India’s never-say-die attitude was unusual for the manner in which the players kept their cool, put their heads down, focused on the mission and clawed their way to the Asia Cup title.
It was this fighting spirit displayed by India’s cricketers that ultimately defeated a super-charged Bangladesh. The latter, worthy opponents in the thrill-a-ball final where the result of the match was uncertain till the final ball, were squeezed out in a slow and excruciating style.
If it were the spinners, Kuldeep Yadav (3 for 45), Kedar Jadhav (2 for 41) and Yuzvendra Chahal (1 for 31) who scripted the fight back during the day, India’s batsmen showed similar pluck under lights to thwart the best of Bangladesh’s efforts.
Cricket, under pressure, is a test of temperament and character. The better teams find heroes in adversity. These players stand up to be counted in a scrappy fight. It is not so much about their skill with bat or ball that is vital to success. Rather, it is the rare ability to rise above limitations that makes them true game changers.
On Friday, it was Jadhav who with ball and bat showed a cool head, kept his poise and pushed back the opponents time and again.
In the first instance, Bangladesh had every reason to be thrilled at the way their innings had panned out after they were asked to take first strike. They threw a surprise of their own by asking tailender Mehidy Hasan to open the batting. If he was sent as a pinch hitter it certainly did not show in his efforts (32 off 59 balls). But, invaluably, he kept his end going while the more accomplished opener Liton Das (121 in 117 balls) flayed the attack.
The pair put on 120 for the opening wicket in just 20 overs. It was an unbelievably strong foundation and threatened to take the final away from the Indians. It was here that Jadhav with his slow and low spin bowling turned disrupter.
The Bangladeshis wanted to whack the cover off the ball as they did not consider his bowling a threat to their aspirations. Yet his two wickets in quick time, along with Chahal’s wicket and the run-out of Mohammed Mithun demolished Bangladesh’s hopes of a massive total. Jadhav had done his bit in derailing them.
Chahal and Yadav too showed that they controlled the middle overs in these conditions. The trio not only slowed down the run rate but made fresh inroads into the batting line-up to complete the disruption.
India should have comfortably chased down the target of 223. But the loss of the two pillars of Indian batting, Rohit Sharma (48) and Shikhar Dhawan (15) left the team woefully short of class and form.
But what successive editions of Indian Premier League (IPL) had done for Indian cricket is in the creation of a new generation of Indian cricketers who were comfortable batting under pressure.
These guys do not panic when the run rate shoots up. Nor do they try to hit their way out of trouble. In fact it was amusing to listen to a couple of commentators — players of an earlier era – stating that x or y would chance his arm or take his chances or go for the big hit.
They did nothing of the sort. Dinesh Karthik (37), MS Dhoni (36) and Jadhav (23 not out) kept their cool and picked up runs without ever being rushed. Of course there were the odd boundaries. But that was when the situation presented itself.
All the while they whittled down the target. Still, India could have lost out when they were 160 for 5, except that Ravindra Jadeja (23) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (21) battled it out in a 52-run stand.
Bhuvneshwar batted like a top-order batsman. He was loath to throw away his wicket and grafted most of the time. Jadeja too looked busy while making an invaluable contribution.
However Jadeja once again showed that he was a lot less in control of his emotions at key moments. Even as the target increasingly became easier, Jadeja’s excitement levels increased inversely.
This approach had let him down in the previous match against Afghanistan when he first exposed tailender Khaleel Ahmed to the bowling and later threw away his wicket and victory with a wild shot.
On Friday too he seemed to be making the same mistake. He almost got run out while blindly rushing for a suicidal single. The Bangladeshis compounded their error by throwing in an overthrow. In the very next delivery, with India needing a mere 11 runs to win in 23 balls, Jadeja completely lost it. He wildly threw his bat at the rivals’ best bowler, Rubel Hossein (2 for 26 from 10 overs) to be caught behind.
It needed the calm, composed Jadav to put matters in perspective. He had retired hurt with a painful hamstring injury, but returned to hobble around and pull off the win in singles.
In fact Jadhav not only overcame his injury but ensured that a cool head was there at the death to guide the team home.
Indian teams of the past had repeatedly made a mess of run chases. They often were too excitable, and hence seemed incapable of taking an ice-cold, calculated approach under pressure.
But in the Asia Cup final, the team not only showed a refreshing change in approach but proved that this team would not go down without a fight. That should certainly warm the cockles of Indian cricket’s myriad fans.