As if treating his daughter, Rohit Sharma wet a handkerchief, gently cupped Mohammad Shami’s chin and proceeded to pluck out the object of irritation from his eye. That was probably the only time the captain looked really anxious as India successfully defended the modest total of 228 against England.
India’s 100-run triumph, along with their 6 games winning streak in this World Cup, is commendable but the way they tigerishly defended was a sight to behold. One by one, almost fortuitously at times, the puzzles are falling in place for a glorious Indian October fest.
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No other Indian World Cup team has marched as imperiously as Rohit’s men have belted out in this edition. Not even the World champion side of 2011. Not even the highly-talented 1987 squad, a good team packed with all-rounders that ran out of gas in the semi-final. Not even the pioneers of 1983, which was more of a dream run.
It remains to be seen if this Indian team sustain themselves – Rohit’s major worry was around the length of the tournament – and lift the coveted trophy, but thus far they haven’t just won but entertained the fans and bossed around the opposition.
It was a team at work, the sum more than the parts, carefully plotting small details. Like, who would give the pep-talk ahead of the games. Players were chosen for their affinity to the venue: home state or IPL.
Ravindra Jadeja, who plays for Chennai Super Kings, held court in the first game against Australia in Chennai. Virat Kohli spoke in Delhi. Bumrah channelled the team in Ahmedabad, Shreyas Iyer gave the talk in Pune, Shubman Gill headed the team-huddle in Dharamsala, and it was Kuldeep Yadav, the home boy, who led the chat in Lucknow against England.
Thought was also given to who will shine and dry the ball before handing it to the bowlers. Kohli is the main man for the job, with a towel tucked in his waist. As Lucknow dew seeped in, Kohli, often stationed at slips, worked feverishly to maintain the ball. The ball would be thrown back to him, and Kohli would wipe his sweat into the leather, shine it dry. If the ball runs away to the boundary, not a common sight in Lucknow though, Rohit would take up the drying of the ball as he would saunter across to the bowlers for a chat.
To watch Bumrah, Shami, and Kuldeep Yadav harass the English under the Lucknow skies was one thing – a separate cess could be added in the ticket for their gorgeous show, but to see how the entire squad stepped in to help one another was the takeaway of the night.
Take your pick from Rohit cleaning out the muck from Shami’s eyes or the throw-specialist and team’s handyman Raghu tirelessly prowling the boundary to clean the muddy spikes of players. But the one that is sure to be a viral moment of the Lucknow game is of Kohli running passionately towards Rohit, hugging and lifting him off the ground after Shami, who was just brought back into the attack, knocked out England’s last resistance – Mooen Ali.
At the start of the tournament, India seemed unsure of how to fit in Shami, preferring the batting ability of all-rounder Shardul Thakur. Ironically, it was an injury to their genuine seam-allrounder Hardik Pandya that made them drop the ‘allrounder’ Thakur and send an SoS to Shami. And he has sparkled.
Before the World Cup, they didn’t have R Ashwin, again preferring the option of Axar Patel for his batting. It was again an injury to Axar helped the team make a U-turn just at the nick of time. Ashwin set the tournament rolling for them with a star turn against Australia in their first match.
They tried Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan in the middle order before the World Cup, but KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer came back to seal their spots. In particular, Rahul has been sensational in soaking up the pressure and steering them out of trouble. And on Sunday, Suryakumar took them out of the below par 175 to a competitive 228 against England with his 49.
Though, the heroes of the day were the bowlers. The decisions that Bumrah makes as a fast bowler are often thrilling to watch. The way he took out Dawid Malan and Joe Root are cases in point. For a full over, Bumrah had harassed Malan with his away-shapers. But when he returned next over, the fifth of the innings, he switched to around the stumps, to bend the ball away from the left-handed Malan from that acute angle. Cleverly, he slipped in a straighter one, with the angle, dangling some width outside off, and Malan fell for it, inside-edging the cut onto his stumps.
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Enter England’s best: Joe Root, who has the tendency to fall a touch on that front-foot as he shuffles, particularly early in his knock. Bumrah went for it first ball, with a full ball that just about held its line and didn’t slide down leg; enough venom in its accuracy and direction to trap Root lbw.
Shami, then, stepped up to continue his stumps-demolition love, rattling Jonny Bairstow with a heavy ball and Ben Stokes with an angler. He then returned to take down Mooen Ali, with a peach that left the left-hander late.
It was Kuldeep, however, who buried England by sucker-punching their captain Jos Buttler with a beauty that would stick in the mind for years to come. A curling, loopy, flighted, dipping leg break had Buttler pressing back in panic before the big turn with the accompanying fizz reduced him to a mute witness – the ball and the match sneaked into India’s hands. The city of Lucknow and English Raj go back a long way; and aptly it served up another jolt, in sporting terms this time.