The embarrassing bathos as Team India fell from the sublime to the ridiculous may seem like a national disaster given how passionate Indian cricket fans are. However, as Lance Klusener once said after botching up a run chase for South Africa in a World Cup semi-final - “No one died”. Wise words for everyone to understand that it was just another cricket match in which there were winners and losers, not a life-and-death matter.
Who’s to blame?
First though, the blame game. The batsmen were the culprits. The top three - Rohit Sharma, Lokesh Rahul and Virat Kohli - were exposed because of their inadequacies against the moving ball, while young guns Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya tried their best but fell to indiscreet attacking strokes under the pressure of a chase. Ravindra Jadeja and Mahendra Singh Dhoni were brilliant in rebuilding the challenge until the mounting run rate proved far too hot to handle.
Cracking under pressure?
Meanwhile, skipper Kohli has scores of 9, 1 and 1 in three World Cup semi-final appearances (35 against Sri Lanka in the 2011 final being his highest in knockouts), suggesting a failure to summon his best game in a do-or-die match.
Humbled by the fall, Kohli took the softer line to tell fans - “Share your emotions, we are all disappointed.”
The Prime Minister also stressed the valour of the fighting effort, relegating the fact that India was defeated to the background. Kohli was generous in acknowledging that the New Zealand bowlers were on the money, continuing to bowl the right line and length after getting him and Rohit out with good deliveries. “We’re sad but not devastated,” said the skipper.
If there was one red face during the match, it may have been that of former player and commentator Sanjay Manjrekar who had brushed aside Ravindra Jadeja’s merits as a cricketer capable of competing at this level. In the course of the World Cup, Manjrekar had dismissed ‘Sir’ Jadeja as a “bits and pieces” player and had to eat crow after a memorable all-round display from him. He fielded every ball hit in his direction with ferocity and bowled with discipline before playing a dream innings.
Jadeja represented the best of Team India’s efforts to swim against the tide. He bowled line and length and turned one sharply enough to beat Nicholls’ defence, prompting former England captain Michael Vaughan, an active tweeter, to take a dig at Manjrekar. And before he twirled his bat like a sword to celebrate the half century, Jadeja himself turned towards the commentary box as if to say - “Ab kya bolenge”.
Earlier, Jadeja had taken Manjrekar on in Twitter itself to point out that he had played twice the number of ODIs as Manjrekar and demanded respect for his game. After the match, a chastened Manjrekar tweeted - “Well played Jadeja! There is no doubt at all that on a pitch on which the slower ball was not easily hittable, Jadeja timed his lofted drives better than anyone else, so much so, Dhoni was totally content to let him do all the striking.”
Sympathy over criticism
Interestingly, sympathy for the cricketers appeared to be high among the discerning and many lay cricket fans too. The critics of course, hit hard at the team’s failure to cope with the conditions even as praise for Kane Williamson poured in for his strategy of going for the jugular and getting the Indian batsmen out rather than trying to contain them. He also set fields for his bowlers to go for early wickets which they obliged.
Going down fighting
If however, India had not fought back from the depths of five for three, the team would have been pilloried. As Jadeja roared and Dhoni fought on grittily in his shadow, hope was reborn. Their dismissals meant accepting the inevitable, but only after a sporting contest, even as some expressed doubt over Dhoni’s dismissal when the 38-year-old was run out, millimetres short of his crease.
More hype than delivery?
The arguments over ifs and buts may go on. But the fact remains that the Kiwis are in their second final on the trot and India’s record at the last-four level and in the Finals has not been very good in the last eight years. In that time, India won only one ICC event - the Champions Trophy in England in 2013 - while coming a cropper in all other multilateral events despite being either one or two in ODI team rankings.
The failures on the big occasion are a sharp reminder that Team India is a little more hyped up than the results may justify. But then Dhoni has not been the master finisher that he was in 2011 although being number 7 in the batting order seemed too low on the big day. That is a decision Kohli may find hard to justify, much as Dinesh Karthik batting at no. 5 was a little too high for someone known to perform better lower in the order and in the end overs.
Truth be told, the batting was devastated as much by the new ball as in the batting order being mismanaged, suggesting that changes were done by instinct rather than sticking to a credible plan to cover all eventualities. This failure could at least be directly attributed to Kohli as the batting order is the captain’s sole prerogative. Will Kohli get another chance in the next World Cup to make amends is the million-dollar question?...