Against all odds, Rohit's India crash and burn on the biggest stage
Weeks of hard work and gruelling efforts was undone as India lost to Australia in the World Cup final.
As the ball hung in the air for an eternity, 100,000 pairs of eyes tracked its trajectory intently. Most of them wanted it to fall out of reach, if only tantalisingly so, of the fielder who had whirled around from cover and ran a million miles – or so it seemed. Travis Head didn’t oblige, pulling off a sensational catch, falling to his front after having watched the ball over his shoulder for nearly 20 yards, bringing a hush upon the vastly populated Narendra Modi Stadium.
When the Ahmedabad crowd finally found its voice on Sunday afternoon, it only translated to gasps of disappointment, dismay and anguish. India’s awesome captain, Rohit Sharma, had just fallen after another of the blistering cameos that have been his calling card at the World Cup. Rohit breezed to 47 off 31 deliveries, providing one of his customary frenetic starts, but no one knew when he was dismissed that it would bring India’s run-making to a juddering halt.
To say that India ceded the final to Australia at that point would be a gross exaggeration, though there is no denying the fact that that was a seminal moment in the title clash. From 76 for two, when Rohit fell towards the end of the tenth over, India stuttered and stumbled and limped to 240 all out in a limp display that netted them a mere four fours in the last 40 overs.
It was a total substantially below par on a surface that didn’t possess too many demons, but which thwarted uninhibited stroke-play once the ball lost its hardness. The sluggish nature of the track made it difficult for India’s batters to impose themselves on Australia’s high-quality bowling attack, their task made even more difficult by the nagging accuracy of and relentless pressure imposed by pace and spin like, backed up by exceptional fielding with Head’s catch the standout example.
Every time India looked to get away, Australia struck back with a wicket. If it was Pat Cummins, their excellent skipper, who knocked over a free-flowing Virat Kohli, then Josh Hazlewood, who suffered the most at Rohit’s hands, got rid of Ravindra Jadeja just when the left-hander was consolidating in the company of an obdurate KL Rahul. India never found the momentum or the license to attack because they were always just one wicket away from an implosion, given the length of their tail. In the last six matches, they had ensured that the over-reliance on specialists didn’t affect them adversely but in the biggest match in the careers of most players, that came back to bite them where it hurt the most.
This wasn’t a 300-plus surface, but nor was it 240; a total in the vicinity of 275 would have given India a fighting chance, given the wicket-taking nous Jasprit Bumrah and company have shown throughout the tournament. Even so, India fought hard at the beginning of the Aussie chase, though the usual bite and conviction was lacking from their bowling. Bumrah conceded 15 in the first over, and though Mohammed Shami dismissed David Warner in the next, he was all over the shop, the two experienced bowlers perhaps trying too hard for the wickets they knew would keep their team in the hunt.
With a bit of fortune, India reduced Australia to 47 for three, the match in the balance, when Head delivered the coup de grace. In the summer, he had decimated the Indians with a blazing 163 in the final of the World Test Championship. Another special flowed from his willow, this time at the top of the batting tree. Head was forced to miss the first five of Australia’s matches in the World Cup with a fractured left hand, but the now six-time champions were willing to wait for him to be available for action, so highly do they rate him. On his comeback, Head slotted right back in with 109 against New Zealand in Dharamsala. This time, he was even more devastating once he had steadied the ship in Marnus Labuschagne’s company, hurtling to 137 off just 120 deliveries.
The pitch did ease out under lights with the ball coming nicely on to the bat, but India were still disappointing with the ball. They hardly created a chance during the fourth-wicket stand and spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja went wicketless in 20 overs combined, the first time since 1979 that India’s spinners didn’t pick up a wicket in a World Cup game when they had bowled more than 15 overs. It was just one in a series of things that went wrong for India; for Australia, it was another, familiar success story.
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