AS SURESH Raina and Yuvraj Singh entered the final phase of the run-chase at Sydney, you couldn’t help but think back to that famous night in Ahmedabad five years ago. The stage was obviously much grander, the World Cup quarterfinal if anyone needs a reminder, as compared to the dead rubber of a T20 series that India had already sealed in style.
But more nails were being chewed into dust at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on Sunday than at the Motera that starry night. The opposition obviously was the same, the mighty Australia. But the two left-handers had finished the job off before it got too close, unlike in Sydney. Here, as India had one over left, they still needed 17 to win. And if back in 2011, Raina and Yuvraj played themselves into Indian cricket folklore with a win that set up a glorious world-beating triumph, five years on, they provided themselves a new lease of life.
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They did that in style too, with Yuvraj smashing a four and a six to start off the last over from Andrew Tye, and Raina adding the final touches to remain unbeaten on 49 to set up an oustanding 3-0 whitewash–a feat that no team had ever achieved in Australia for close to 40 years.
The final flurry though was only the dramatic culmination of a fabulous run-chase. While the Indians have been batting out of their skins Down Under this month, the lower-order hasn’t gotten much of a look-in. And as Yuvraj walked in, many question marks still remained over whether he or his partner at the other end, Raina, still remained the match-winners that they were back in 2011. Only a week has passed since the duo landed here, and as it’s turned out neither has got a chance to get used to the conditions, courtesy the form of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli.
To boot, they didn’t get more than three practice sessions before walking out at the SCG, with the Indians not even having got a chance to practice in Sydney.
And as Kohli left the field, having scored yet another half-century, India still needed 51 runs from the last five overs. As it turned out, Yuvaj only got to face three balls in the next three overs, as Raina took on the responsibility of powering India’s pursuit towards their target of 199. He did a good job as well, striking Tye for tour fours in the 18th over. The visitors needed 22 off the final 11 balls, but Shane Watson, who had earlier in the day scored a tremendous 124, used all his experience to keep the Indians in check. He conceded only five runs.
Shepherding the chase
As Yuvraj and Raina shepherded the chase, there were those who were left quizzed over why skipper MS Dhoni hadn’t come out to bat in place of Yuvraj. And it did look like it was a gamble that wasn’t going to pay off.
But while Raina had raced to 44 off 22, Yuvraj had hardly gotten a chance to show off his wares. The last time he was in this situation, the flamboyant veteran hadn’t quite painted himself in glory. It was in the final of the previous World T20 against Sri Lanka and Lasith Malinga. And here he was, in a situation where he had to come through. And he did just that.
Tye couldn’t have bowled a better delivery to start the over as far as Yuvraj is concerned. It pitched on leg, and allowed him to play one of his trademark shots, a flick off his pads that flew to the backward square-leg fence. The next ball, the new-comer went for the predictable yorker but missed his mark. And it instead turned into a half-volley that landed right under Yuvraj’s bat, and he air-lifted it over the wide long-on fence. Suddenly, it felt like Yuvraj had turned back the clock. He was being the superstar all over again.
The next ball was a bye, and Raina was back on strike. Six were required from the last three, and Raina managed to scamper across for two doubles.
That left India requiring two off the last ball. Tye pitched it on a length and Raina used his wrists to gently glide the ball over the point fielder and towards the fence. Back in the Indian dug-out, the tense faces suddenly relaxed. While Hardik Pandya was seen jumping around, Kohli was high-fiving Dhawan.
Back in the middle of the SCG, Yuvraj had lifted Raina up in his arms. Back in 2011, it was Raina, who had lifted Yuvraj. Before long, Kohli, Pandya and R Ashwin had scampered out to the middle, and they were right in the midst of the celebrations. But for the first time in many a year, the spotlight was on two senior players who had shown that they had it in them, still, to win matches for India, and in style.