The Mahabharata had a character called Abhimanyu-son of the warrior prince Arjuna. Abhimanyu was known for his prowess in slicing through army formations, but had an Achilles heel that let him down in the war. He did not quite know to end his way through, out of an army formation. He basically did not finish well if we could say so, keeping the context on cricket. Talk about finishing well, the 90’s generation would auto point their memories to the unassuming man from New South Wales called Michael Bevan. The current generation would just look at M. S. Dhoni after his numerous heroics, shepherding his side home in tricky chases. Yesterday, the 26th of March was one such day when Dhoni turned Abhimanyu. M .S. Dhoni waited sagely and patiently for an onslaught that finally never came.
The world over Indians at corporate work places wisely chose M.S.Dhoni over M S Excel, and waited like men in an extended foreplay session for the final orgasm. The wait was filled with anxiety. The anxiety would often be forgotten when the telecaster showed stats of M.S.Dhoni’s more-than-Bradmanesque average when it comes to 15 successful chases for India in the 50-over-format. One also took comfort in the fact that the number was more than 15, if you took his exploits for CSK in the IPL. The comfort lasted a couple of dot balls and a single, and evaporated when the boundary drought for the over manifested. The mind was put to stress between the anxiety and the comfort every single over since Dhoni strode out to bat.
Wasn’t this part of the package we sign up, when we have Dhoni at the crease? The orgasmic joy of heaving out carbon dioxide from your lungs, when Dhoni hits the winning runs has long trumped over the ensuing anxiety that leads up to the moment of victory. So with that script in mind, most of us fans waited. When he came out, we knew we would be treated to a ‘helicopter ride’ some time soon, given we had a 300 plus chase. We were prepared for a warm up run on the tarmac. We were basically okay till Dhoni’s mind algorithm decided it was right to unleash the ‘helicopter’ into orbits around the SCG. We waited through him nudging Maxwell around cover, we waited when he inside edged Faulkner to fine leg for a single, and we waited when he flicked Watson around point for a single. We felt we were on an indefinite wait. The ‘helicopter’ wasn’t interested in taking off just yet or announcing any intent yet.
Or maybe it was coming. 8 balls into Dhoni’s innings, Faulkner bowled one short, and Dhoni tried pulling it and it flew in the air, just short of Warner guarding deep square leg. Didn’t Dhoni see Warner? Did Dhoni play that shot out of frustration? Did the pressure get to the ‘Iceman’? 10 minutes and 2 overs later, Dhoni attempted a shot to Deep Midwicket off Hazelwood, but the leather chose to slice the wood, and travel to third man, short of the fielder. Dhoni didn’t even seem to be in the position to remote control his club of wood to dictate where the leather should travel. It was if captain Marvel was losing his super powers, by every passing over. Somewhere you knew things were falling apart, but with MS, you never quite know what to expect. They say good things happen to people who wait, and we’ve remembered that fable largely due to MS Dhoni. So I am back to watching and hoping, that the helicopter would take off.
30 overs had passed, so had some hopes of winning, and Hazelwood had been bowling like a precision motor guided robot trained to drop leather canons on a pitch with damning regularity. He started his run up and bowled a full-length delivery, which was muscled with brute power, so much that Dharmasena’s reflexes saved him from dropping dead had the ball hit him. 3 months ago on the same square, Phil Hughes got hit, and life’s never been the same again, with the impending fear of a cricket ball heading in the direction of a human. A dull afternoon just got its redbull. A helicopter grounded, just whirred its engine. The hope that was going away was paused and asked to return back. Just so that hope stays there and the helicopter engine makes some more noise, Dhoni responded with an encore off the last ball of the over, slicing a boundary over slips. People, who were on Cricinfo and Cricbuzz, probably were heading over to the nearest TV around. People at smaller tea shops listening to in radio, huddled closer, with the magic belief that they should get as close as possible to the action and stay put that way. Maybe some one at Times Now was postponing the hash tag of #ShamedinSydney releasing on their channel. Maybe!
The overs between 31 and 40 were probably going to set the tone for the chase. India were in a better position after 30 overs in the 2003 World Cup final, and wanted to maybe evaluate the chase after the 40th over. After the 40th over, they were with Sir Garfield Sobers in the presentation ceremony on a rainy evening at the Wanderers. Maybe Dhoni wanted to really have a chance of India chasing it and not throw it away early. He was content meeting Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc’s thunderbolts with mild taps into the 30-yard circle for singles, maintaining his close-to-run-a-ball good boy image, while Rahane was soaking in pressure with every dot ball that he faced. Once Rahane went, one imagined Jadeja and Dhoni would go after the bowling. Yorkers, Bouncers and Length balls were like little walls that prevented Dhoni from jumping over. There was no chance of building momentum. Dhoni was trying to run a marathon race with hurdles every few metres. It looked like the frustration boiled over and Dhoni was intent playing the singles and was betting on chasing at more than 15 an over in the last 10. This was either going to end up as the tamest chase that never got off, or the greatest act since Houdini.
