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Rohit Sharma seems to be holding back tears. Mohammed Siraj could not. Jasprit Bumrah, who did not let the results get in the way of his emotions, consoled him. KL Rahul was on his knees. Virat Kohli hides his face in his hat. Mohammed Shami returns in a sullen manner. The spirit left them.
It hurts so much. Not playing another World Cup will hurt even more. The next morning was even worse. It’s good that they are with their families. There is more to life than a World Cup. They will need that reinforced come Monday morning if there is no training to go. Those who don’t have families with them will need their teammates to do the strengthening for them.
That’s the cruel nature of a league-knockout hybrid format. It will hurt India more than any team that has been knocked out earlier in the tournament. That is the price you pay: to fight for the greatest happiness, you must risk the greatest sorrow. It hurts them more than it hurts anyone outside.
All the runs and wickets feel empty, like the stands emptied by people who have moved on to more mundane things like avoiding traffic jams. All the joy and noise they had bathed in for a month and a half suddenly disappeared into the void. Rohit has scored more runs than any other captain in a single tournament. Kohli has scored more than any batter ever. Shami is the highest wicket-taker despite missing four matches. These facts mean nothing to them at the moment.
However, in a world of cricket with so much professionalism, with the top three sides having equal access to knowledge, facilities, technology and talent, it is rare that you can beat the conditions. In the league match against Australia, India were on the right side of the conditions. In the end, they succumbed to the conditions.
An example of how much the pitch has changed is Marnus Labuschagne’s constant dabbing of the ball behind squares for singles; those easy singles are not yet available in India. The pitch was so slow in the afternoon that there was a risk involved in manipulating the bat face to take singles once the field spread and the ball became old. Kohli was dismissed exactly this way, on the inside edge by Pat Cummins to his stumps.
If Rohit’s words at the toss – he said he would take a bath first if he won it – actually reflect the thoughts of the team management (sometimes the captain’s words can only be a facade), it makes sense to say that India misread the conditions. That didn’t matter because Australia won the toss, and they decided to play a different game.
India expected the pitch to continue to be soft and offer more turn, which happened in the semi-final in Kolkata. They hope they can capitalize on the break in the Australian chase.
Australia went through new trends in Ahmedabad. During this World Cup, batting always became easier under the lights of Ahmedabad. They are confident of continuing the pattern, and expect a drier-than-usual pitch to be the toughest in the afternoon. They wanted to exploit India’s relative weakness on slower pitches.
The second ball he faced from Josh Hazlewood, who had dismissed him in those teams’ league meeting, Rohit charged him and he crashed through the covers for four. Rohit played the World Cup final as it should have been: another game. Throughout the tournament, he made it easy for India’s middle order by scoring faster than anyone else in the powerplay.
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More importantly Rohit has done it here. Kohli also started well. Seeing Shubman Gill out early, Kohli stuck to the team’s plan and turned down the risk-free game that gave him 700-plus runs in the tournament. He took a risk on the ninth ball he faced, dragging Mitchell Starc to wide mid-off. It wasn’t a perfect shot, but Kohli knew he had to get that chance during the powerplay.
With the ball, India have their first plans in place. They let Shami open the bowling because of his superior numbers against left-handed batters. They would have been surprised by the help Bumrah and Shami got but that zip and that movement came at a cost. In the evening, as it most noticeably happened for New Zealand against England in the tournament opener, the pitch got faster, and the ball a lot smaller.
When Australia weathered the early storm, when the movement stopped, only a genius delivery from Bumrah, a final reminder of the magic that India have produced through this tournament, earned them a wicket, that of Steven Smith with a vicious dip that was slow. The rest of the story we have heard before in many Indian chases. Would India have won the Wankhede 12 years ago without the dew?
Of course there is a review within the team. Maybe Rahul will be bolder in the middle. Kohli has the game to keep scoring at a strike rate of 80 to 90 without the need to hit boundaries. Kohli gets a delivery that goes high on the slow pitch and gets him big. On another day the inside edge may go past the leg stump. Not at this end.
Some have to take risks. It’s not rocket science why Rahul didn’t take the risk. India’s batting is shallow. I asked the coaches more than once in press conferences how the Indian batters reacted without any batting after the No. 7. Especially how their perception of risk has changed. The coaches said they don’t think about it anymore because the top seven will do the job. That was not how it looked at the Narendra Modi Stadium on Sunday.
They will look back at just nine attempts at the boundary off 180 legal balls in the middle overs and wonder if that was enough. It meant India scored just four boundaries outside the powerplay, the joint-fewest in any ODI since 2005. On a slower pitch bowlers have a greater margin for error, but only India can answer if they don’t. can try to push the bowlers on their lengths harder.
It’s not like not batting lower in the order is a selection error. What Shardul Thakur brought to No. 8 is mostly notional. There is no reason to believe that Siraj does not make up for that depth in what he brings to the ball compared to Thakur. The problem is, none of India’s first-choice bowlers have batted as well as, say, Starc and Pat Cummins.
You might look back and say that India’s fast bowlers might have won more cutters, maybe the spinners might have gone slower in the air to try to get the ball back because the pitch had something off it early. They may have relied more on Suryakumar Yadav and not promoted Ravindra Jadeja to face a poor match-up against spin, as a result of which the overs of 30 to 36 were pointless.
However, these are marginal issues. Had Rahul taken more risks, they might have gone but we know about it too. The players won’t say it, but the change in conditions from afternoon to night is the biggest deciding factor. It doesn’t make them chokers or less mentally strong or less brave. They have played so much cricket that they know they just need to roll with it.
And yet it is the hardest thing for them to do. They had known this feeling before, but it wasn’t easy. And this time they are closer than since 2011. To fight for the greatest happiness, you have to risk the greatest sorrow.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo