It was the ninth over of the Indian innings in the second semi-final of World T20 against the West Indies at the Wankhede in Mumbai. Dwayne Bravo, the off-spinner with a fairly long run-up who bowls occasional fast deliveries, was running in to bowl his first over of the night. The first ball — surprise, surprise — is a slower one that Ajinkya Rahane flicks for an easy single. Second ball, a bouncer to Virat Kohli — the man who must be on not just a patch but the entire cricket field in purple — and he lets it go. Third ball is yet another bouncer as Bravo tries the double bluff but it’s called a no-ball — second bouncer above shoulder height.
Free-hit then and predictably, Bravo bowls a slower one that Kohli completely misses. And what’s more, he is halfway down the track not knowing where the ball is as the ‘keeper rolls it towards the stumps and it misses by a whisker. Kohli tries to scamper back to the crease as Bravo throws to run him out again but misses from three yards! Cue — mayhem, wry smiles and hands-on-heads from the players. As if this was not enough, Kohli gets a thick outside edge off the next ball that goes just wide of short third man for a streaky four.
Entertainment. Madness. Pure fun. Twenty20 style!
That over was just one of many instances on the night in Wankhede where the action was so compelling that it made for terrific viewing — irrespective of where your allegiances lay. Of course, for fans of the Indian cricket team the end-result would have been a bitter pill to swallow. But if the reaction from the Wankhede crowd was anything to go by — Firstpost’s Jigar Mehta was on hand to witness a standing ovation for the celebrating West Indies side — then it’s safe to say the fans knew the better side won the match.
In the aftermath, the reasons for India’s defeat will be discussed, debated and written about threadbare. Was 192 ever going to be enough on the Wankhede pitch? Did Rahane bat too slow, for too long or was it a solid foundation that India have lacked so far in this tournament? Why did Hardik Pandya get to bowl his full quota of overs when Ravichandran Ashwin bowled just two? Can Virat Kohli walk on water?
Questions like these, as part of the analytical discourse, must be asked and answered.
But before we dive deep into all that — most of us already have — it is worth reflecting on how India fared in this tournament overall.
The very first ball that Ashwin bowled against New Zealand was hit by Martin Guptill straight back for a six. The spinner struck back off the next ball, trapping Guptill in front. Then Colin Munro, the man who plays a switch hit more often than a forward defensive stroke, plays one to perfection for a six over deep point/square leg.
From that over onwards, barring the batting effort in that match against New Zealand, there has not been one dull moment in India’s campaign.
Be it the drama before the India-Pakistan match at Eden Gardens, with the rain in Kolkata followed by Virat Kohli’s majestic half-century. No Indian fan can forget Kohli bowing to Sachin Tendulkar after his fifty.
Be it the dramatic win against Bangladesh — a team that has developed a rivalry so intense with India that every match between these two sub-continent sides sparks much heated chatter on social media. Those stumpings from MS Dhoni, the yorkers from Jasprit Bumrah and the last over from Hardik Pandya where Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah took Bangladesh past the finish line before inexplicably running backwards and that last ball run-out of Mustafizur — it was one of the greatest T20 matches of all time.
Or be it the ‘quarter-final’ against Australia in Mohali. For those fans not fortunate enough to have been born when the Sachin Tendulkar masterclass happened against Australia in back-to-back matches in 1998, the Virat Kohli innings in Mohali was their ‘Sharjah moment’. An innings that, like Tariq Engineer said in Firstpost, captured everything that is beautiful about batting in formats of the cricket into one — getting your eye in, the grace, the stamina and the power.
The semi-final in Wankhede was no different. Virat Kohli once again showed he is in the batting form of his life, with a brilliant 47-ball 89. You’ll probably never again see one batsman get so many lives in a single innings as Lendl Simmons did on Thursday — dismissed twice off no-balls and ‘caught’ at the boundary. We even saw Kohli break a 97-run partnership with a wicket off his first ball.
And at the end of it all, we got to see what the West Indies do best — celebrate like there is no tomorrow. There are a few better sights in world cricket than seeing West Indies do well because when they win, they do it with flair.
All this is not to say everything is rosy in the world of Indian cricket — can it ever be? This is not an article gushing over how good India have been in the World T20, in case that was not evident. If anything, the fact that India were sloppy added to all the excitement.
India came into this tournament as heavy favourites after all. But that is a term that needs to be taken with more than a pinch of salt in this format. If cricket, in general, is a game of glorious uncertainties then the shortest format is uncertainties on steroids.
This is just a reminder that India, as they make their second consecutive exit at the semi-final stage of an ICC tournament, gave the cricketing world three of the greatest T20I matches one will ever see. On the trot. This is also the tournament where Virat Kohli took his first steps from super stardom into the world of batting legends.
In a format that is designed to take fans on an adrenaline-filled roller coaster, the fact that India played three ‘paisa vasool’ matches is not a feat that should be swept under the carpet of over-analysis.
Instead ask yourself, like Russell Crowe famously yelled out in front of the watching audience at the Coliseum in The Gladiator, were you not entertained?