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What if we decided not to blame anybody?

by Gaurav Sethi

Is that even possible? A World Cup semi-final exit, and not blame anybody? What’s there to write? How will we exorcise our cricketing demons?

Put yourself in at 4/1 at the fall of Rohit Sharma’s wicket in the second over. You were there, weren’t you? Did you not chase that wide one outside off along with Virat? Were you not breathing heavy after Rohit fell? After the assurance of those five centuries was snuffed out in four deliveries?

When Trent Boult was running in like some break dancer in a black hoodie -  with those precise moonwalking steps and that gleeful glint in his eye, he had it all worked out. And Matt Henry, more mid-management banker than break dancer, what was he doing making the ball dance. Such deception broke the back of India’s batting. Slip sliding away.

9th July, 2019 seemed eerily familiar. It could be anywhere in the world. It had the stamp of Glenn McGrath bowling academy vs India in one of those games you were hoping to snap out of by now. But it crept up on you. India had no choice but to sleep on it, what else was there to do?

To overcompensate, Virat went across. And again. He plays these angles. Seven balls after Rohit fell, one snuck through, into the pads and out. When Virat is nervous, he wants to review. When he’s the captain, no non-striker will ask him not to. It delays things. It keeps him on the field longer. In the hope of the bowler overstepping, the ball missing, something. At 4/2, why wouldn’t you review? If nothing, just to stay on the ground a few moments more, to breathe, to feel alive in the game. If Virat could, he would munch on his protein snacks during those reviews. What did you do? Stare at the screen? Knowing only too well, it’s happening. Slip sliding away.

Much as Virat has a look that defies the slide, KL Rahul often wears one that is consumed by it. They are just a look and say nothing of what either batsman will do to push the slide back. But when Rahul fell, his dismissal had the stamp of slide-sucked-me-in. That’s what slides do, players have their ways to counter them – not often many succeed. Once in a freefall slide, the batsman is not on terra firma, instead, he’s being sucked into a whirlpool. Those padded up, waiting to walk in are waiting to slide through. Sacrificial lambs.

When Virat fell, did you not slide further. Did it not cross your mind, this could be over in a jiffy, in say, less than 20 overs? Why did the match not get over on the first day itself? Was it us who willed it not to go down to a 20 over shootout? Were we not responsible for the gift of the second day? Had we not asked for this? Running away from rain and Duckworth Lewis calculations? And here we were, in a similar 20 over shootout, with six fewer wickets.

So just as we blame the players, we blame ourselves. Our refusal to expect sport for what it is. A refusal to expect defeat.

When Kohli fell, Rishabh Pant walked in, somewhat cheerily, to play his 9th ODI, his 8th innings, his 4th in this World Cup. By now, it’s best to forget whose replacement he was, because from where we are now, that’s too much of a dwell on the past.

By the fourth over, Dinesh Karthik joined Pant. At 5/3 it appeared even gloomier than the day before. The Indian innings was not even 20 minutes old.

Were you still there? Were you mathematically calculating acceptable, face saving margins of defeat?

For 25 minutes, Karthik put on a defence-ballet class. He defended as you would, your honour, your cricketing journey, your cricketing life. For, in a way, that is what he was defending. There he was, wedged in between, the wicket keeping future and past; looking as India has, for a meaning to its elusive keeping present.

How do you play, when each innings challenges you to rewrite your cricketing world? But here was Karthik, with that chance. It’s another thing, he gave that chance to Neesham, who accepted single handedly, also wrong handedly with such brilliance, it reaffirmed the slide to almost mythical proportions.

Perhaps, Karthik slid into a crack, but nobody was looking. All they saw was Neesham’s hand that emerged from a crack.

The Pant-Pandya partnership, although three shy of fifty, and one ball shy of 13 overs, seemed removed from the slide. There was an early Pant chance but there was bravado too – from 24/4 where else to go? Somewhat fitting, they both made 32, and seemed unfazed by the slide. When Pant fell, though not before hitting four 4s, going for his first 6, he was miffed. The frame captured Pandya’s expression – it didn’t give anything away. Pandya was as far removed from it as later, Dhoni would be from balls wide outside off.

What else is there to do but to remove yourself from the slide?

As for Jadeja, he was not just removed from the slide, he appeared removed from the game and himself. He was, by all accounts, having an out of body experience.

It took India’s 8th match in the World Cup to play Jadeja. This was only his second match in the tournament. In the warm up match against New Zealand, when India was 39/4, Jadeja came in at 8, smashing 54(50) that day.

If there was any pressure, Jadeja had transferred it on to commentary. Reminders of his First Class triple hundreds were oozing out of the box. FC reminders that would’ve made Gavaskar proud on his birthday.

From Day 1, everything Jadeja had done was nothing short of an eloquent cricketing matrimonial – Attractive fielder, highly qualified bowler and now – changes not just his complexion but the match’s too.

There was freedom that was far removed from the situation. Dhoni at the other end was doing his usual Dhoni things, also far removed from the situation. Slide? What slide?

Jadeja was swiveling at the crease, Jadeja was coming down the wicket, Jadeja was making India dream again. Jadeja had banished the slide.

In the end, he scored more than anyone, faster than anyone. There was audacity moulded with thought – there was on display skill, intent, bravado and with it fortune too.

Jadeja made the match worthy. He raised the semi final. He raised himself, his swordsmanship. Jadeja had taken his hurt and made it into something compelling.

Jadeja wanted to be more than a perception. He counter attacked a comment as much as the Kiwis.

And while we may not blame anybody, will it be incorrect to thank someone?

If one man’s counter to a perceived ridicule was such, just imagine what fruit a word tearing into the other ten would have borne?

First published here


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