MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav must have kept the Pakistan Twitter accounts busy with conspiracy theories as they dawdled around at the end but Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma would know now that their work would be cut out in the future chases. That they can t pass the baton and watch. That one of them has to stay till the end.
It s good for India that this loss happened now. The listlessness in the end of the chase. The stutter after Sharma fell. Now, they know what the lower order is capable of, especially after Hardik Pandya falls. Anything good from here on from the lower order can be seen as a bonus. The pressure of expectation is off them and, who knows, they might just revel in it.
The responsibility comes back to the top three, though. The worry before the start of the tournament was what would they do if something likes this happens in a knockout match and they are surprised. Now at least, they know.
Chasing 338 wasn t easy, especially when India s problems are multi-fold: KL Rahul at the top, and the middle-order muddle. There were three decisive moments. When Kohli fell in the 29th over, India were 146 for 2, 192 runs adrift of the target but Sharma was still in.
Sharma fell in the 37th over, India on 198 for 3 and 140 runs away. Game was over really but then there was Hardik Pandya, stirring some hope in Indian fans with his hitting. He played really well, picking gaps, not slogging yet getting the runs. But once he fell in the 45th over, that was that.
Rishabh Pant s inclusion was good. He didn t set the world on fire but would have learnt a thing or two about World Cup pressure and how to pace himself better. There were a couple of moments when it seemed he had it together but then he would slip into a rash of questionable shot selections. Sharma was magnificent in that partnership as the senior player.
One sensed he realised the importance of Pant, if not in this game, in the future ones at least. That for India to pull off chases like this, Pant needs to step up, because he can. Sharma was in his ear constantly in the middle of overs, at the end of them, during bat changes, and water-breaks. Hands on Pant shoulder, Sharma would talk. Talk and nod, and so it went on.
Sharma would perhaps be more disappointed with his own shot selection: It was a cross-batted slog but one can understand why he went for it. It was the first ball of Chris Woakes spell. Of all the bowlers out there, at that stage, it was Woakes who would have been easier for Sharma to hit. The pace on the ball that he likes.
Liam Plunkett had been picked solely for his ability to bowl a slew of cutters and take pace off the ball, which worked well on this track. Jofra Archer had already showed in the middle overs that he could slip in quite a few slower ones and that he doesn t just ride on his ego. Ben Stokes isn t easy to hit on this pitch and there was Mark Wood, but he had already bowled three overs in that spell.
Sharma realised he probably had just one more, and he had to go against Woakes. The asking rate was rising, and so he went. Edged and gone.
It was a good knock until then. Not because it was his most fluid but because it wasn t. Somehow, he couldn t get his timing going in the early overs and resorted to stuff he doesn t do usually. Like running down the track to seamers or moving to the off side.
Nothing worked. Kohli was beside him, egging him on, and at times almost prancing after Sharma hit a boundary or two. Sharma was less visibly charged but also went for a chat when Kohli did something amiss. Together they revived India after a sluggish start and gave England a scare.
Lucky with Kohli
England got lucky with the Kohli wicket. With the ball on a length and well outside off, Kohli went for a cut he plays at times neither horizontal nor a drive. And as it warmed backward point s palms, Kohli stood there, head down.
As much as it hurt India, it also allowed one to see what the others were capable of. Pant didn t quite do it but he must have learnt a lot from his effort in the chase. Mostly what not to do: don t panic-dash for non-existent singles, don t only rely on boundaries, don t just go for that leg-side pick-up shot off his hip. Nothing quite like a match situation to get more self-aware.
Pandya started well, getting into right positions to punch and fist but once the cutters and slower ones increased in frequency, he couldn’t coast along. He had to do something else, something different – slog basically and he holed out.
By the time the final 10 overs began, the pitch had started to slow up. Even Pandya struggled. Dhoni, of course, did. And conspiracy theorists began to have a field day. One of those days in Birmingham: England swung from deliriousness to worry before they smiled, India went from worry to relief and to a brief phase of joy before they gave up trying.