The final of the Cricket World cup has the host England playing against New Zealand. Both the countries have been at the last stage of the tournament in the past, but unfortunately, they have never got their hands on the trophy and have returned with disappointment and despair. Finally, one of them should deservedly do so on July 14 on the prestigious Lord”s balcony. A proud moment for the country that wins as both of them have been a part of cricket history without having the most valued cricket trophy as their show piece.
Australia, having beaten England in their league encounter, lost to them under the skies of Birmingham. A good spell of opening fast bowling by England, in a similar fashion faced by India against New Zealand, had Australia in complete disarray.
The New Zealand captain, Kane Williamson and his merry band of men, very much in the mould of the heroic English folklore outlaw, Robin Hood, are the only ones left to steal the thunder of an English crown. New Zealand defeated the mighty Indians, a result that stunned the cricketing world. Through their two renowned marksmen/batters in Williamson and Ross Taylor, they fought and batted to inch towards a total that looked like a target which the strong Indian side would devour as their appetizer.
A run chase of just 240 runs, for the champion side, on a bright sunny day should by most accounts have been a walk in the park, but the uncertainty of cricket had a different tale to tell.
The “Matt” laid out by Henry and the thunder of “Boult”, the two fast opening bowlers of New Zealand, had the strong Indian batting at 24 for 4. The highest run scorer of the tournament and the dependable Rohit Sharma, the best in class, Virat Kohli, the in-form K.L. Rahul and the experienced Dinesh Karthik were all back to the comfort of the dressing room. One”s thoughts went back to the third Test match at Old Trafford, the same venue in 1952, when the great English bowlers Alec Bedser and Fred Trueman had the top Indian batsmen at 17 for 5. India, thereafter, lost the Test match, but with a sea of blue at the stadium and through millions of prayers from their well-wishers around the world, the hope of a God sent miracle of a win, was still prevalent in the minds of their supporters.
The initial strike by the New Zealand bowlers exposed the soft belly of the Indian middle order. One was always wary of this possibility, but the scintillating performances by the Indian top batters in the previous eight games put ones doubts to rest. The lack of cricketing common sense and the aggression of the millennial mind set had the hard hitting Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya gift their wickets away.
In walked Ravindra Jadeja, the talented cricketer from one of the purest regal cricket abodes of India, Jamnagar, the city famous for the great world cricketers — Ranjitsinghji, Duleepsinghji and India”s two similar bowling and batting legends Salim Durrani and Vinoo Mankad . Jadeja, the Rajput brandished his bat like his ancestors did with a sword and stood tall like a warrior prince giving a glimpse of hope for a billion Indian cricket followers. A single-handed demolishment needed some support from his teammate, the Chanakya of Indian cricket, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The former captain did marshal the proceeding, but, like a Band Master.
Dhoni, needed to support the dream exhibition and the golden spell of Jadeja”s batting, but for once, the master strategist misjudged the situation. He needed to be a bit more aggressive and rather than putting all the onus on the shoulders of Jadeja, he had to also try and make an effort on his part. The eerie silence that followed when Dhoni was run-out and his slow and sad walk back may have been a funeral march to India”s exit from the World Cup, but India did show some valour in their defeat.
The semi-final structure of the top team playing the fourth qualified side in the group stage and the second playing the third is perfect for a tennis championship or a football World Cup. When teams are grouped together, the two top teams do require some sort of a recognition for their effort. The Indian Premier league (IPL) is a perfect example of the two top of the table teams playing each other and the loser getting another opportunity to play the winner of the third and fourth qualified side. It is quite unfair to see Australia and India, the sides that finished at the top after nine grueling matches, to be struck out of the competition. The ICC, should seriously look into it and maybe implement the new format in the very next World Cup.
India, played some wonderful cricket and did look like a champion side. The lady luck and good fortune which had stood by India, let them down when most needed. The rain interruption and extending play to the next day, gave the then depleted New Zealanders, the opportunity to regroup their thoughts and strategy. The momentum on the first day was in India”s favour and a run chase then would have been much easier for them mentally too.
The curtains have been drawn for India”s quest in winning the WC 2019, but the Indian team did give us the joy of being a consolation winner by topping the group stage. Winning and losing are a part and parcel of playing a sport. India needs to now think four years ahead, as the next Cricket World Cup in 2023 is to be held in their backyard. A repeat of their win in 2011 will be just the icing on the cake that they need.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer).