India’s World Cup dream is over and when the dust settles the focus will shift to the soft underbelly, the top-order collapse, the tactics and Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya’s shot selection. But for now, the only thing that truly stands out is the fight shown by Ravindra Jadeja and Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
When Pandya was dismissed, India were 92/6 after 30.3 overs. It wouldn’t have been surprising to see them fold for 150. It would have broken the hearts of every Indian fan but it wouldn’t have been surprising at all. New Zealand were bowling very well, Kane Williamson was marshalling his troops magnificently and that opening burst of three wickets for five runs pushed India almost to the point of no return.
But for once, Jadeja decided to give full vent to his talent and Dhoni, perhaps playing his final ODI, as he always does, looked to take it deep.
Dhoni’s goal was clear. He was going to stay put at one end. He cut out all risk, blocked when he had to and spun in a few good leaves as well but most of all, he hoped that someone would stay with him. India hoped too. Someone… anyone.
And that is when Jadeja happened. He had already had a brilliant match on the field. He bowled his 10 overs for 34 runs and 1 wicket, effected a brilliant run out with a direct hit from the deep and taken two good catches too. But he clearly felt there was more left to do.
The strike-rates of the other Indian batsmen bear witness to how difficult batting was: KL Rahul 14.29, Rohit Sharma 25.00, Virat Kohli 16.67, Pant 57.14, Dinesh Karthik 24.00, Pandya 51.61, Dhoni 69.44. The wicket was two-paced — the odd ball being held back by the wicket, the odd one shooting through. It required a very measured approach — the kind that was shown by Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor in the NZ innings against a very good Indian attack.
But Jadeja seemed to take the pitch out of the equation — his strike-rate of 130.51 [at the end of his innings] showed that when motivated, he can be very dangerous indeed. He didn’t look to attack every ball, instead, he picked the right balls to attack and when he did, he made it count. With his first 12 attacking strokes, he scored 23 runs.
Dhoni sensed the change in momentum, he kept talking to Jadeja after every big shot, after every ball — urging him to mix caution with aggression. And he fed him the strike without ever thinking of hitting a boundary himself. He has a simple strategy: take a single and give the strike to Jadeja.
Yes, it might have seemed like he defended a bit too much and played out far too many dot balls. But did he really have an option?
As Jadeja found his feet, Dhoni seemed to relax a bit. The innings found a rhythm and New Zealand seemed to be visibly nervous. The former India skipper has earned a reputation of being one of the great finishers… did he have one last, amazing chase left in him?
By now, the earlier collapse has been forgotten. The 50-run partnership came in 52 balls with Jadeja contributing 36. The 100-run stand came in 90 balls with Jadeja contributing 69.
India hadn’t just pottered around. They had fought back. They had managed to move the game forward and somehow, stay in touch with the asking rate and it was all on Jadeja.
“The innings that Jadeja played, it was like he was playing on a different wicket, really. He timed the ball beautifully well. He was very clear in how he operated in that partnership with Dhoni, sort of swung things to parity, perhaps even them having the momentum going into the last few overs,” said New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson in the post-match conference and he wasn’t wrong.
Hope returned. It was a terribly fragile hope but Jadeja rekindled it and then, there was the massive presence of Dhoni at the other end. Could they? Would they?
That the match got to a point where we could even ask those questions was perhaps a nod to Kohli and the culture he has built in this side. This Indian team fights and they believe even when almost no one else does.
Then, in the 48th over, Jadeja perished. Trent Boult rolled his fingers across the seam and the batsman, thinking the ball was in the slot, went for it. It was a skier. And Williamson settled under and caught it without much fuss. 77 off 59 balls — an innings of rare brilliance ended.
But we had managed to enter that moment of the match that the world refers to as ‘Dhoni time.’ There were 13 balls left in the match and India needed 32 runs.
He took a single off the first of those balls to keep strike.
Then, the first ball from Ferguson in the 49th over of the innings was short and outside the off-stump. Dhoni, with both feet off the ground, got under it and smashed it over backward point for six. If India had a chance, it rested with the former skipper.
The second ball was patted back to the fast bowler. A dot ball.
And then off the third ball, Dhoni set off for a two. He knew he had to get two to keep strike and he was off and running at full tilt.
Martin Guptill, who has had a horror tournament with the bat, swooped down on the ball and scored a direct hit to catch Dhoni inches out of his crease. It was the dagger blow to India’s heart. The rest just crumbled. India lost their last four wickets in 11 balls.
India will be hurting today. We’ll remember the collapse, we’ll remember New Zealand’s triumph but we’ll also remember Jadeja and Dhoni’s fight. And for that, we’ll be thankful. Yes, India would have loved to win but there was no shame in losing like this.