Twitter trolls and Facebook fanatics alike had a field day, when riding high upon the back of (yet) another World Cup victory against a diminished arch-rival Pakistan, Dhoni’s men upset the apple cart by routing the much vaunted Proteas of AB De Villiers. While Shikhar Dhawan’s flamboyance contrived with a miracle bowling effort to stun one of the tournament favourites, the flavor of the day was unmistakably Ajinkya Rahane.
Droopy eyed and deathly calm, this unassuming, unpretentious and unperturbed right hander at the packed Melbourne Cricket Ground demonstrated his immeasurable worth to the team. Time and again, Rahane has done everything that has been asked of him, and more. Mercilessly rotated like a Ferris Wheel in the batting order, he has been at various times commanded to open, cover for the foibles and failings of fellow team mates and also to hold fort when it mattered the most. None of these seemingly disruptive moves seems to have rattled this burgeoning talent. The blunder at Adelaide, when Suresh Raina was sent ahead of Rahane was not repeated at the ‘G’ and wisely so.
Dhoni, after calling the spin of the coin right had no hesitation in opting to bat on an overcast, albeit humid afternoon. When the luckless Rohit Sharma slipped mid-way down the pitch responding to Dhawan’s call, a horrified sea of Blue saw the unerring sniper AB De Villiers swoop down upon the ball, and score a direct hit at the non-striker’s end, sending Sharma back to the pavilion for a blob. With the scoreboard reading India 9/1, one particular faction engaged in the production of cracker advertisements must have seen their hopes soar, much to the chagrin of their competitors!
Enter Virat Kohli, the centurion at Adelaide and One Day cricket’s most prolific batsman. However with Dale Steyn steaming in and Philander dropping on a nagging length (before doing a hamstring), the going for India was pedestrian. A whippy bottom handed boundary by Kohli of Steyn through extra cover and a riding-the-bounce four by Dhawan of Philander in the same region interrupted the lull in proceedings. A clip to the mid-wicket boundary by Kohli of a Morkel (Mornie) delivery signaled the end of the 10th over with India at a tentative 36/1.
It is not often that Virat Kohli gets overshadowed in a major partnership. However the MCG turned out to be Dhawan’s playground. Sustained stay at the crease birthed the inevitable confidence and invariable form and the left hander produced a flurry of magnificent shots signaling his intent loud and clear. Wayne Parnell came in for some particular punishment as ferocious pulls, screaming drives and deft clips opened the scoring flood gates for India. A ‘Tendulkaresque’ ramp shot played to a short and angling ball in the 24th over sent the hollering fans into raptures of ecstasy. Soon after the hundred partnership was raised, Kohli perished dragging a half tracker from Imran Tahir straight to Faf Du Plessis, who made no mistake being positioned at mid-wicket. India 136/2 after 27.1 overs.
The fall of Kohli’s wicket brought Ajinkya Rahane to the crease. The busy right hander lost no time in building upon the platform constructed by Dhawan and Kohli. Rotating the strike with deft nudges and firm pushes, Rahane acted the perfect foil for a marauding Dhawan. A rasping shot through point courtesy, the hapless Parnell, raised a spectacular ton for the southpaw, his first in World Cup competitions. With the century out of the way, both batsmen progressed from the emphatic to the expressive. A screamer over Morkel’s head displayed the repertoire of skills possessed by Rahane and also raised the 200 of the innings. This was followed in quick succession by a contemptuous cover drive off the same bowler. After two stupendous sixes off Steyn and Morkel, the latter a gorgeous and elegant pick up flick off the legs, Dhawan departed for a majestic 136, looping Parnell to long leg where a grateful Amla held on not before displaying a peculiar catching technique wherein his knuckles touched the ground with the ball safely nestled in his palms. India 261/3 in the 44th over. When Suresh Raina departed a mere 8 runs later, flat batting Morkel to substitute fielder, RR Rossouw, a few anxious Indian supporters could have been forgiven for whispering “Death-Over Travails – Redux”.
With 278 runs on the board, the dazzling innings of Rahane was terminated when he walked across the stumps to a straight one from Steyn. His 79 was studded with 7 boundaries and 3 energetic sixes and took only 60 deliveries to compile. Dhoni, Ashwin, Jadeja and Shami heaved, hoicked, holed out and huffed away and after 50 overs were done and dusted with, India had finished at 307/7 – an imposing total but not an impregnable one.
