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Posted at: Jul 12, 2019, 8:17 AM; last updated: Jul 12, 2019, 8:17 AM (IST)AT THE WORLD CUP

A final fling

India needed a miracle, but MS Dhoni at No. 7 is not the man who could produce it
A final fling
Mahendra Singh Dhoni

Rohit Mahajan

Birmingham, July 11

‘Dhoni, Dhoni, Dhoni’, they shouted, the Indians in the stand a few metres to the left of the dressing room, as Mahendra Singh Dhoni walked out to try to revive the Indian innings. The shouts were ear-splitting, but Dhoni was deaf to them; the fans waved the Indian flag at him, they waved his own photographs at him, but he was blind to them. His jaw was set, his eyes grave and focussed into the middle distance. Just when he reached the rope to step into the field, Rishabh Pant reached the rope to step out of the field — Pant, the 21-year-old expected to replace the 38-year-old megastar Dhoni in the ODI team sometime in the near future, stepped aside respectfully and paused to make way for Dhoni.

Plodder

Sent in at No. 4, at 5/2, Pant had tried defence and offence. He had played a few handsome strokes, he had defended stoutly, he had been dropped on 18. He stuck around for 88 minutes; then a maiden from Mitchell Santner and a 1-run over from James Neesham made Pant edgy, itching for a boundary. Santner had bowled 10 balls without conceding a run; Pant had had it — on the 11th, he went for the big one, swinging his bat wildly across the line, to be caught at midwicket.

Then came Dhoni, India needing 169 runs, at 6.2 runs an over, to enter the final. The bowlers were on top, the wicket was slowish, the ball wasn’t coming on to the bat. Hardik Pandya was living dangerously at the other end. And hope lay with Dhoni — would he be able to guide Pandya, get Pandya to suppress his impetuosity?

Dhoni began to dead-bat the ball, dropping it around the wicket for ones or twos. Before and after Pant’s dismissal, in a spell of 10 overs, India got only 22 runs. Dhoni tried to hit a boundary or two — the man at cover prevented the boundaries, the second time with a fine dive. Dhoni now had 10 runs off 23 balls, without a four; Pandya was on 32 off 59, and the required run-rate had climbed to 7.40. Pandya decided he’d had enough — he wanted a six, he slogged across the line and sent the ball high on the on-side. Kane Williamson completed the catch. India were down and out at 92/6.

Almost a miracle

Then came India’s best time with the bat — Ravindra Jadeja began a stunning counterattack. As Williamson later noted, Jadeja seemed to be batting on quite another surface than the others. He hit the sixth ball he faced for a six; next over, Dhoni hit his first four, off the 33rd ball of his innings. Were India headed for a miracle?

That’s what the thousands of fans in the stands, and millions upon millions watching the match on TV, hoped. The thousands in the stands had been silenced by the early wickets; they had been reduced to cheering singles and wides, and booing appeals by the New Zealand bowlers. But as Jadeja attacked, they found their voice. Hope began to flicker back to life.

The two added 50 runs, then 100; Jadeja did most of the scoring — he made 77 off 59 and Dhoni 32 off 45 in their stand of 116, 7 runs coming through extras.

Yet the required rate was rising all the time: 37 needed off 18 balls at 12.33 an over. Dhoni wasn’t able to hit the boundaries; Jadeja had to take his chances, and he did hit out to a slower ball and was caught.

Next over first ball, Dhoni hit a six, only the second boundary of his innings, off the 70th ball he faced.

Then Dhoni was run out, going for the second run, having completed his 50 with the first run. The best runner among the two teams was, ironically, run out, by an inch, off a direct throw by Martin Guptill. That was that.

Dhoni walked out of the ground. He was sad, but didn’t show emotion. Curiously, the fans showered love on him, for leading India’s fightback. But Dhoni was stony-faced. His jaw was set. His eyes weren’t seeing. His ears weren’t listening. He was gone, perhaps for ever.

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