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The blue reign continues…

Aditya Iyer

As a collective, India’s batsmen took the length, breadth and width of the first 50 overs to get to a total of 268 runs on this Old Trafford wicket, perhaps living more in hope than faith during the break that they had given their bowlers enough to bowl at the West Indian batsmen. But, once again on Thursday, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah proved why no score is too small for their combined brilliance to defend; and why India’s frontline quicks are single-handedly making up for what the team lacks in the middle order.

On a hot and sweaty evening in Manchester, and possibly because it was such a great day for a game of cricket, the players went through their motions until the 35th over of the second innings. But those who were in the stands will tell you that the West Indies chase had ended a whole lot earlier; by the end of the eighth over when Shami and Bumrah completed their first spell in tandem.

In the fifth over, with West Indies’s score still in single digits, Chris Gayle looked to untie his team’s knots in one go and swiped at a Shami ball, one that was pitched back-of-a-length, and was caught mid-on. The only cheer Gayle had received all day, then, was when he dived while fielding and instantly raised the ball to the clapping crowd. The applause for Shami, on the other hand, continued even in his next over when he swung the ball from outside off and knocked off Shai Hope’s off stump.

And by the time Bumrah too finished his four-over spell (the following over, conceding a total of six runs), West Indies were reeling at 21 for two after eight overs. Possibly already assured of the win in his head, captain Virat Kohli even afforded himself a quick dance at this point – twisting his palms and juggling his shoulders to the bhangra beats emitting from the Old Trafford stands. Kohli’s dancing  and rallying the crowd continued, as a happy afternoon became a happy evening, when Bumrah and Shami returned to end West Indies’s misery, cleaning up their middle-order and tail in quick succession.

Shami finished with 4/16. Bumrah finished 2/9. And together they finished off the West Indies for 143 and finished off their hopes of making the semi-final; the third team to now be officially out of the reckoning after Afghanistan and South Africa.

A few hours earlier, Kohli had walked in to bat displaying far less mirth, in rather unusual circumstances. Rohit Sharma had been given out by an Ultra-edge spike despite the review on the big screen showing a gap between the edge of his bat and the ball. But the angry crowd in Manchester fast turned into a happy crowd in Manchester as Kohli entered in the seventh over, on the back of three successive World Cup fifties. Soon, Kohli would find himself constructing a most unusual innings too—full of shots he seldom plays and even more surprisingly, full of chances that rarely pepper a Kohli

When he was batting on 4 (those runs scored off a little-used but nevertheless glorious square cut from Kohli’s blade), the Indian captain looked to work Roach through midwicket but ended up flicking it up and towards the fielder stationed there, who got his hand on the ball but not around it.

That was in the 10th over and in the 11th, Kohli nearly managed to dismiss himself at the non-striker’s end. At the other end, KL Rahul had only nudged his shot directly to the infielder at point when Kohli ran half-way down the pitch, slipped, scrambled back to his crease and immediately apologised to his partner. Kohli was then on 12.

Then there was the mistimed cut off Fabian Allen, the left-arm spinner making his debut. Had West Indies had a gully, like Afghanistan did in India’s previous game for a similar set-up, Kohli would’ve been in the dressing room on a score of 12. And then there was also the thick inside edge against a Jason Holder yorker—primed to crash into his pads in front of middle stump—that kept his innings alive beyond 36.

But here’s possibly the most important deal with chances: if you don’t take them, they don’t count. And West Indies let India’s best batsman in this match, and of this era, get away time and again.

Kohli obviously made them pay with 72 precious runs that propelled India to a 268-7 in 50 overs. There was a late push by MS Dhoni, who scored a bulk of his 56 runs in the death, and Hardik Pandya’s flashy 46. But it was Kohli’s essay that was the spine of India’s batting on a pitch worn out by consecutive use in this World Cup (the very same one that West Indies had lost to New Zealand on over the weekend).

Soon after he was given his first life on 4, Kohli upper cut a short and wide Oshane Thomas delivery in front of square for a one bounce four. It was the kind of stroke he last played in his carefree teens and has shelved ever since. Then he unleashed a shot he rarely played in his teens as well, the hook.

The left-arm seamer tried to bounce Kohli and the ball drifted towards the batsman’s ear, only for him to swivel on one leg and hook it past fine leg for a boundary. It took him to 35.

Kohli was dismissed in an unusual fashion too. Well set to press on for a hundred by the 39th over, Kohli pulled at a short ball from Holder using only his arms and not his feet and was caught at midwicket. He stayed back in his crease and stared at the celebrating West Indian fielders in utter disbelief, perhaps aware that this was the first time since 2011 where he had scored four fifties without converting even one in to a hundred.

But Kohli wasn’t the only one experiencing an unusual day. Holder’s (mis)calculations ensured that both him – the best bowler of the morning, with 46 dot balls out of the 60 he bowled – and Roach had finished their quotas by the 41st over of the day, leaving the WI captain to introduce Carlos Brathwaite into the attack during the death overs. Brathwaite’s first over was the 42nd and it cost him 13 runs, scored mostly by wides and Pandya, and those runs brought up India’s 200.

In the next Brathwaite over, he went for 10 more runs. And in his third over too, 10 more. But even more significantly, Dhoni scored his first boundary in that final Brathwaite over, the 47th of the match, after a gap of some 16 overs; this new-found touch then helping India’s once great finisher to dust off his six-hitting skills and smash two of them in the final over of the innings.

(HT Media)

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