Almost a spoilsport

ICC believed that it would be the final Champions Trophy.

And yet, an almost complete hash was made of it.

2002 had taught the organisers about the perils of rain, even extra days are sometimes not enough to thwart the elements.

Yet, in a bid to make the event crisp and cracking, it was almost rendered a soggy washout.

The final, played in the midst of the notoriously fickle English June, had no reserve day.

And hence, although MS Dhoni and Alastair Cook tossed the specially minted coin early in the day, the skies opened up and it threatened to end up as the second washed out title round in the short history of the tournament.

Asked to bat on a wicket that had sweated under the covers for long, the Indians remained cooped up in the Edgbaston dressing room. They had won everything on the way. But now, at the threshold of the pivotal contest, they were kept waiting.

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Rain splashed through Birmingham. The huge contingent of Indian fans sat huddling under umbrellas, sheets and all sorts of makeshift shelters. And they cursed the unavailability of a reserve day. There was a massive number of local expats, scooped out of the enormous diaspora in the city.  Others had taken the train from other parts of England. Some had flown in, from every part of Europe, and some even from India.

The rain was a menace for all these people. A real, heartbreaking menace.

For England, it was perhaps an opportunity. If play got underway their bowlers could use the interruption and the atmosphere to their benefit. If the match was washed out, at last, they could claim to have won a 50-over global tournament, albeit shared with India.

However, when play was finally possible, and just 16 balls remained to be bowled, it did seem that there would be no need for England to achieve such feats by proxy. Only 20 needed to be scored, at least four of those balls to be bowled by a bowler at the end of his tether, tottering at the brink of mindlessness. Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara were striking the ball with great flamboyance, and they had already added 64 runs in less than 9 overs. Even the eternal cool of MS Dhoni’s seemed to be tested.

But that is getting ahead of the story.

Stumbling act

At long, long last, the rain relented in the afternoon. Inspections were carried out, arrangements were changed. The end was extended by an hour, to 8:30 PM. The game could get underway at 4:20. The clouds that remained had been bleached white by the continuous rainfall. Blue patches had appeared late in the day but soothed the eye and heart.

Curiously for a tournament under threat because of the sweeping effect of T20Is, the match was reduced to 20 overs a side.

And on a wicket that proved dicey and unsuitable for quick scoring, the Indians stuttered and stumbled from the start.

Rohit Sharma was bowled by one from Stuart Broad that came in, and the players rushed in for another frustrating rain break with the score on 27 for 1.

Shikhar Dhawan punched back with gusto when the game resumed. Broad pitched short and he got under it, slapping it over the third man for six. When James Treadwell came on to send down his off-breaks, he swept him in front of square and then pulled out the reverse sweep fine to the third man fence.

But then he hit a slower from Bopara to extra cover. A collapse was thus triggered and even the most optimistic Indian fan in that huge crowd remained skeptical about the team’s chances for the rest of the match.

Dinesh Karthik top-edged a sweep, sending Treadwell steepling to the skies, and it descended into the hands of Morgan at square leg. And then Bopara, making a sudden discovery of his golden arm, struck twice in the same over. Suresh Raina heaved him straight to Cook at mid-on. Following that came the biggest blow of all. Dhoni, facing his fourth ball, uppercut a short one down the throat of third man.

As the placid captain made his way back, his face registered disappointment, India stood at 66 for 5 after 13. It was not what the great support had assembled to witness.

But that Indian team was a resilient team. They had played out of their skins even as cricket and cricketers had been roasted for the past few months in their country.

There was Virat Kohli’s assuring excellence at one end. And at the other emerged the ever-useful form of Ravindra Jadeja. A recovery was constructed, brief but brilliant.

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Under all the pressure in the world, Kohli unleashed that special cover drive. That’s when I knew I’d have my pointsbet first deposit bonus redeemed, for I’d wagered obviously on the Indian team. Bopara might have picked up three wickets, Kohli seemed to say, but he was still far from a good bowler.  To underline this, he picked up Bopara’s slower two balls later and swept him for four. At the other end, Jadeja heaved Treadwell over midwicket for a boundary.

It continued in the same vein for a while. Kohli drove Tim Bresnan past mid-wicket. He followed it up by pulling him and steering to point. The two men, lightning quick, scampered through for twos.

