Just as Andre Russell hit the ball into oblivion, he set off in wild celebrations. The entire Wankhede was stunned. They didn’t know what had struck them. They were in a shock. There was dead silence. It wasn’t meant to end like this. India had put up a competitive total on the board thanks to another classic Virat Kohli knock; they had sent the dangerous Chris Gayle — who got a century in his last innings at the same ground — back in the hut in just the second over of the innings. They had reduced the West Indies to 19/2 within three overs and still they managed to lose the match.
How did this happen was the question uppermost in everyone’s mind.
A couple of minutes after the match, the crowd gathered their senses to show good sportsman spirit and applauded the West Indies as the Calypso Boys erupted in a jig on the field. But still, the question on who to blame for the loss lingered on.
The blame game had already begun during the innings break as social media went crazy over Rahane’s 35-ball 40. Many thought he was too slow.
“If we lose today then we don’t have anyone to blame except Rahane,” read one tweet. There were many others that flew in. After India lost the match, there was a sense of vindication. The debate over whether India really lost because of Rahane generated a lot of heat. Comments such as “Rahane was the main culprit... whatever u say” were the order of the moment.
Well, let’s get this first. India’s openers had heavily flopped in this tournament. In the four matches prior to this, they had scored a combined of 88 runs at an average of 11 and strike rate of 85.43. So there was desperate need for change. Coming into the tournament, they were heavily dependent on the top-order to deliver the goods but with the openers failing, India were devoid of solid platforms and most of the pressure was dumped on Virat Kohli with a shaky middle and lower middle order too. Their Powerplay scores read: 29/4, 23/3, 42/1, 37/2. They were scoring at just 5.45 runs per over in that period. The need of the hour was a steady opening stand. So Dhoni brought in Rahane in place of the misfiring Shikhar Dhawan who had scored just 43 runs from four matches at a strike rate of 82.69. There was a need for a calm head up the order.
Rohit and Dhawan are almost similar in nature — flamboyant and aggressive. India needed someone who could anchor the innings. And Rahane did just that. India’s score in the PowerPlay read 55/0 after 6 overs. The important thing here is that Rahane’s calmness gave Rohit the licence to go for his shots. In the last match, Rohit had gone into a shell and that brought about his downfall. Here he was the main aggressor, scoring 41 of the 55 runs put up on board. Rahane had 12 off 11 balls.
What the Mumbai batsman also did was push Rohit to take those sharp twos. He was brilliant with his running. Rohit is not known to be the fastest runner in the squad but the pair ran well and showed good urgency. After Rohit departed, Rahane again played second fiddle to Kohli who had gotten off to a nervy start having survived two run out chances. Rahane never got bogged down. He kept rotating the strike. There were 18 singles and seven twos in his innings.
As statistician Rajneesh Gupta pointed out — Dhawan had played out 60% dot balls in this tournament, while Rahane played out just 23%. There were just eight dots among the 35 deliveries that Rahane faced. He set the platform for Kohli & co to flourish and Kohli, in the form of his life, played another magical knock to help India post a competitive total.
— Rajneesh Gupta (@rgcricket) March 31, 2016
“Shikhar has been batting quite well but he’s not been able to convert. Rahane is calm and composed and knows his responsibility in the team,” Dhoni said in the post-match media conference. “This is the kind of innings that is expected of him. He isn’t someone who is going to bat like Rohit or Virat. If you see, someone who is orthodox can give us that platform from where we can launch and score those extra 10-15 runs in the last few overs. Both of them are very good but it’s just that Shikhar wasn’t able to convert his starts. I’m glad that after facing a few deliveries he (Rahane) got a start and did what he does best,” Dhoni added.
At no point did the Wankhede crowd gave an indication of being restless or impatient while Rahane was batting. He got a warm reception when he walked off.
The fault didn’t lie with Rahane’s innings, the fault lay with India’s indisciplined bowling. They had reduced the West Indies to 19/2 in three overs. Gayle was back in the pavilion and so was Samuels. This was their chance to put pressure and choke them up but what followed was a flurry of half volleys and innocuous short balls along with some mediocre fielding and the inability to control their front foots which put them on the back foot.