What followed next tore all predicted scripts to tatters and left self professed Pundits scrambling in search of new theories. India put up a show of resplendence in the field that shone even brighter than the brightest of the lights blazing and bathing the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Prowling like tigers and purring like predatory felines, eleven men wearing Blue proceeded to put paid to the hopes of a renowned and feared batting line up. The first to depart the scene was the most alluring baby faced cricketer currently plying his wares, Quinton de Kock. Having built up his reputation as a century monger against India, de Kock for once failed to live up to his reputation spooning one off Mohammed Shami to Kohli at mid-off after notching up a paltry 7 runs. South Africa 12/1 in the 4th over. The early breakthrough, although welcome was a cause only for muted celebrations. The reliable Faf Du Plessis strode to the crease and along with Hashim Amla proceeded to scratch and scour producing a trickle of runs. Shami and Umesh Yadav were unrelenting in their intent to not allow the Proteas to settle down and at the end of the 10th over, South Africa’s score of 38/1 only marginally bested India’s position at the same juncture.
The stylish Amla seemed to be missing his groove and after surviving a perilously close double run-out chance hooked a well directed bouncer of the nippy Mohit Sharma to Shami at long-leg. The fielder while moving backwards after pouching the catch just stopped short of treading on to the boundary ropes. South Africa was now at 40/2 and in some strife. In walked Abraham Benjamin De Villiers along with the specter of a 31 ball scorcher of a century and a reputation as the finest one day international batsman gracing the game today. He displayed his intent quite early in his innings when he wafted down the track to Mohit Sharma and crashed the ball through the extra cover region for a glorious boundary. When he punched Umesh Yadav between the bowler and the mid-off area and the ball made contact with the boundary ropes, stirrings of danger were swirling around in the air.
De Villier’s presence had the effect of bolstering the confidence of Du Plessis and the latter proceeded to rack a few boundaries of his own, although most of them were mistimed and fortuitous heaves behind the wicket. The duo soon raised their 50 partnership and the scoring was no longer strangled. With the score on 108, the most dramatic moment in the match occurred which brought the MCG cauldron to boil. De Villiers drove the penultimate delivery of Ravindra Jadeja’s 6th over to sweeper cover and hared down the track. After completing the first run, he charged back to the stricker’s end, with legs pumping and arms heaving, Mohit Sharma, fielding at sweeper cover, grabbed the ball and released a bullet throw to Dhoni who, after perfectly positioning himself to collect the missile, dislodged the bails leaving the dangerous De Villiers short of the crease by mere inches. South Africa had lost their talismanic captain to a brilliant display of fielding, an exhibition of which they themselves would have been proud of!
Aided by a resonating self belief and egged on by a reverberating noise of support, India proceeded to rout the South Africans. Du Plessis flat batted one to Dhawan at mid-off charging Mohit Sharma. J.P.Duminy decided to get into the Glenn Maxwell mode. But possessing neither the expertise nor the elan, the left-hander timidly reverse swept (or tried to) Ashwin into the waiting hands of Raina at slip. South Africa 147/5 in the 32nd over. David Miller, one of the heroes against Zimbabwe showed token resistance before perishing to yet another extraordinary fielding marvel by the Indians. Sweeping Ashwin to deep square leg, Miller decided to take on the throwing arm of Umesh Yadav headlong. The ripper of a throw had Dhoni flicking the ball on to the stumps with Miller’s bat hanging above the crease. India completed the last rites by rooting out Philander, Steyn, Morkel and Imran Tahir, thereby inflicting South Africa’s biggest ever defeat in a World Cup – a margin of 130 runs.
An impeccable bowling performance coupled with an incredulous effort in the field ensured that India had snared their opponents once again to not only make it two win in a row, but also exorcise a ghost in the form of a South African jinx.
In the words of Dennis Waitley “You have all the reason in the world to achieve your grandest dreams. Imagination plus innovation equals realization.” A pair of droopy eyes seems to have grasped this realization to the fullest extent, for it has begun to dream, a dream splendid in its sweep and grand in its wake!