AT around 8.50 in Sydney’s Thursday twilight, the local time and India’s required run rate were the same. The night was young but the dream was over. There were 25 overs yet to be bowled, M S Dhoni was still at the crease. The Indian fan hadn’t given up but they were no longer giving it back. The inevitable would happen 22 overs later, giving India enough time to swallow the large lump of defeat. (Full Coverage| Venues | Fixtures)
Tight last-over finishes, like New Zealand’s second-last ball triumph over South Africa in the first semifinal at Wellington, are brutal blows that reduce men to tears. Big losses in boring one-sided contests, like India’s 95 runs loss in the second semifinal against Australia at SCG, are less painful, though more humiliating.
Fans who had marched to the stadium this morning shouting, cursing and taunting, avoided the zones with inflated kangaroos.
Heading to the exit, they looked lost. They dragged their feet and wore forced smiles. Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, Team India pre-match talkers, whispered ‘well played’ to those beaming big mouths in the euphoric yellow queue.
Climbdown of the cocky can look clumsy and terribly uncomfortable.
This was after the dressing room full of glum-looking men, 30,000-plus in the stadium and a billion in front of television had seen Australia do high fives, crack jokes during their easy jog past the finish line. For the scoreboard to move from the ‘all-but-lost’ 115/4 at the half-way mark to 233 all out in 47 overs it took two hours. It was sufficient time for the world to let it sink in that Team India wasn’t the best team of the tournament.
Dhoni’s Class of 2015 didn’t have it in them to defend the title. They couldn’t leap over cricket’s high hurdle — beat Australia at the World Cup. They were consistent but not all-conquering. India won the first seven games straight, lost the eighth and went home. Now, the world awaits the real champions, the team whose streak will include the all-important last three games.
On a 400-pitch, India did well to restrict Australia to 328. Between 37 to 42nd overs, Australia lost three wickets and scored just 17 runs. R Ashwin’s flick of the cigarette butt ball had got the dangerous Glenn Maxwell. Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma would get Aaron Finch and Michael Clarke with short balls too. Short-ball and spin, India’s strength in the tournament so far, had come to their aid again. The tri-colour was waving once more, but not for too long.
Mitchell Johnson, the No. 9 batsman and first-change pacer, showed Australia had greater depth, both in batting and bowling. In the final overs, he got 27 from nine balls and in his second spell accounted for Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, the two men most likely to score if India had to go past 328. It was at that moment that thousands of memes and millions of WhatsApp jokes featuring the two batsmen hit the airwaves. What could have been an epic was now being reduced to a joke. The Indian cricketers had not played to their form but the fickle fans had lived up to their reputation. With defeat, the joys that the Indian team brought to the fans for over a month were forgotten.
But Dhoni didn’t, he recalled his team’s every high at the time of the team’s collective low. “Before the World Cup, the Test matches didn’t go our way, the tri-series didn’t go our way. But here I felt everybody rose to the occasion, how the fast bowlers bowled throughout this tournament, how the spinners have done, learning from all their past experiences,” he said. “Disappointed we couldn’t go into the finals, but only one team can win, and I felt they played better cricket on the day.”
The tournament that started with Australia vs England and India vs Pakistan now ends with Australia vs New Zealand. Another packed house in expected at MCG. At the end of the Sydney semifinal, disappointed Indian fans were seen handing over final day tickets to the Australians. The deals were struck with no negotiation and at throwaway rates. The great Indian dream of watching a World Cup defence was going at a bargain price.