World T20: Magnificent Joe Root steals hearts in a thriller as Wankhede goes through a topsy-turvy ride - Firstpost
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World T20: Magnificent Joe Root steals hearts in a thriller as Wankhede goes through a topsy-turvy ride

Imagine you are visiting an amusement park for the first time. You’ve tried most of the rides but then your friend points towards a group of cars and asks you to try the ride with a cunning smile. You look a bit nervy but then he assures you “it’s fun.” You decide try it out anyway.

As the attendant straps the belt and lowers the bar over your lap you are nervous because your friend’s cunning smile reappears in front of your eyes. There is anxiety as the ride sets off, it’s slow and steady and it calms your nerves a bit. The confidence starts to creep in as the ride takes an uphill road. But then suddenly the speed increases, the real thrill begins as the car takes unexpected turns, slowly plodding up steep inclines and then suddenly dropping on the other side.

England players celebrate their stunning win over South Africa at the Wankhede on Friday. Solaris Images

England players celebrate their stunning win over South Africa at the Wankhede on Friday. Solaris Images

You curse your friend for that suggestion but slowly you start loving the non-stop heart-pounding exhilaration. Then finally it slows down and reaches the destination. You get down, greet your friend and say ‘Bastard, that was real fun!” and then set off for another round.

On Friday night, the Wankede crowd went through similar roller-coaster as a Joe Root masterclass helped England chase down second-highest total in T20I history in a thriller to stay alive in World T20. They entered the stadium supporting South Africa and left chanting England… England.

There was a real sense of excitement at the Wankhede before the start of the match. Three days ago, the stadium had witnessed the Gayle-storm. As they entered the stadium, there were high expectations of The AB de Villiers show. The huge support for the Proteas was palpable right from the start as fans were actively involved while the players played football near the Sunil Gavaskar stand.

There was hardly an eye on the England players who were practising on the opposite side of the ground.

The South Africa openers, Quinton De Kock and Hashim Amla, walked out to a warm reception. David Willey started off well conceding just two runs off the first over. De Kock, however turned on the heat in the second over as he hit a six and two fours in space of four balls off Topley. The crowd sprung to life and chants of ‘De Kock… De Kock’ echoed inside the stadium.

The assault went on. Amla, too, joined in. Remember this was the team that had absolutely pummeled India at this very ground five months ago in an ODI, scoring 438 runs with De Kock, Faf du Plessis and De Villiers scoring tons. And here they were getting all the love from the same crowd that was shell-shocked by the South African steamroller on that hot afternoon at Wankhede.

The Proteas started off in blistering fashion, they were racing along and it seemed to be falling apart for England when Reece Topley dropped a straight forward catch of Amla at mid-off off Moeen Ali which drew cheers from the crowd. South Africa had battered 83 runs in the powerplay. A fan murmured — Last time 50 over me 434 maare tha to aaj 20 over me 200 to pakka hai. (Last time they hammered 434 here, today they will at least score 200).

The De Kock chants went on as he reached half-century equaling South Africa’s record of fastest 50 by De Villiers, off 21 balls. But soon after, he departed. The crowd stood up to give him a standing ovation. Suddenly and surprisingly, they witnessed AB de Villiers walk out and the entire ground rose into the chants of ABD… ABD. They were happy to see him promoted in the batting order.

After just four balls, De Villiers launched a couple of sixes and the anticipation of the special ABD show grew. “Jeetega bhai jeetega… (Who will win)” prompted the stadium announcer and the crowd answered: South Africa jeetega (South Africa will). But there was stunned silence next ball as he sliced one into the hands of backward point off Adil Rashid.

Things slowed down in the middle overs before JP Duminy brought the crowd back to life with a 25-ball fifty as chants of JPD… JPD (in tone of ABD ..ABD) emanated from the stands.

South Africa posted a mammoth 229/4. A quick survey around the stadium during the innings break provided: ‘Absolutely no chance’, ‘it’s all over’ type of answers. The result was a forgone conclusion for most.

