March 1st 1992, Brisbane:
The 12th match of the 1992 World Cup was turning out to be a real cliff hanger due to the impudent intervention of rain. Even if this was the pre-Duckworth Lewis era, the absurdity of the calculations left no one in doubt. A mere 15 minutes of rain tilted the odds in favour of the hosts. While 3 overs were docked from the visitors’ quota of allotted overs, a paltry 2 runs were lopped off the required target (being the runs scored by Australia in their 3 least productive overs).
The visitors however fought gallantly and when the last delivery of the game was ready to be bowled, needed a boundary to win the game. What happened next was a tragi-comic sequence of events. The batsman smote the ball towards the leg-side boundary. Steve Waugh dropped the skier, but fired in a bullet return into the hands of the acting wicket-keeper David Boon. Meanwhile two batsmen were tearing down the wickets like a pair of confused and drunken hares, yelling and gesticulating at one another. The fiasco ended when in going for the third run, one of the batsmen was run out and Australia had won by a solitary run. The visiting team was, India. “Bhaag Raju Bhaag” coincidentally preceded “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” by more than 2 decades. But reminiscence of the frenetic running of Venkatapathy Raju and Javagal Srinath (incidentally he was the batsman who took a mighty swipe off the last ball), has the effect of a surge of bile and revulsion in the throat of every Indian.
March 26th 2015, Sydney:
Shakespeare’s most popular soothsayer ominously forewarned Julius Caesar by uttering the immortal lines “beware the ides of March”. Although it was a full 10 days after the 15th of March, when two warring factions shaped up after a gap of 22 years to engage in yet another crucial do-or-die combat, M.S.Dhoni’s courageous men would consequently end up experiencing the curse of March at the SCG. But we are jumping the gun here.
On a bright and sunny day at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Michael Clarke won a seemingly crucial toss and elected to have a go at the Indian bowling. New Zealand had already qualified for the World Cup finals having come triumphant in a nail biting see sawing clash with the perpetual unfortunates, South Africa. Australia displayed intent quite early with David Warner depositing Umesh Yadav over the leg side boundary for a six. However, his momentum did not gather steam as the muscular Yadav induced a false stroke off Warner. Playing a check-pull, Warner skied the ball to a gleeful Virat Kohli at cover. Australia 15/1. The enthusiasm of the Indian players was now plainly visible and demonstrative. The TV Screens flashed a bank of statistics, one of which eagerly postulated that India’s key to victory was epitomized by the Mantra of early wickets. Going by that piece of data, Dhoni’s boys were on their merry way having drawn first blood.
Enter Stephen Peter Devereux Smith. Over the past four months, Steve Smith has been the undoubted scourge of every Indian bowling attack. His spectre hung over the head of every Indian, like the proverbial sword of Damocles. And on a cheery and bright Thursday, the sword began its dangerous descent gradually and for Smith’s opponents, agonizingly. As Smith settled into his groove almost instantaneously, shots the result of pristine form and phenomenal confidence, began to blaze the turf of SCG. This display also instilled a sense of confidence in Aaron Finch, whose inept negotiation of Mohammed Shammi was akin to a novice fisherman blindly and randomly casting his lines.
Driving with élan, cutting with aplomb, pulling with ferocity and flicking with deftness, Smith soon had the Indian attack in sixes and sevens. Meanwhile, having gained precious confidence, Finch began to open up as well, striking Jadeja, Mohit Sharma and Ashwin for convincing boundaries. The Smith juggernaut continued its relentless run in unabated fashion. While 50 was a mere formality, a century was an obvious inevitability. Just when things were beginning to careen uncontrollably out of grasp for India, Smith perished holing out to deep square leg. His punishing knock of 105 took only 93 balls and was studded with 11 exquisite hits to the fence and 2 towering over it. The Smith-Finch partnership had added a humongous 182 in 31 overs of occupying the crease. Finch, unfortunately was not able to continue where Smith had left, and he too perished with his individual score on 81, hurrying into a short one from Yadav, only for Dhawan to do the rest.
