The New pledge went: India is my Country. All Indian Cricketers are my Gods. Come what may, they are going to bring the world cup home. Blah blah blah blah….
In today’s world, which is driving it’s human inhabitants towards a fearfully general hysteria in a fast lane, these emotions are called passionate, not radical.Yet So be it. Not that the team’s performance was anything to tone this passion down. The top three did superlatively. The help from the middle was minimal, but with the Pandyas and the Pants firing in the dying stages of the innings, that was hardly a deterrent. And invariably in the final couple of overs, the dormant Dhoni would erupt fiercely.
Tailor-made pattern to become the World beaters, and not to forget the most potent bowling line-up, consisting of the unplayable Bumrah, Wily KulCha and go-to man for wickets, Mohammad Shami. You bloody Naysayer, you say we may lose? Bullshit !
Unbeaten till we played England, we looked really invincible. Yes, the Afghans tested us, but we handled the pressure well. The weak middle order was forgotten. Also, the #4 slot looked well manned with Rishabh Pant. We were further convinced that our team has no mortals. They are gods. Then England pummeled us, and the chinks in the amour began to grow into cracks. Chahal, who is an accomplished chess player and expected to be adept at handling pressure, was broken ruthlessly by the English batters. They shredded his bowling. Shami began to concede runs so much, that his wickets began to look insignificant. But we were sure of a Semi-Final spot.
The way we lost to England, to use the honorable Coach’s favourite expression, set the cat amongst the pigeons. Dhoni’s adversaries suddenly grew. We started calling for Rahul’s head after one failure. We were getting restless, panicked, and irritable. On Cricket groups across Facebook and WhatsApp, sparks began to fly, putting close friendships under threats, turning brothers in arms against each other. Somewhat pacified after the cake-walk victories over Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the West Indies, we seemed pacified, and started supporting our team with rejuvenated enthusiasm. But now the support was more of a devotion than conviction. We knew that we have a very vulnerable middle order, we knew that Dhoni is no longer what he used to be, and above all, we knew that our spinners, if given some sticks, loose their footing like a cat on a hot tin roof.
Then came the semi-final. India shot New Zealand out for a paltry (though it started appearing gargantuan not more than 10 overs into the second day) 239. The target was tricky. With the kind of form Rohit Sharma is in, memes started circulating. ” 239? Itna to main akele hi banal leta hoon.” (referring to his innings of 264 in what now appears distant past). Then, 5 for three. Rookie Rishabh Pant at the crease joined by Hardik Pandya. Eyebrows were raised. Pandya? That guy who knows nothing but to slog? But Pandya and Pant hung on for a while.
Considering their capabilities, the hopes again began to soar. And the bubble of hope burst when Pant was tired of playing the youngster with a grey head on his shoulders, and soon Pandya holed out too. Dhoni was at the crease and was his (recent) usual self, happy to block away, and let the pressure build on the batsman at the other end. In walked “Sir” Ravindra Jadeja. He played a blinder and soaked up the pressure built due to Dhoni’s stonewalling, and appeared set to take India into finals single-handedly, in the process making his adversary commentator eat his words with a lot of salt on them. But unfortunately, the run rate was getting a bit too out of bounds, and Jadeja had to start taking risks. He skied Trent Boult, sending the ball into stratosphere, and the ball was in the air for an eternity.
Gravity pulled it towards the earth again, wobbling and swerving, and Kane Williamson, ever as cool as a cucumber gobbled up the catch. Yet our hopes hadn’t died. We, Indian fans have resilient hopes. We had, for that short time at least, immense belief in Dhoni. Why not? He had done this umpteen number of times (47 to be precise) and there was no reason he couldn’t do it for this one time. Dhoni too finally got into the act, flat batting Neesham for a towering six over cover-point. Yessssssss ! He will win it for us, we thought. The very next ball, a flick between square leg and deep fine leg played with soft hands, the first run run at a lightening speed, turning back for the second, when Guptill at square let ran like a hare, picked up the ball and hit the bull’s eye with his throw. Dhoni was a couple of inches short, and eventually, India fell 19 runs short of reaching the Finals at Lords.
After that the rage flowed. All and Sundry were blamed. Rohit and Kohli for not performing in crunch matches, Dhoni for taking too much time to get going, dropping catches, conceding byes, and getting the DRS calls wrong, Shastri for being a drunk dabbler at coaching, Rahul for being at sea against the new ball, Pandya and Shami for leaking runs, Chahal for being ineffective, and the tour selection committee for not picking Jadeja for the earlier matches. For a while, we all were breathing fire. After 12 hours, and for some after a good sleep, and for the other lot after an adequate amount of alcohol being consumed, the rage subsided.
We began to concede that the Kiwis had out-bowled us, and still our lower middle order’s resistance to their bowling was something which was to be savoured for a long time. We had gone down fighting. We lost, but the loss is not disgraceful. We died a martyr’s death. We went down with our heads held high.
But just a moment, why are speaking in the warrier’s lingo? Cricket is supposed to be a sport isn’t it? Isn’t it always true that one can’t win forever? Are our players not to be considered human enough to grant the possibility of having an off day at work? And it was not even a full off day. Those 45 minutes will haunt all the members of the Indian side for the rest of their lives, and we, their fans, we who love watching them more than making our wives happy by taking them shopping or out for dinners, are responsible for that. No guys, we will not be such fans. Why don’t we cherish the moments of great pleasure the team has given us?
Thanks Bumrah, for the most splendid fast bowling seen from an Indian bowler for ages.
Thanks Rohit, for showing five different shades of world class batsmanship in your five centuries. You showed us grit, class, elegance, fierce determination and the most non-violent aggression.
Thanks Virat, for those masterful knocks. You would have done it, had you curbed your instinct to play across the line early in your innings.
Thanks Rahul for those two stupendous knocks.
Thanks Dhoni, for keeping our hopes alive in the Semis.
Thanks Shami for getting wickets consistently, and winning India the match against Afghanistan.
Thanks Bhuvi, for your great accuracy.
Because, it is always the great moments the fan remembers. It is such moments which last in the memory for a lifetime. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s six hit before the ball he got out in the 2019 semi-finals should be remembered in the same league as the winning stroke of the 2011 finals.
Because both were equally sincere efforts to achieve victory.