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Emotions Pour, Dreams Shatter As New Zealand Gun India Down At Manchester

July 11, 2019

What could be the enduring memory of this wrenching encounter for the Indian fans? May be just a heartbeat short? A game that witnessed their hearts stop and run in an alternate fashion, a game that saw their dreams to die and reborn in a flicker first and then in a flame was eventually sealed out with Martin Guptill having his laugh over Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The Kiwi opener might have had a woeful outing throughout the tournament with the bat but he didn’t let his team down when it mattered. With Guptill finding the stumps from square-leg to beat Dhoni’s lunging bat India’s World Cup dreams were now irretrievably laid into the ashes for 4 agonising years, and for Dhoni – whose resounding six in the 2011 World Cup final is still imprinted in the hearts of every Indian cricket fan – it’s probably forever gone.

Dhoni, the maker of countless dreams, a wicketkeeper batsman of a pedigree the nation had never known and the mightiest of finishers for whom no chase was ever over till it was over; but the man is now raging against time, diminished physically and possibly a touch short of his mental prowess had to make his forlorn journey from the far end of the pitch towards the pavilion in near hush, head bowed, slightly slower that the usual and perhaps for the final time in Indian colours playing a World Cup game – a moment as poignant as any. The finish this time around wasn’t a memorable one but it’ll go down as one of such aching and equally defining World Cup memories indeed. It was an innings that acutely depicted the final lap of his career – battling, workmanlike, poised yet full of dot balls with just a solitary four and a last-gasp six, clearly casting the side-role alongside Ravindra Jadeja who played the innings of his life by adding bits and pieces of brilliance to his game but failed to haul his team over the line when it seemed everything had depended only on him. From 71 for 5 and then 92 for 6 India’s chase would have been dead without Dhoni’s steadying hands, but if we peek deeper we will find out that the former Indian captain’s contribution to the 116-run stand was a mere 32 off 45. It had 20 dot balls and even more embarrassingly a few leaves outside the off stump when the required run rate had already gone past 9. Yes, he stood his ground but didn’t he make the chase nearly unachievable?

However to remember the chase only for Dhoni would be a massive disservice to Jadeja who played with the spirit of a lion and passion of a man, whose fire had been lit with stroke making skills to match. It was as if he was batting on a completely different surface altogether. He smoked 4 sixes into the crowd while New Zealand could manage only one. He not being the part of India’s plans till the last game of the round-robin stage is something which is still hard to justify and also he being the central part of a social-media storm that took place following Sanjay Manjrekar’s comments was not a surprise. But what was remarkable that the way he came out and performed. He bowled a frugal spell as Santner did, accounted for a brilliant run out that was nothing less compared to the one by Guptill and scored 77 runs at a pace that even the specialists like Williamson and Taylor couldn’t manage. But the cruelty of the sport is that this will now only be remembered as a side-story. May be with a blow or two more, you never know, it could well have been on par with the greatest performances by an individual in a World Cup game.

India have been heavily reliant on their top 3 at least for the last 2-3 years now. 2 years ago Mohammad Amir found two perfect balls to get rid of India’s two best players – Rohit and Kohli. New Zealand on the other hand at Old Trafford found the perfect storm – overcast skies, a responsive pitch and two fast bowlers who hardly put a ball wrong for nearly 10 overs. And as it often happens in case of a collapse, as indeed it happened to New Zealand in their group stage game against Pakistan, irrespective of the dice turning for or against you, it seems like divine intervention. This time Rohit was neither dropped nor did he survive a run out chance, he rather got a ball that had his name written in it. Another day the umpire’s call would have gone in favour of Kohli and the ball would have missed Rahul’s edge. Karthik defended Boult resolutely but then fell to a stunning catch by Neesham who later put down a sitter from Pant and both Hardik and Jadeja saw their mistimed slogs fall in the no man’s-land. But the match was probably won and lost inside the first 45 minutes where India were left bottling at 6 for 3 and then 24 for 4.

The middle order was India’s known weak link. From number 4 to 6 they had a rookie who was drafted in as one of the forced replacements, an X-factor all-rounder without demonstrated defensive skills and a back-up wicket keeper who might have just played his last ODI for to mark the end of an international career that hardly ever took off – all three playing their first World Cups. The young ones tried their bit but India remained in the striking distance till the final overs entirely due to a player who was completely an afterthought. And that’s how it was scripted. That’s what we call an Indian fan’s nightmare – a top order meltdown exposing an untested middle order. And then Dhoni, no matter whether he was unable to or unwilling to shift gears, the result could only be one. Hence the reality. And in reality India were short, well short of their target.

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