However, England openers started off the same way as their counterparts. Steyn got a rousing reception as he walked up to his marker. But there was a collective sigh of anguish when Kyle Abbott dropped Hales at short fine leg off the first ball Steyn bowled. That didn’t cost much as he didn’t last long. The crowd appreciated good shots from Jason Roy but cheered the England wickets even more.

Roy departed after a 21-ball 43 blitz. Joe Root arrived at the crease but his entry went almost unnoticed.

Amla’s brilliant fielding in the deep got huge cheers, Steyn and de Villiers were welcomed with chants at the boundary ropes. It was all about South Africa.

Root calmly sauntered to 12 off 11 balls but on the way saw Ben Stokes and captain Morgan walk back to the hut. Things had drastically slowed down and England had gone 31 balls without a boundary. Acceleration was the need of the hour and it was Root who broke the shackles two balls after Morgan’s dismissal as he pulled one over mid-wicket for a six off Duminy.

A slash over backward point off Morris in the next over got him into the groove. From then on, he along with Jos Buttler kept the scoreboard ticking with one odd boundary every over.

One look at Root and you wonder whether he is indeed made for the shortest format of the game where power and sheer brute force rules the roost. His is tall, lanky slim guy who doesn’t have the biceps of a Brendon McCullum or powerful build of a Chris Gayle. However, he gnaws away at the target, termite-like, slowly creating destruction without your even noticing it at first.

Here was Root, slowly and steadily racking up runs without taking undue risks; his first risky shot came in the 15th over when he reverse swept a low full toss off Morris over third man for a six to bring up his fifty. An astounded crowd gave him a warm round of applause as chants of ’Roooooooooooot....Roooooooot’ rang inside the stadium.

Still, the wicket of Buttler in the next over brought out another cheer. It was in the next over when Root lofted Abbott straight back onto the sightscreen for arguably the shot of the day that the crowd started getting into a dilemma — whether to cheer for South Africa, or England who are on the cusp of something historic. For the first time, they could sense an England victory with 32 needed off 22 balls. The North Stand even started chanting ‘Ganpati Bappa....Morya’ and Atta kasa vat tai?....Chhan chhan vat tai (How does it feel now? Very good, very good).

Abbott’s over yielded 14 runs and With 28 needed off 18 balls, the crowd was convinced that this was England’s game. There was a drastic turnaround as they started chanting England… England. They knew England have come very far now, and wanted them to taste an improbable victory. Further, Root almost killed the game off as he hit three fours off the Morris over to bring the equation down to 11 off 12 balls.

He, however, couldn’t finish the game off as he hit a full toss straight to Miller at deep square leg walking back to a thunderous applause — an appreciation of his masterful display. Moeen and Jordan then hit a four each to bring the equation down to one from six balls.

The crowd had already started celebrating an England win, but the ride wasn’t over yet. Miller pouched a stunner at deep mid-wicket off the first ball of the final over by Abbott to send Jordan back in the hut and then Willey was run out next ball.

Suddenly, the crowd came to life and they started craving for a super over. The next ball was a dot as Moeen hit it straight to extra cover and the expectations of a Super Over grew further. However, Ali calmed England fan’s nerves as he drove one to long off to complete the winning run. Out came a standing ovation for the England team.

From an anticipation of ABD special to disappointment of his failure, from cheering on South Africa to watching one man turn the course of the game with masterful display and then chanting England’s name and giving them a standing ovation. It was truly a roller-coaster ride for the Wankhede crowd —just like the one that your friend told you would be ‘fun’ when you first visited that amusement park. 459 runs scored, 39 sixes and 22 fours hit. There was thrill, nerve, anxiety and adrenaline rush.

Paisa vasool’(This was a match worth the money) a fan danced his way out of the North stand. And indeed it was a full paisa vasool match!

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