The platform was set for one of the most explosive batsmen in current day cricket, Glenn Maxwell. With such a solid base, Maxwell on song could even mean a total of 350-375 for Australia. The wily Ashwin, however had other plans. After Maxwell had slammed a flurry of boundaries, the off-spinner pouched him by inducing a sweep straight into the waiting hands of Rahane at deep backward square. This wicket triggered a mini collapse as 4 Aussie wickets tumbled for just 59 runs. Mitchell Johnson’s lusty hitting at the end (an unbeaten 27 off only 9 deliveries), ensured that Australia set India an imposing, yet attainable target of 329. Umesh Yadav distinguished himself with the ball by grabbing 4 wickets for 72 runs off his 9 overs.
The Indian innings started off with the enigmatic Rohit Sharma and the effervescent Shikhar Dhawan at the crease. If M.S.Dhoni wanted a steady and confident start, that was exactly what his openers proceeded to provide him. Having earned early reprieves, both Dhawan and Sharma got into their respective grooves and began stroking and striking the ball disconcertingly (for the Aussies). A hook shot over fine leg essayed by Sharma off Johnson, resulted in soaring hopes for the multitude of Indian fans thronging the SCG. When Dhawan played a pick-u shot to cart Faulkner for six over deep mid-wicket, the crowd was in raptures. At the end of the 12th over, India were moving on at a serene pace at 73/0. Disaster struck soon after when Shikhar Dhawan absolutely whacked a Hazlewood delivery straight at Glenn Maxwell, positioned at extra cover. Dhawan had made 45.
Enter Virat Kohli, the bat twirler, the punisher of bad bowling, the slayer of good bowling and the repository of expletives! Virat went on to play an ‘Un-Kohli’ like innings, scratching around for 13 deliveries, scoring just a solitary run prior to taking on a shorter one from Johnson, and failing miserably in the process. The top edge was pounced upon by a jubilant Haddin. Buoyed by the twin strikes, the Australian bowlers had their tails up and after putting up a partnership of a measly 13 runs with Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma departed, castled by Mitchell Johnson. India, 91/3. 91/3 soon became 108/4 with the exit of Suresh Raina. The left hander nicked a Faulkner delivery to Haddin behind the wicket. This left India reeling. The team’s Man Friday and a Captain with nerves of steel, M.S Dhoni walked out to the middle. With the required run rate looking like a veritable Stairway To Heaven in its steepness and Highway To Hell in its depth, it was time for Dhoni to make Lance Klusener look like Ravi Shastri.
March 26th was not to be India’s day though. First after being in a partnership of 70 with his Captain, Rahane perished to that outstanding of all bowlers in the tournament, Mitchell Starc. India’s resistance after this stage was a mere act of tokenism. Jadeja was run-out responding to a call from Dhoni and not long after wards, India’s last hope, the captain himself perished being run out after striking Watson for 2 successive sixes. Many would have been right in wondering why MSD took quite an inordinate while to launch into an aggressive counter attack. India now required an unimaginable 98 runs off only 33 legitimate deliveries. The last rites were quickly wrapped up by Australia as the Indian innings folded up with the score on 233.
In a tournament replete with handsome, humungous and hefty blows for sixers (more than 460 of them), a bowler bowling at an express pace of over 150kmph and maintaining an economy rate of under 4, is worth his weight in gold and gold dust combined. The difference between one Australian left arm quick and the rest of the bowlers in this edition of the World Cup has been, to say the least – ‘Starc’. Yes, name is Starc, Mitchell Starc. Irrespective of who goes on to win the World Cup in the ensuing Trans-Tasman clash this Sunday, the Man of the Tournament, sans a shred of suspicion, has to be Mitchell Starc. Any other name would reek of a myopic outlook and a jaundiced view.
Chuck Prince, the former CEO of Citigroup, once famously remarked that “So long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance”. Ironically this was uttered just before one of the worst ever recessions in the modern era rocked the global economy before hurtling it off its rails. M.S.Dhoni and his boys danced, and continued to dance. It was the music that stopped abruptly, and as was the case in 1992, it was Australia who pulled the damned plug.
Have a safe flight back home lads!