AS VIRAT Kohli walked towards him on the dressing room balcony after the heart-breaking World Cup semifinal loss to New Zealand, M S Dhoni slowly extended his hand for a shake. A wince from the captain, and a nod from the former skipper. Then, Kohli shook Ravindra Jadeja’s hand and ruffled the hair of the day’s hero. No words spoken again. Behind them, Patrick Farhat, the longtime physio of the Indian team, had broken down. Coaches Ravi Shastri and Bharat Arun stood glum. No words spoken.
There was no need to. They knew they had lost it due to the “45 minutes of bad cricket”, in Kohli’s words, but somewhere deep inside, they would know why those “45 minutes” happened. The injury to opener Shikhar Dhawan exposed the brittle middle order. They could have salvaged the situation had they pushed Mayank Agarwal to open and had someone solid like K L Rahul at No. 4. There was no one there to handle a semi-crisis and they found themselves staring at a gaping hole at 24 for four Wednesday.
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The 18-run loss wasn’t an expected result when India finished top of the table and were drawn to play New Zealand, the No. 4 side.
Had it not been for Jadeja, the margin would have been much bigger. Jadeja, inspired by the ‘I will show you, Sanjay Manjrekar’ feeling, produced a once-in-a-lifetime knock to drag India close. At the other end, Dhoni almost pulled off a memorable ‘take that, critics’ match-winning knock. But his stirring effort ended in irony: Dhoni, the man who runs the hardest, who has an impeccable judgment of a run, was run out.
So was India. But the inescapable conclusion to be drawn, as was feared before, was that there was no Plan B going into the tournament. What would happen if Dhawan or Rohit Sharma flopped — no one could predict the injury. Who was going to handle the crisis in the middle order? A spot that they had sweated over for two years, a search that finally threw up a wicketkeeper-batsman who is talented but has to play against the grain of his character? How long could Rishabh Pant hold out? The slog-sweep that settled in the hands of deep midwicket wasn’t a surprise.
Hardik Pandya, who looked secure out there, as he does most times, gets the urge after 60 balls or so. No surprise then that he holed out, attempting a big hit. Both men, batting a spot above they should have.
Dinesh Karthik shouldn’t have been there at all. Even in the IPL, under his own captaincy, he prefers to bat the last five overs or so. The last Test series in England, where he had a horror run before being replaced, had conclusively shown that his game isn’t equipped to handle a crisis in conditions such as this.
Were the conditions a surprise? A bit of rain and cloud around, and a moving ball? No. But their hands were forced as there was no Plan B. This was the reason why they had picked Vijay Shankar, knowing he is a novice but hoping his game would hold up. But hope is just another four-letter word. There was also that decision to play Bhuvneshwar Kumar ahead of Mohammed Shami, who has been India’s best new-ball bowler in the semifinal. He had already bowled the (new) ball of the tournament, against the West Indies, when he removed Shai Hope with a more crackerjack and surprised even Chris Gayle with a “heavy” ball, the one that hits the bat as opposed to the other way round. He would have been perfect for this Old Trafford pitch.
Still, it was some run. Creditable, and one that had its moments to cherish. Barring the loss to England, despite the handicaps, they kept winning — which, in the end, probably made them a bit stubborn about their batting plans.
However, it was heartwarming to see Dhoni try to do a Dhoni. Jadeja stirred amusement and joy at the way he turned conflict — with critics — into a memorable performance. Sharma’s gorgeous world-record hundreds would make YouTube a pleasant destination in years to come. Shami, too, gave us moments to remember, Pandya showed he could be trusted with the ball, and Jasprit Bumrah made the 80s generation shake heads in disbelief and joy. And then, the sun went out in Manchester and the blinds came down.