posted on 2019-07-11 08:33:08
posted by Rohit Sankar
In two unlikely batsmen - one out to prove every critic in the world wrong and another seeking revenge against a certain former player and commentator - rested India's World Cup fortunes with 20 overs remaining in the game. If you have been following Indian cricket for a while, you know that the underbelly is soft; there's barely anything great to come after the top-order.
This was a monumental task before them because the Black Caps had gauged the conditions and directed their attack near perfectly. KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli were all dismissed for one. If it was 1990, millions of television sets would have been plugged off by now. This Indian team, though, is slightly different. It has earned the trust of people and despite the fact that New Zealand were rolling them over, India hoped.
Ravindra Jadeja's World Cup was on the field. He was a substitute fielder on so many occasions that it seemed like the sole purpose of his presence in England was to save runs for his team as a substitute. He got to play two matches but even before the first of those, coped an unfair amount of criticism from the commentary box.
He lashed out. The anger was evident. He corrected a typo and lashed out again on Twitter. He is picked for the semi-finals and bowls his heart out with the pitch gripping. Jadeja is everywhere in the field too. In the less than four overs New Zealand bat on Wednesday, they deal with Jadeja the fielder more than the bowlers. He runs Ross Taylor out with a direct hit running in from the fence; he takes a blinder in the deep to send Tom Latham back.
And 30 overs after all that, here he is swinging his bat and walking out to the prayers of 1.5billion people. India were down and out and the only man deemed capable of winning it for India was at the other end of the wicket - MS Dhoni, a guide and mentor for Jadeja.
What New Zealand, the crowd and probably even analysts did not account for was Jadeja's affinity with English grounds and New Zealand. His sword wielding celebrations in Tests aside, Jadeja had an average of 70.25 with the bat in England in ODIs. Against New Zealand, he averaged 36.4, six runs more than his career average. This before Wednesday happened.
Jadeja single-handed effort to tie a match against New Zealand at Auckland in 2014 - a 45-ball 66 - was hardly talked about even as he pummeled the New Zealand bowlers, assured by the pillowing effect of Dhoni's resolute defiance at the other end. Nobody wanted to jinx it up. Jadeja's bat continued to talk. He took on Santner, he took on Ferguson, he blasted Neesham.
The half-century came in 39 balls. Dhoni was still unfazed at the other end but New Zealand were now starting to panic. No Indian no 8 had hit a World Cup half-century. Jadeja has one and he runs towards the commentary box and does his sword celebrations. His last ODI half-century had come in 2014. Five years later, Jadeja is scripting a tale to remember.
Inzamam-ul-Haq's valiant semi-final knock - a 37-ball 60 in 1992 against New Zealand - was in danger of being overshadowed at one point. India even seemed favourites. There are few better knocks than Inzamam-ul-Haq's 1992 semi-final half-century in World Cup knockout games and Jadeja is scripting one of the best. Like Inzamam, though, he falls; he falls before India are close. His fall made a million shoulders droop.
India weren't out of it yet but Jadeja, the most unlikely hero of World Cup 2019, had nearly pulled off a heist out of nowhere. His mentor is run-out by a brilliant piece of fielding from Martin Guptill and India's campaign has come to a premature end, an end few anticipated would come against New Zealand. Yet, if any team deserved to do it, it was the Kiwis - the only side to expose that Indian middle-order quite a few times in the last couple of years.