In boxing parlance, India today had England on the mat & were ready to deliver the knockout punch when the England innings started. It was England, however, who won the bout on points. Don’t let the result fool you. It was well & truly an England victory.
The day couldn’t have started off better for India with Sehwag getting a boundary off the first delivery for the second match in a row (albeit, a streaky one) & Sachin whetting the appetite of zillions with another masterful century. Then came the first & biggest turning point of the match.
In what can only be described as slightly nervy, mostly lacking in common sense, and hardly the stuff of champions that they’re touted as in most circles, the Indian tail not just refused to wag but was also adamant on committing suicide. One particular moment towards the end of India’s innings was symptomatic of India’s display. In what turned out to be the last delivery of India’s innings, Zaheer & Munaf in their zealousness to take 2 runs forgot that they need to complete the 1st run first! Munaf forgot to place his bat inside the crease for the first run; Zaheer was run out attempting the 2nd run; India got zero runs from that delivery & they didn’t get to face the last delivery of their allotted overs because they were all out! That’s India for you – all of it – in just one delivery.
England, though didn’t come out of it totally unscathed themselves. First, their bowling was wayward until they redeemed themselves somewhat with their fine death-overs bowling, aided no doubt by sloppy Indian batting. But most inexcusable of all was their almighty choke (South Africa, you have company!) in almost snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. From an unlose-able 278/2 after 41 overs with a batting powerplay, 9 overs, and 8 wickets in which to get 61 runs, the Indians looked gone for all money.
There however was one last twist in the tale. Step forward Zaheer. In a brilliant display of conventional & reverse swing, he took out the well-set Strauss & Bell off successive balls & then removed Paul Collingwood next over. England inexorably went on to lose 6 wickets for 44 runs in 7 overs.
Not until Patel & Chawla, who bowled the last 3 overs, reduced the rest of India into nail-biting gut-wrenching wrecks, did England get a foot back in the door & rather than slam it shut in India’s face they just
gently tapped it; & it was India this time who escaped with salvaging a point.
Statistically, the match ended in a tie & India salvaged a point, but it should by rights have been 2 & any psychological points that you get from knocking the opposition out cold. More than the 2 points though, India will rue the fact that they let England get this close in the first place.
That one run that Zaheer & Munaf couldn’t complete came back to haunt India in the end. Something eerily similar happened in the 1987 World Cup, also hosted by India. India was playing Australia then in their first match of the tournament & 2 runs were added to the Australian total at the innings break because one of the sixes hit during the innings was wrongly signaled as four. India went on to lose that match by 1 run & ultimately their campaign ended in the semis.
Then, as now, the format was skewed in favour of fancied teams. Then, as now, the result did not matter whether or not India made it to the knockout stages. What mattered then & what matters now is the incredible lift in morale that teams gain from winning these close matches. India didn’t have the stomach then for a big match after losing that opening game. They haven’t lost now, but it almost feels like one. Do they have the stomach for the big match now? Only time will tell.