Sunday, September 21, 2008

Defying Expectations!!!

Apt title is not “exceeding expectations” because it goes either way. But for all its shortcomings, team India is exceptionally consistent in one thing, proving the expectations wrong. When you expect the team loaded with most formidable middle order to murder a rookie spinner who had just sent tremors in the Gen-Next to follow, they fall flat to him. Few months back when you expected the same team to surrender meekly in the most deadly track against two lightening fast quickies in Perth, they came out winning. Be it 2007 world cup debacle or charismatic come back in 2003 world cup, they have always flourished when very few expected them and floundered when very few did not expect them to do so.

Hence, when a year back when Dhoni was handed over the captaincy for the T20 world cup, team India was written off even before the members got their security checks done at the airport. The experienced spearheads of batting line up opted out of the tournament – one because the format was almost alien hence not taken very seriously and two because they considered themselves too old to play a bang-bang game. It was taken as just a platform to test the new generation players. For any tournament which consisted of teams other than minnows, a team without Sachin, Dravid or Ganguly could not be imagined in last 8-10 years. If there was a team like this, it was a second string side like in common wealth games in 1998. Reason given behind choosing the young team was – it’s the fastest version of the game which has no place for people over 30. Critics said – what will the team do by saving runs as no one in the side is capable of scoring them. Anyhow, they did leave for South Africa.

India had just played one T20 match before the tournament and there was not much in the domestic cricket as well. The batting was relying on the shoulders of Sehwag who was making a comeback after a consistent inconsistency in ODIs, Yuvraj Singh who was struggling for form since world cup, Dhoni who was considered to be more of a pinch hitter, Gautam Gambhir who had a habit of pulling a short ball to boundary and getting out on very next short ball, Robin Uthappa who was hardly an year old in international cricket, Rohit Sharma who was, well just a name. Bowling department did not have a Zaheer Khan making it look completely inexperienced. Although, it did have RP Singh who bowled exceptionally well in England and a promising Shree Santh but they also had an ever inexplicably selected Ajit Agarkar and Irfan Pathan who was re starting after his journey of next Kapil to nobody.

Australia was the most favorite contender for the cup for the reasons well known. Apart from South Africa and New Zealand, England was another favorite and seen as dark horse because they did play a lot of T20 games in their domestic cricket. India was considered good enough to get the title of “also ran”.

What followed in next 13 days was something which was going to be a miracle.

First match against Scotland should have been taken as more of a formality to reach the Super eight. But team India has recently had a casualty in form of a formality in WC2007. The match was washed off meaning India was almost certain for the next round. “So what, reaching super 8 was not a big deal by any means in this format” was a typical remark. Though the same format cost a great deal to West Indies cricket board’s revenue just 4 months back.

If team batting first set a target of 142 in IPL, the match was considered to be lost for them. But IPL was not invented yet. No one knew how to approach a target in these games plus wet conditions, good tight bowling and exceptional energy shown by Indians on the field made it look like a real tough one. After a lot of twists and turns, when 1 run was needed of last 2 balls, match ended in a tie which India won in a bowl-out. Most of Indian supporters, as the tradition has been, considered it as the world cup win. When they did not know was that their team had not only won the match but also a very good friend in Misbah-Ul-Haq.

When India lost next match to New Zealand, it looked as if the team had run out of fuel after the last match. As always, every match in the cup became crucial for them. Yuvraj Singh’s six 6s won India the next match against England. Yuvraj Singh created history but since then he has been living in the memory of that one over.

Vey next day India played against the hosts South Africa which not only had firepower in bowling line up but was also an exceptional fielding side. India needed to win this match to stay alive in the competition. South Africa could do even without a win but the margin of defeat needed to be small. Just before the start of the match, India lost Yuvraj Singh to an injury. “Ah, same old bad luck and it’s the end of tournament for India” was a typical reaction looking for an excuse in a perceived defeat. After a decent start, India slumped to 61/4 with Yuvraj Singh’s replacement Dinesh Karthik scoring a first ball duck. Dhoni and Rohit Sharma took the score to 153 and India had defended a score lesser than this before. Well, South Africa clearly showed why Steve Waugh allegedly called them Chokers. Brilliant bowling and superb fielding suffocated their batting. Dinesh Karthik might have scored a duck but he did take a splendid catch to dismiss Graeme Smith.  

India was into the semi finals. But it was to be till semi finals because they were meeting Australia there. Circa 2003 WC?

Someone needed to do something spectacular in all the departments of the game to beat Australia. Yuvraj Singh scored 70 off 30 balls and India set a mammoth target of 189. Shree Santh gave away only 12 runs in 4 overs and clean bowled both the Australian openers. Team fielded brilliantly. With 31 needed of last 3 overs, Australia suddenly lost it. A team which was not given any chance by most of its supporters had beaten the mighty Australians to reach the finals.

The Finals – India V Pakistan. Organizers of at least 6 world cups would have prayed day in-day out for this but God did not listen to them. South African organizers must have prayed really hard this time.

Like the first match between these two sides, the final too went all the way to the wire. When the middle order failed, Gambheer’s 75 took India to 157. When Pakistan was reeling at 77/6, their friend of the first match Misbah took the center stage and looked like winning the match alone. When 13 were needed of 6 balls, Dhoni gave Joginder Sharma the last over. May be Chetan Sharma was to be reincarnated after 1986. It soon became 6 of 4. But just then Misbah failed second time in a row when he must not have and his dreaded scoop landed in Shree Santh’s hands.

India had won the inaugural T20 world cup. The miracle had happened.

What followed were celebrations and celebrations and celebrations till they got too vulgar. But the team did play exceptionally well and will be celebrating the first anniversary of this win on 24th of this month. 

1 comment:

Spiff said...

A well written piece, and certainly, the T20 win was iconic for many things..as in...people were looking for something like this to become proud about India as a sporting nation....
I think we will find this again and again..India as a country is looking for heroes..sporting and otherwise and the T20 managed to create one in Dhoni...
And coming to the post..i dont think we can make the generic claim that Indian team defies expectations on a regular basis...it has managed to do so for a few times..but more often..i expect inda to lose and they lose....so
relax