It rained in Perth on Thursday. It was what they call a storm in these parts, thunder, lightning et al. It was the first time in 60 days that the parched Western Australian earth had received some relief. Wednesday night had been turbulent, one where the window panes quivered and made wheezing noises. And the rains kept lashing the city till the sun came up. By the time MS Dhoni and his team arrived at the WACA though, the skies had cleared a bit, even if it remained a tad overcast.
It could potentially have been their final training session of their two-month Australian sojourn. For, a loss on Friday to England would mean finishing third and bottom in the tri-series table and being denied a spot in Sunday’s final. It would also ensure India’s fourth winless tour in the last four years-England 2011, South Africa 2013, New Zealand 2014 being the other dire debacles. So apparent have their travails been away from home in this decade that another reversal of the nature will not rank as shocking anymore. Not even as surprising as rains in Perth for that matter.
If the Indian team has had a not too pleasant Australian summer, Shikhar Dhawan has had a nightmare. Rarely has a top-order batsman looked ineptly susceptible to as basic a delivery as the full delivery as the left-hander has over the last two months. And like has been the case during India’s nets sessions, the entire team management seemed to take a keen interest in how Dhawan was going with the bat during the session. Forget scoring runs, even survival at the crease has seemed a steep mission for Dhawan. But he does have one chance to erase the bad debts that he has collected all summer. Score in the knockout match, and take India through. For, Friday’s match is much more than just an opportunity to add an extra match to the itinerary. It’s a dress rehearsal for the challenges that India will face come March.
With a number of lower-ranked teams in either group, advancing to the World Cup quarterfinals shouldn’t be a task fraught with any discernible danger for the world champions. And it’s no secret that three good days is all any top team will need to lift the Cup. Such is the format. There are match-winners, who can score runs and take wickets regardless of the scenario or circumstances. And then there are those who show up for the D-day, and make it count.
It’s these players who make the difference. It’s they who ensure those three good days for their team in World Cups.
And the game against Eoin Morgan & Co at the WACA will be as much about getting a win under their belt as it will be about identifying those nerveless men who will potentially turn into heroes when the business end of the World Cup comes around. For, by then it will all be about grabbing the moment. And Dhawan could well be that guy, or such is the trust the team management has in him. He had done it in 2013 during India’s Champions Trophy triumph, scoring 68 in the semifinals against Sri Lanka and then a 24-ball 31 in the final against England. He had scored two centuries going into the knockouts on that occasion. But they didn’t count for as much as his two lesser but more important scores did in the eventual result.
The 2011 cup march
India’s run to the World Cup crown was glittered with such ‘big show’ performances even if Yuvraj Singh was the chief ringmaster. Suresh Raina hadn’t played a game in the league stages but then it was his unbeaten 28-ball 34 that took India past Australia in the quarterfinal. R Ashwin was the same.
A greenhorn at that stage of his career, the off-spinner was drafted in for the high-pressure contest and thrown into the deep-end with the new-ball. He finished with two crucial wickets including that of Shane Watson. And after having had a quiet tournament, Dhoni chose the grandest night of his cricketing life to grab the moment at the Wankhede Stadium.
Australia had a whole gamut of those who came into their own when it was now or never in their mix while they went about winning World Cups for fun in the first decade of the century. They had them by the dozen. Three of the biggest stars of their generation took turns in orchestrating glory moments for their country, starting with Shane Warne in 1999, Ricky Ponting in 2003 and Adam Gilchrist in 2007.
But to be a champion side, you need heroes spread across your line-up, different guys putting their hands up and being counted along the way. In 2007, Australia had seven man-of-the-match (MOM) awardees, six in 2003 and five in 1999. Yuvraj might have swept away all the individual awards four years ago-he was MOM in four straight matches-but he had others chipping in with notable contributions throughout. Take Gautam Gambhir, who remained the bridesmaid despite often leading the ceremonial choir.
Often headlining a mega show is more about temperament and mindset than skills and talent. And India seek to identify those in their camp with the nerves of steel in Perth on Friday. There are those with proven pedigree in this regard. Dhoni averages 43.75 in 16 knockout matches he’s played in his ODI career. Raina is just behind him with an average of 40.25 in 11 innings at a strike-rate of 95.54, while Kohli and Rohit Sharma surprisingly are yet to prove themselves when it’s crunch-time.
Ajinkya Rahane for all his runs across formats though remains an enigma in this context, and it will be up to him to show at the WACA that he can, “Get up, stand up”. Just like it will be for India to show that they have what it takes to stand up for their right to defend their crown two months from now.