Guptill’s superb direct hit from the deep caught MS Dhoni short of his crease, and sparked NZ’s gallop towards the final ©Getty
There were two direct hits on Wednesday in Manchester. And between these two runouts came the essence of all sport-viewing – drama. Nothing enhances drama like cricket, which allows more time to dwell on such moments.
The first of those direct hits came from Ravindra Jadeja, with a swift pick-up and release from deep square leg to catch Ross Taylor short. The athletic brilliance of that direct hit is best seen live when all the action can be taken in at once, with a better sense of the dimensions of the ground. Old Trafford offers big square boundaries, where a double is an option almost every time the ball crosses the infield. A prancing Jadeja though, made an early statement that he was not going to play along like the rest.
From the same part of the ground, much later in the day, Martin Guptill would repeat the act. Between that Jadeja-induced high and Guptill’s direct hit, India would go through a lot of emotions – shock, doubt, hope, wonder et al. The crowd would play an automatic mood-setter, in accordance with India’s plight.
Virat Kohli, the man who India looks up to during every chase, was amongst the earliest demonstrators of these emotions as he stood in anger at an LBW call that went against him on review. He walked away muttering and shaking his head in disbelief. India’s hopes had suffered an early pounding.
After losing 4 for just 24 and an embarrassing exit looming, these hopes were in desperate need of a boost, even for the team. Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant, began celebrating even edged boundaries with fist bumps and handshakes. They had to keep the morale up and pumping. New Zealand were making sure that these moments were few and far between, testing their patience and through that their execution. Both could not stay uncharacteristically restrained for long.
Then came Ravindra Jadeja, revealing a batting side to him hitherto unseen. His lofts for sixes and fours seemed like a chapter from another, unopened book. But this was a man with a point to prove. “I don’t think we, any of us had to say anything to Jadeja after what happened over the last one week. He was quite ready to just get on to the park, to be honest,” said a smiling Kohli after the game.
Like a man on a mission, Jadeja was leading India’s upheaval, even while taking jibes at the commentary box. Rohit Sharma was out in the team balcony, pointing to his biceps and then towards Ravindra Jadeja, egging him on to continue. It was then that even Kohli started muttering to himself, saying ‘ho jayega’ (this will be done). Millions watching it with bated breath across the world, would have echoed that sentiment.
Earlier in the day, some of these hopes were drifting towards weather forecasts as forty minutes of mayhem cost India dear against some relentlessly accurate new ball bowling. But now they could lay it upon the two men trying to prove a point to the rest of the world – Jadeja and MS Dhoni.
But, nothing thumbs its nose at hope as much as luck does.
Direct hit is that funny aspect of fielding where players rely on muscle memory more than anything else. No matter how much you practice, there’s an element of luck always involved in every direct hit.
Within the New Zealand team, Martin Guptill is the man ribbed by his mates for not getting these hits on target in practice. There’s no sure shot way of getting them right every single time. You hit some, you miss some. It is why fielding coaches of today insist that fielders take every single chance possible to hit the stumps, even if it’s half a chance. Guptill took his, and what happened next will be part of cricketing folklore.
Nuwan Seneviratne, India’s left-arm throwdown specialist from Sri Lanka, is man who looks better suited to be outside a club, as a bouncer. Over the last few months, he’s been an integral part of India’s practice sessions, to help prepare for the left-arm threat that would arise from different teams. Patrick Farhart, the Indian team physio, was serving his last day of a four-year journey with this Indian team. The duo had been part of endless practice sessions, and round-the-clock behind the scenes job that doesn’t come forth to the public eye. All of it working towards the obvious big goal, a date at Lord’s and a chance to create history once again.
Both are not the kind you’d associate with wearing emotions on their sleeves, but after a draining game, they broke down as the teams lined up for the final handshakes.
And despite the obvious disappointment, there was a silver lining too, in the knowledge that there was confidence to be taken in the way they had played, in the match, and the tournament.
“I think we are sad but we are not, you know, devastated because the kind of cricket that we played in this tournament. We know where we stood as a team and today we were not good enough and that is the nature of this tournament,” reflected Kohli at the end of it all and summing it up.
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