At 5/3 after 4 overs, memories of Champions Trophy Final came rushing back. For the past 2 years, India’s biggest worry was what happens if the top 3 fail, and the worst fears came true during that opening burst by Boult and Henry in the World Cup Semi Final match against New Zealand on Wednesday.
Most of the Indian runs were scored by Rohit, Rahul and Kohli in the competition, and now they were gone after scoring 1 each. DK never looked the part in his limited outings in the competition and when he was dismissed for 4, India were staring down the barrel. The young Turks Pant and Pandya put together a decent partnership and rode out the initial storm but the quiet, unassuming Santner tightened the noose and both of them got out trying to break the shackles.
At 92/6, it looked like all is over but there was one ray of hope, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He is at the end of his career, he doesn’t score as quickly as before, he gets stuck against the spinners, but as long as he was there, we believed.
He found a perfect ally in Ravindra Jadeja, Manjrekar lit a fire in Jadeja’s heart with his comments earlier in the week and Jadeja was playing like a man possessed. He was miserly with the ball, typically sensational in the field, and now with the bat, he set about chasing the target with a vengeance.
Dhoni, who has played a lot of cricket with Jadeja for India and CSK, let Jadeja take the aggressor role while he quietly went about building his innings with singles. Jadeja’s heroics meant the required run rate was kept around 9-10 during the backend of the chase.
The stage was set, this was Dhoni territory, this is where he made his name as the greatest finisher in ODI history, Dhoni played out Santner, he played out Ferguson, he knew Neesham or de Grandhomme will have to bowl 1 over, the over he can use to catch up and close in on the target. Williamson knew what Dhoni is waiting for, he kept holding Neesham back and bowled Boult, Henry and Ferguson.
A sensational 47th over from Henry made things difficult, only 5 runs were scored, 42 from 24 became 37 from 18, Dhoni still waited. Boult backed Henry up beautifully in the next, concedes just 6 and dismissed the dangerous Jadeja, India needed 31 from 12, Dhoni couldn’t wait any more.
Williamson still held Neesham back and went with his leading wicket taker Ferguson in the 49th over against a man who backs himself to get the better of any bowler in such a situation.
The first ball of 49th over, short outside off, Dhoni murdered it over Covers with both feet off the ground for a six. A nation believed again, it was just like old times, Dhoni is going to pull it off. He blocked the second ball back to the bowler, the target was within his zone now, he didn’t need to risk a big hit every ball with the weaker 5th bowler’s over to come.
Next ball, Ferguson went short directed at the body, cramped for room, Dhoni flapped at it and it went to square leg with no fielder in the circle, Dhoni knew he needed to get back on strike, he pushed for that second as Wicket keeper chased the ball.
23 from 9 would have been in Dhoni’s range, but Martin Guptill has other ideas. He ran in from deep square, picked the ball up and with one stump to aim, smashed them with the most accurate of throws. Dhoni knew, Guptill knew, Kettleborough knew, India knew, but we still waited for 3rd umpire to confirm it to us, the World Cup was over, Dhoni fell short by inches.
He gambled on making up the dot balls at the death against the Kiwi bowlers but the freakish piece of fielding by Guptill upstaged him.