And then Jonathan Trott dropped Kohli at short third man. Broad the bowler looked on in disbelief. Three balls later, Broad looked daggers at Trott once again, but the ball had not really gone near him. Kohli had dispatched him over deep square for six. “Look what you have done,” Broad’s eyes seemed to tell Trott.

The very next ball, the first of a fresh over from Jimmy Anderson, was driven by Jadeja over long-off for six. A competitive total was still on the cards with the batsmen going hammer and tongs. But then Kohli tried to clear the ground and found Bopara in the deep.

Jadeja continued to hit, steering Anderson for four and clubbing Bresnan over long on for six. It was his 25-ball 33 that allowed India to end with 129 for 7. A required rate of 6.50. Not quite what they had in mind as they had started out. Cook’s men walked in with the satisfaction of having done a good job.

The climax

But there was a lot to play for. And the Indian attack, a young and vibrant one, was not going to give in easily.

It was clear when Umesh Yadav got one to hasten and catch the shoulder of Cook’s bat. A tumbling Ravichandran Ashwin took a good catch at first slip.

But then Trott came into essay a lovely on-drive and a steer for two boundaries in an over. The fifth over saw Dhoni introducing Jadeja, in the sixth Ashwin. Two best bowlers, the spinners. He knew one had to keep taking the wickets.

And the spinners struck. In the fifth, seventh and eighth overs. The Indian skipper, with his quicksilver hands behind the wicket, had a lot to do with it.

Ashwin saw Trott coming at him and floated it down the leg side. Wide was called but the superb Dhoni had whipped off the bails.

In Ashwin’s next over young Joe Root top edged a pull and Ishant Sharma at deep backward square held on as the skier plummeted from the darkening Birmingham skies.

And then Ian Bell, who had just reverse swept a boundary, tried to drive Jadeja inside out, to the off-side. A blurry nano-second of Dhoni’s glovework and the decision was being referred to the television umpire. It was touch and go. Bell had grounded his feet but was he on the line. The button was pressed in favour of India.

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46 for 4 in the 9th over. England were struggling. It was almost impossible to score off Ashwin.

Morgan and Bopara. The first with every ability to change the match with a few strokes. The second having a splendid personal match. Bopara had already taken 3 for 20 and a catch. Now he settled into a valiant partnership with the Irishman.

The singles and twos were taken for a while and then the boundary was found. Morgan drilled Ishant and Raina to the cover fence, and with the asking rate shooting up Bopara sent Ishant over mid-wicket for six.

82 for 4 after 15. Dhoni was still attacking. Raina was bowling his off-spinners and Ashwin stood at slip. Morgan pulled out his famed reverse-sweep, over short third-man. 8 runs off the over.

The next over from Jadeja got them 12. All to Bopara, including a cracking sweep over square leg for six.

28 required from 3 overs. Ishant was entrusted with a vital over. Ashwin, figures 3-1-6-2 till now, held back for later.

But would it get that far? To allow Ashwin another over? Off the second ball, an atrocious short delivery on the leg stump, Morgan swung over fine leg for six. The tall, lean fast-medium bowler looked on with uncomprehending eyes, his mane flowing in characteristic unruly disarray. The following ball was a big wide. And the one after that barely pitched on the wicket. He seemed to have lost it totally.

So 16 balls to score 20 runs, Ishant Sharma in a panic attack, Morgan and Bopara with already 64 added between them in 52 balls.

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And now Ishant, vilified by millions within the space of a few balls, produced the bravest of deliveries. Fingers rolled across the seam, the slower came floating widish outside the off-stump. Morgan, adrenaline surging, had picked his spot. He tried to hit him over mid-wicket. The bat turned in his hand as the ball struck the bottom. The ball, hardly timed, flew to the edge of the circle where Ashwin held on.

The batsmen had crossed. Bopara had the strike. Ishant ran in as Jos Buttler stood at the non-striker’s end. The ball was short. Bopara, who could do no wrong today, struck it with the middle of the bat. It went like a rocket to square leg. And Ashwin, almost hiding behind the umpire, latched on. His third catch and the match had turned on its head.

