Friday, March 27, 2015

And India Falls - Defeated But Not Disgraced

MS Dhoni's team miraculously turned the tables on a terrible summer in Australia where they lost game after game after game after game. They won seven in a row. Somehow they found their basics, played above their weight and belief and won the big games in the World Cup. The Indian bowling which is not the best in the world, rose to the occasion, players put their heads down to their roles and they beat big guns like South Africa and Pakistan along the way. In fact I believe the loss against India dented South Africa's fragile mental make up that they built in the recent past and affected their performance in the semis.

But Australia at home, after winning all its games against India in the lead up, would certainly be a tougher customer than some of the teams India played. If there was one thing I hoped for it was the fact that both teams are aware that this is a one-off game. It could go any which way - the past be damned. The Indians were peaking at the right time and Australia would need an above par performance to stay afloat. Par would not have been enough.

And so it was fascinating to see the way Steve Smith applied himself to the task without seeming to really forsake his natural attacking flair. He displayed amazing composure under stress and kept the fine balance between attack and defense until he took the game away. I cannot imagine such maturity and application in many batsmen, some seemingly far more talented. Smith did what he must have made up his mind to - put the game out of India's grasp if he got himself in. With Finch hanging on for dear life the Aussies looked set for a bigger total before the Indian bowlers pegged them back.

The way India started with Dhawan and Rohit Sharma batting so easily, depositing the ball behind the ropes, finding the gaps, only showed that there were no demons in the pitch. The Aussie attack was under pressure. All one needed was to keep their cool after such a great start and apply themselves. But in a half hour of madness India lost three top order wickets - something from which it never recovered. The plot should have been 76 for 1, 120 for 2, 180 for 3, 220 for 4 if we were to be in the game. With a finisher like Dhoni supported by a Raina, or even a Jadeja and Ashwin, 9 or 10 per over would not have been much of an issue. But one thing led to another and crucial advantages were handed out back to the Aussies. Though Dhoni tried in his usual superhuman, gallant manner to pull it off all on his own, I am sure even he knew the odds were against him the moment he saw the ball leave Maxwell's hand and rocket towards the lone stump. Dhoni uncharacteristically gave up, the ball hit and the Aussies were home. They had taken down the biggest finisher, the loudest gun in the game, ironically through a brilliant young maverick sniper.

The Indians were outscored surely, but they can hold their heads high. Every single one of them played above their weight to get where they did, after what they experienced earlier. Dhoni rises even higher in the world's eyes with his exemplary behavior, unbelievable calm and unshakeable commitment. For such a young man to display such wisdom and maturity beyond his years is incredibly rare. What a role model, not just for young cricketers but for all leaders. Few players will leave the game with the respect Dhoni will command - almost everyone will stand in unison to salute this man - such is the legacy he has left behind as a human, a player and a leader.

The Indian fans have matured too. In their support to their team they were second to none and one cannot forget their joy in the success of their team. One sees a slightly maturing India, a more assured India, when one sees the fans, the players. We know our place in the sun. We may have had a bad day but that's what it is - just one bad day. This is a team of men of mettle who cannot be taken lightly. In time and with the right guidance they can become as efficient and as ruthless as the German soccer team. Rohit, Dhawan, Rahane, Kohli, Raina - they will all become better in the years to come. But there will be one huge void after that - one that goes beyond mere batting talent. The smiling skipper who soaks in the pressure which shows nowhere but in his prematurely greying locks.

But for now the World Cup goes into what promises to be an exciting final. The Kiwis have the edge in my opinion, having gone through that tough semis against South Africa and the longer rest. The Indians, well played boys. You did your best and we cannot ask for more.


Unknown said...

Hello Sir,

This is Pavithra here, we met at your book launch in Hyderabad (50 Not Out). I enjoyed reading your blog. This team has shown the world what it takes to bounce back after being written off. MSD has shown the world what it means to be on 'National duty' in a game. For this captain, the nation will bleed blue forever. This team has made us proud even in a loss!

Harimohan said...

You are right Pavithra. It's a good team and it did its best. I would not really say that the better team won in the semi finals - India was as good a match for Australia - just that Australia held their never better on that particular day. Every reason to feel proud. And the captain - rarest of the rare.