outstanding acts on the field, a ‘bits and pieces’ cricketer, getting all his bits and pieces together. This was a Jadeja century, in the way that only fans can talk about. He saved nineteen runs on the field. He scored 77 batting. He got a wicket and a run out. This was a century collected via three skills in one game.
Sanjay Manjrekar’s Twitter feed was burning. And as incorrect as he was in his assessment (a fact he admitted to readily after match).
So was Jadeja to lash out the way he did. This, today was the correct way to lash out. Maybe the two ways, for him, are linked. It happens. A little bit of rage, a hint of petulance, a splash of desire. Mein tujhe dikhata hoon… and all that. There are humans who need it all to put together in in the pan and simmer.
In the post match interview, Kohli put it together well – even if praising Jadeja now seems like a veiled swipe at Manjrekar. “He put all parts of his game very well,” he said.
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That, in essence, is sport. Every sportsman has facets to his game. And in cricket more than any. Can’t bat, bowl. Can’t bowl, bat. Can’t bat or bowl? Field.
Which brings us perfectly, to Martin Guptill, a man in the middle of the worst form on the biggest stage of his life. Guptill scored 547 runs four years back. Now, he has 167 at a shade over 20.
Kane Williamson has never had to justify the reason for persisting with an opener who has had more single digit scores than any other at the World Cup. But if he did, he will point towards Guptill’s right arm.
Once they got Jadeja, New Zealand knew they only needed one more. 51 times has Dhoni remained unbeaten at the end of an Indian innings. India have lost one of those games. And with Jadeja gone, and the game entering the Dhoni Zone (only accessible through a calm application of mind, and well directed nudges to mid wicket for three runs), New Zealand were ripe for the picking.
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There was another ’90s reference too. Another throwback. This was Old Trafford, the home of those who scream glory. And if you loved nervy endings, Old Trafford was where you went in the 1990s. It was where injury time stretched for eons, especially if you were a visiting side. And you knew, just knew, that Manchester United would score at the death. They would get their win, right at the end.
For India in the 2000s though, the man at the death will always be an abbreviation. MSD.
And so, at the death, Dhoni began. He cut Lockie Ferguson’s first ball of the 49th over for six over point. 25 off 11 needed. He shovelled the next on to the leg side. Single done, him and Bhuvneshwar both hesitated. It was milliseconds, but it was enough. Because when Guptill caught it, flung it and hit the stumps, those milliseconds became inches. India’s hopes were on a miracle from its tail. In other words New Zealand, the perennial semifinalists were in their second consecutive World Cup final.
India, meanwhile die in pieces again. In the semifinals again. In the last five years, India have been in the last four of every ICC tournament. They have reached the final of two (World T20 2014, Champions Trophy 2017). And they have won zero.
The realist may consider this failure. For the optimist though, this will showcase consistency. And provide perhaps the most 1990s thing of all. Umeed. Umeed jis par duniya kayam hai.
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