The last two overs. Bresnan and Buttler both great strikers of the ball. Jadeja and Ashwin to be the bowlers. Powerplay was on.

The second ball, floated up and did not turn. Buttler’s huge heave did not connect. The middle and leg were struck.

112 for 7. 18 needed off 10 balls. The equation had done a turncoat.

Two balls later … Bresnan swept, missed, the ball struck the pad and a huge appeal split the air. But the batsman was charging for a leg bye, and Rohit was swooping in from cover. The throw was returned, and Dhoni, ice-cold, broke the wicket. 113 for 8. 17 needed off 8.

Two singles and Broad had the strike for the last over. To be bowled by Ashwin. Figures till now 3-1-6-2. 15 runs needed. 14 for a super over.

The first ball, a swing and a miss, stumps broken by Dhoni’s lightning gloves. Question asked to the third umpire. All this went down as a dot on the scoring sheet.

The second ball. Broad plonked his great stride forward and slogged it to square leg for four. Could this still be done? 11 needed off 4 balls. Broad was known to be a fantastic striker of the ball.

The third ball. He could just about connect with the bottom of the bat. A single was run. That made it difficult. 10 off 3. And James Treadwell had the strike. Three centuries under his belt in First-Class cricket, but not really known to be a great hitter.

The ball was short, Treadwell hit it past cover. A dive was made and the traveling ball stopped by an outstretched hand. No boundary. The batsmen were scampering. The throw came in. Broad sprinted with his long legs. The decision was referred but he was in. 2 runs. 8 off 2 required.

Ashwin ran in again, all guile. The ball was shortish. The batsman clubbed it over the bowler, but there was a man running in from long on. Once again the two Englishmen sprinted desperately. Two more. The last ball remained. 6 runs to get for the tournament. Treadwell needed to hit Ashwin out of the ground. Behind the wicket a wry smile on Dhoni’s face.

The canny Indian off-spinner ran in for the last time. He almost stopped on the way, and carried on. The ball was short. Treadwell went for a mighty swing. He missed. Behind the wicket Dhoni could not really gather it. But it did not matter. It hit his glove and rolled to the short third man. But Dhoni was already leaping in delight. The man who had hit the winning six two years ago in the World Cup final and had just flashed a tiny smile before pulling out a stump. That man was jumping for joy like a delighted kid.

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Under Dhoni India had won the World T20, the World Cup had marched to the top of the ICC  Test Rankings. This one trophy had remained elusive. And he had won it.

Indian cricket had been down in the morass of spot-fixing and betting controversies. The flames of scandal and slander had singed many and were on the verge of tarnishing many a famous name through real or spurious associations.  Accusations were rife in the press.  Mahendra Singh Dhoni had been painted in dubious colours because of captaining Chennai Super Kings. The team owners or their relations were discovered to have links with shady bookmakers. And then Dhoni had been made the target of thousands of barbs of criticism for remaining silent in the face of questions on the betting and fixing controversies. He had been roasted in the media.

Hordes of people had sharpened their fangs in the aftermath of the Indian Premier League (IPL) scandal, ready to snap at the captain’s seemingly unperturbed heels. His employment by India Cement had been brought under scrutiny. His supposed part ownership of Rhiti Sports had been scrutinised under malicious microscopes.

And Dhoni, his customary calm fascinatingly utilised to guard against this savage intensity of criticism, had taken the team to England. It was a young side in a country where the ball swung ominously and supposedly exposed the poor technique of the Indian batsmen brought up on instant cricket. In the wake of the IPL scandals, not much had been expected of the team.

And they had triumphed. Undefeated in the tournament. Performing near perfection.

On the other side, England’s shelves in Global ODI tournaments continued to remain empty.

A riveting end to an excellent championship, even after the disruption of rain. Supposed to have been the last Champions Trophy ever. But with this abridged classic, there were new thoughts on the horizon.

There were soon the inevitable talks of one more tournament. The one which we are seeing now.

Brief Scores


India 129 for 7 in 20 overs  (Shikhar Dhawan 31, Virat Kohli 43, Ravindra Jadeja 33*; Ravi Bopara 3 for 20) beat England 124 for 8 in 20 overs (Eoin Morgan 33, Ravi Bopara 30) by 5 runs

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