Charles and Simmons had made sure West Indies weren’t bogged down after the departures of Gayle and Samuels. And in the seventh over, India had a chance to send back Simmons — who knew this venue really well having played for Mumbai Indians. Simmons swung at one outside off but got an outside edge, Bumrah pouched a brilliant diving catch at short third man. He celebrated as if this was his redemption song for that drop against Bangladesh off Ashwin. This time he wasn’t at fault but it was Ashwin as the umpire checked for a front foot no ball and replays showed he had overstepped. Lifeline No.1 for Simmons.
Hardik Pandya was brought into bowl and he kept on banging it short. Charles and Simmons kept pulling them with ease. Charles, in particular, was severe on Pandya, hitting him for 21 runs from 13 balls with three fours and a six. Ravindra Jadeja never got his line or length right. Most were half-volleys wide outside off, others were looseners and half-trackers. From the 9th to 13th over, Pandya and Jadeja, who were bowling in tandem conceded, 44 runs.
It took Kohli’s ‘divine’ intervention to break the 97-run stand as he sent Charles home. The Wankhede crowd that had gone restless came to life. With 73 needed off 36 balls, Dhoni brought back Pandya and it proved to be costly. Russell took 10 runs off his first three deliveries with a four and a six. Three balls later, Pandya darted in a high full toss and Simmons slapped it straight to extra cover. Indian fans erupted and went in shock in quick succession when it emerged that it was Pandya who has now overstepped. Another lifeline for Simmons. He added insult to injury with a six off the free hit. 18 runs off the over and the reprieve turned it around for West Indies.
Bumrah missed his lines on rare occasions and the West Indies batsmen made it a point to punish him every time he fluffed. The pressure was palpable as India conceded an overthrow too. Early in the innings Ashwin had brought back memories of Sourav Ganguly while fielding at short fine leg and running behind the ball instead of diving which had prompted a fan to shout ‘Abey gir’ (please fall or dive) while he kept running behind the ball.
With 20 needed off 12, Dhoni brought back Jadeja. Nothing changed — half volleys outside off. Russell hammered a six and a four to virtually take the game away from India. He powered then into final in style with a four and a six off Kohli in the last over before setting off in wild celebrations.
Simmons was on 18 when Ashwin bowled that no ball to give him a reprieve. He was on 50 when Pandya overstepped to give him a second lifeline. He remained unbeaten on 81 off 50 balls with seven fours and five sixes. He was particularly severe on Jadeja hitting him for 33 off 15 balls with three fours and two sixes.
Simmons agreed in the post-match media conference that the two no balls proved to be crucial, “Obviously, I think that it was swinging our way. It would have been different if I was out, and a new batsman came in. You never know what could’ve happened.”
Dhoni too echoed similar sentiments, “The only thing I’m disappointed about are the two no-balls,” he said.
“I feel that the point at which the no-balls were bowled were quite crucial. If we had got those wickets, we would have got the opportunity to bowl at one or two overs of the spinners and get away with them without giving too many runs. Nobody wants to bowl a no-ball so I don’t want to be too tough on them but when there is pressure you have to be at your best,” he added.
Jadeja ended with an economy rate of 12, Pandya with 10.75, Bumrah 10.50. Jadeja and Pandya’s combined figures read: 8-0-91-0. It was intriguing that Dhoni gave just two overs to Ashwin. Dhoni did mention that dew factor played an important role but you need to have some faith in your No.1 spin bowler, even though he had gone for 10 an over. Dhoni seemed to have lost that confidence in Ashwin. In the post-match analysis, Sehwag said: “Had Dhoni bowled Ashwin’s full quota, the game would have changed.”
India played out just 26 dot balls while West Indies played out 47, almost double. They still went on to win. The difference between the two sides was the boundary balls that their respective bowlers gave away. India hit 17 fours and four sixes while West Indies hit 20 fours and 11 sixes.
— Rajneesh Gupta (@rgcricket) March 31, 2016
On a humid night at Wankhede, where India and West Indies toyed with the fans’ nerves, it was comeback man Rahane who delivered what his job demanded but the bowlers failed to.