Minutes after New Zealand scripted a sensational triumph over India in the World Cup semifinal at Manchester’s Old Trafford, the customary hand-shakes between the rival units occurred. The victor’s camp muted its joy and the losers kept a lid on their emotions, it was a poignant moment in which mutual respect lingered.
The special bit was when Kane Williamson and Virat Kohli met. They shook hands, hugged and the New Zealand skipper put an arm around his Indian counterpart’s shoulder. Words were exchanged and it was one man understanding the anguish of the other.
Support and criticism
Later Williamson said: “There is obviously a huge amount of respect for India and I certainly hope that their fans are very much behind them and respect that the game of cricket can be a tough one on a number of occasions.” But once it sunk in that India, one of the pre-tournament favourites had crashed, Twitter and the media space wavered between the sighs of support and the sounds of knives being sharpened. The first part was essential but the second segment proved to be unedifying.
India had a phenomenal run at the World Cup, scripting seven wins while losing that one game to England besides encountering a wash-out in the league joust involving New Zealand. Being a table-topper with 15 points was a validation of the team’s strengths. Resilience was evident too from the way the injury-enforced absence of Shikhar Dhawan and Vijay Shankar, was accepted. But it wasn’t as if there were no flaws. Just as the Black Caps were scripting an upset, a statistic popped on television — India’s top-order had contributed 69% of its runs and among the rest, the middle-order offered just 30 and the tail a forgettable one!
Delaying the inevitable
As long as the top troika flourished, things were going extremely well and equally much hinged on the speedsters where Jasprit Bumrah (18 wickets) prospered. But once New Zealand dismissed Rohit Sharma (648 runs and five hundreds in this World Cup), Kohli and K.L. Rahul, through a fine exposition of fast bowling, India had a tough act to follow. The middle-order struggled and all that Ravindra Jadeja and M.S. Dhoni could do was to delay the inevitable loss.
Questions have been raised about the alleged presence of six fielders outside the 30-yard circle against the norm of having only five at the time Dhoni got run out and whether it constituted a no-ball. But if that was the case isn’t a run out the only dismissal allowed from a no-ball? Then the whispers were about why did Dhoni come in at No. 7. To be fair to the think-tank, there was a rain-threat and an eye had to be kept on the Duckworth-Lewis par score. With Dhoni’s explosive skills on the wane, Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya were backed to hustle the runs even though it was a steep climb.
Fitting the template
And in a classic case of being damned if you do and damned if you don’t, there was heartburn over Dhoni’s relatively slow batting (50, 72b) when compared to Jadeja’s flaming effort (77, 59b). Yes, the former skipper’s strike-rate was sedate but it fitted into the template of resuscitating a scorecard that had slumped to 92 for six in 30.3 overs while chasing New Zealand’s 239 for eight.
Overall, India was the stand-out squad in the league phase, but in the semifinal New Zealand proved to be the better outfit. It is time to accept that and move on. Yes, Dhoni’s finish-line is closer and the number four spot is a work in progress. But there are enough signs to show that the Men in Blue will continue to be a potent threat in global championships.