posted on 2019-07-11 08:36:51
posted by Karthik Raj
Image Credit- New Indian Express
Pre-World favourites India crashed out of the World Cup after a heartbreaking 18 run loss against New Zealand in the first semi-final at Old Trafford, Manchester. And the country's most loved cricketing son, MS Dhoni was at the centre stage of this unforgettable match.
After resuming the day with New Zealand on 211/5, India bowled and fielded superbly to restrict the opposition to 239-8 after 50 overs. India would have fancied this target on any day but they were in for a rude shock as New Zealand's outstanding spell with the new ball coupled with the pressure of a World Cup semi-final saw the 'Men in Blue' in a precarious situation of being 5/3 after 3.1 overs.
Young Rishabh Pant and Dinesh Karthik looked to salvage the situation but the latter was sent packing by a stunning one-handed catch from James Neesham. Pant and Hardik Pandya saw off the remaining overs from the fully charged Kiwi pacers but Mitchell Santner was in no mood to let India off the hook. The left-arm orthodox tweaker bagged two wickets as the inexperienced big-hitting duo played ill-advised shots to leave India in tatters.
Yet India still had a chance to pull of this miraculous chase considering that MS Dhoni was still there in the middle. Batting along with him, Ravindra Jadeja showed his three-dimensional utility as he smashed the Kiwi bowlers into bits and pieces. At the other end, Dhoni was just holding up one end so that the game goes deep. Just when India had stormed back with a 100-run partnership between Jadeja and Dhoni, New Zealand's strike bowler Trent Boult struck a crucial blow by sending back the all-rounder after a stunning 59-ball 77. With two overs to go, India needed 31 off 12 balls and Dhoni sent the Indians fans into a frenzy by smashing a six off the very first ball off Lockie Ferguson's over. The Kiwi fast bowler came back well by producing a dot and this meant that Dhoni couldn't afford another such ball. So, when Ferguson bowled a well-directed bouncer off the third ball, Dhoni fended it off awkardly and immediately took off for a double. However, New Zealand's best fielder Martin Guptill came rushing in from the square-leg boundary and hit the bullet's eye and Dhoni was found to be inches short of the crease. This wicket literally signalled the end for India and New Zealand went on to wrap up the match by 18 runs. It was rather ironic that both Dhoni's first dismissal in ODI cricket and possibly his last dismissal in World Cup had to be in the form of run-outs.
While it would have been wrong on many counts for Dhoni to be blamed for India's loss, many former cricketers and experts including Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Harsha Bhogle were puzzled by the team's decision to hold back a key batsman. This was Dhoni's ideal situation. Arguably, he is the best man to handle not just a tough pitch but a tough situation too.
After all, he has helped India recover from so many precarious situations including the revered hundred that was scored at the Chepauk stadium against Pakistan in 2012. A promotion would have also suited his style of taking time to settle down. Not just that, his presence would have also helped the likes of Pant and Pandya have a sense of calm around them.
There are two ways to look at Dhoni's approach in the delicate situation that he found himself in against New Zealand. Few will tend to say that Dhoni could have been a bit more proactive by rotating the strike or going for the big shots at a much earlier point as dots at his end were putting too much pressure for Jadeja to do much of the heavy-lifting.
However, the counter-argument could be that this is how Dhoni has played all through his career. He has always been someone who has tried to take the game deep by seeing off the better bowlers so that there will be a chance to take on the lesser bowlers.
By default, given the stage of Dhoni's career, it was no longer surprising too. He was backing himself to score 30 or 25 off the last couple overs and considering that James Neesham (The kind of bowlers Dhoni goes hard against) had one one to bowl, there was merit in the judgement too.
This process of his might be termed mad but there is definetely a method behind that. If not, he wouldn't have been able to pull off those heists against Irfan Pathan (Kings XI Punjab) in IPL, 2010 or Shaminda Eranga (Sri Lanka) in West Indian Tri-Series final in 2013. He might not be the same force now but the 38-year-old's ability to bring out his pyrotechnics when the situation demands was seen as recently as the last 2 seasons of the Indian Premier League.
Even statistics back up Dhoni's proficiency in finishing off matches with India winning 47 times and losing on just 2 occasions whenever he has ended up not-out during a chase. While the Indian fans were hopeful of him adding to this tally, Guptill's remarkable throw under pressure possibly brought down the curtains on MS Dhoni's World Cup career that has seen the highs of the 2011 triumph and the lows of the early departure from the 2007 edition.
Unfortunately, a bonafide legend of the game has perhaps reached his sunset in the most painful way one can end their career with. MS Dhoni couldn't have a World Cup farewell like how Sachin Tendulkar had in 2011. Cruelly for him, it was perhaps written in the stars that India's famed batting line up had to fail on July 10th.
The pain of that loss on Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and Indian fans across the world wasn't lost on anyone. It was a heart-breaking way to go out not just because of Dhoni nearing the end of his international career but also due to the fact that India had played outstanding cricket until that semi-final. Yet, New Zealand brought their A game when it mattered the most to knock India and Dhoni out of the World Cup.