The time to reach the destination was getting closer, and the helicopter was still on the tarmac. Would we even have a ride today? We reached the 40th over, being 195/5. The prelude to the show was still on. The main show was yet to start. The batting powerplay was over. Two balls into the last 10 overs, M.S.Dhoni pulled a ball high in the air, with the top edge of the bat off Hazelwood, landing right in the zone where Michael Clarke was patrolling. That instant the ball lobbed up, and Dhoni’s face was uneasy, fans knew that the end was near. The helicopter was going to be grounded even before it started. Across the world at that instant, all breaths into the lungs were being paused, till the moment that they didn’t want to see, was shown. Brands were edgily worried that in that one moment, all their remaining ads would be served on switched off television sets. For example the mind numbingly Lloyds’s Air conditioners wouldn’t be able to put the KKG number ad for the 237th time. A second, which seemed like an hour passed as slow as we perceived it. Michael Clarke grassed the chance, and Indians made their decibel levels a notch higher celebrating the missed chance. Maybe the helicopter needed just this to get started. Did Michael Clarke just drop the World Cup? How much ever high the Indian decibels could be, they just could not ask that “Steve Waugh-ed” question, purely because of the runs-balls equation, being lopsidedly in favour of Australia, with still 133 required of 57 balls. Tough even by IPL standards on a flat track.
Four more balls, and a few singles later, Dhoni tried to steal what he was genuinely struggling to get. A single. Yes. Not a four or a six. India were now, struggling to get singles, and prevent dot balls. Steve Smith pounced on this weak moment of indecision and had his aim at the stumps, reminding a nation of a billion and more, that defeat was now writ largely, despite M.S.Dhoni in the middle. Ravi Ashwin was coming into bat and his wife tweeted that the World Cup was over for India. Maybe some section of fans knew that lump-in-the-throat moment had arrived. I was still hoping that some frenzy of balls-over-the-ropes could restore confidence.
One ball, and 3 minutes later, the engine whirred again. 2 full-length deliveries outside off stump, and that very instant a down-the-wicket Dhoni, had me and my friends gasping for breath and the smiles were back. The t20 warrior had come out swinging and how. Could we have 4 more in 4 balls? The skeptics said those 2 sixes were a tad too late. The helicopter engine was again started, but the noise of the chopper soon was subdued into silence. 8 balls and 6 singles later, the frustration now had reached a crescendo. The kind of crescendo, when a beaming Ravi Shastri would have said “Something’s gotta give now”. Great fielding was blocking Dhoni’s singles, and tight bowling was blocking big hits. He decided to channel his frustrations in taking a single out of nowhere again, this time to Maxwell at midwicket, and when the throw hit the stumps, and the red lights glowed, it felt like being Monica Seles at Hamburg. Stabbed with the knowledge that it was all over. The world was collapsing. The helicopter’s wings fell off. The next few moments were to be spent staring into the oblivion, swallowing the bitter pill that the World cup was over.
As Dhoni trudged back, his forlorn look and the needless run out, took memories back by 19 years to the day Javed Miandad was run out by Ajay Jadeja in the epic Quarter final clash at Bangalore. Karma comes a full circle. Now, I was feeling the pain of watching a warrior walk back vanquished, being slain by the youthful energy of the next generation. Jadeja to Javed back then in 1996, Maxwell to Dhoni now in 2015. The dreams that 70 wickets in 7 games had brought about came crashing. A force so strong, that we couldn’t get over the line had halted the dreams that 7 consecutive wins brought. The dreams were halted because we met reality.
In life’s dying moments, truth has a way to stare at your face. Its upto us to stay in the fantasy and fade away or see the truth and fade away. The truth was that India’s plan A was always around getting their top 5 batsmen get a huge score and auto-pilot their way to a 300 plus total This was essential to them getting their bowling right, since our tail began early. Their plan B, just in case the top order ran into rough weather, was to have their lower middle order bat out overs and go for the kill. They did it with élan against West Indies and Zimbabwe, but dropped catches and poor depth beyond the opening bowlers for the opposition helped India. The smaller ground at Auckland also helped. At the SCG, there were no freebies.
India were up against possibly the best attack, and once India were grounded with 4 wickets down, there was little chance to recover with a tail that starts early at 9, in the age of power all-rounders batting till number 10. M.S.Dhoni mentioned this very fact at the press conference. Maybe he knew it earliest among all Indians that the helicopter was most probably to be grounded for the day. As much as he tried starting the helicopter, it stayed grounded. Maybe the helicopter was never meant to take off. Maybe Abhimanyu got into the battle zone knowing he won’t come a victor. Maybe, we never would know, if Dhoni knew it that the ‘helicopter’ was going to be grounded even before it planned to fly.
Photo Courtesy: CricketCountry.com