Serendipity: The occurrence or development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
If there’s one team in world cricket at the moment — even world sport, perhaps — that understands these concepts better than all others, it is New Zealand. If there’s one individual in world cricket at the moment who understands these concepts better than all others, it is Rohit Sharma.
Think about it.
14 July, 2019. 10 November, 2019. And now 29 January, 2020. Three tied games — and three eventual defeats — in just over six months. That World Cup final against England. A game in which 292 runs were shared in 22 overs against the same opponents months later. And now this. The curse of the Kiwi Super Over is for real, folks.
Expand this count-back from six months to about 10, and now let’s sample Rohit Sharma’s recent past. In this time-period, he’s become the first captain to win four IPL titles, the first man to hit five centuries in a single edition of the World Cup, and the first batsman to score two hundreds in his first Test as opener. Two weeks ago, Sharma was named the ICC Men’s ODI Player of the Year for 2019 — had it not been for one Ben Stokes, you couldn’t have argued against him being the best in the world across formats in the year.
And he’s also experienced his own brush with Murphy's Law, in that the one time his blade couldn’t talk during a two-month and near-650-run laden phase in England, everything that could go wrong did go wrong for his team to end a dominant campaign in crushing despair. How poetic that on that one day, the team benefitting from Murphy’s Law, and experiencing their own brief serendipitous moment, were New Zealand.
That game, and those two days in Manchester, count as more than a one-off just because of the magnitude of the occasion, and what was at stake.
But 9 and 10 July aside, there can’t be much debate over the lucklessness of New Zealand through 2019/20. And it wouldn’t be a cardinal stretch if you were to suggest that Sharma, during the same timeframe, has had some higher power smiling in his direction — the IPL final couldn’t have come any closer without giving another Super Over to digest; fielders at the World Cup did appear to have greater butterflies in the stomach when he belted balls in their direction; and would he, realistically, have been granted the Test opener’s slot had Prithvi Shaw known a bit more about his prescriptions?
Beware, though, of granting the Black Caps too much sympathy, and stealing from Sharma his hard-earned laurels. Because, as they say, in this game as indeed in life, you make your own luck.
The World Cup final will for the rest of history be an anomaly, and yes, all sympathies with everyone’s favourite second team in cricket for that — but what of the two more recent Kiwi heartbreaks? How much can you justify the inability to defend a total of 146 in 11 overs? Or scoring two runs from the last four balls of any limited overs contest? Or defending 10 runs from the last two balls of the same contest?
In the Super Over against England, New Zealand decided to send Tim Seifert along with Martin Guptill to take strike; sure, Seifert had blazed 39* off 16 earlier in the day, but over Colin Munro, and his reputation of consistent clobbering from ball one in this format? In the Super Over against India, New Zealand tasked Tim Southee with defending the 17 runs that were on the board — exactly the same number of runs Southee had conceded less than three months ago in that previous Super Over at Auckland.
The most experienced Black Caps bowler now holds the ignominy of having leaked 17 or more runs thrice in T20I Super Overs, which, then, doesn’t make it all that surprising to find that the Kiwis have lost five out of six such one-over shootouts. And it’s not like they were without options: Ish Sodhi has contained India admirably throughout the series, and along with Ravindra Jadeja is the only regular bowler to have conceded less than eight-per-over in this series so far; Mitchell Santner has a T20I economy of 7.34; even Hamish Bennett had done remarkably well to take 3/14 from his final two overs after the initial shellacking from Sharma.
At the other end of the spectrum, find India’s Hitman. Since the start of 2019, Sharma has 11 centuries and 11 half-centuries from 53 international innings across formats at an average in excess of 50. His batting numbers during Mumbai Indians’ IPL title win might not have been the most impressive, but his nous as captain has seen many credit him with greater tactical ability than his international captain. And, as if to prove the pinch of not showing up in the World Cup semi-final, Rohit has now hit 50+ scores in all four series-clinching wins he’s been a part of for India since just the start of December — 71 (off 34) in the T20I decider against West Indies, 63 in the ODI decider against the same opposition, 119 in the ODI decider against Australia earlier this month, and now a 65, plus his Super Over heroics, to hand India an unassailable lead in the T20Is in New Zealand.
“If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.” These words, belonging to Rudyard Kipling and etched at Wimbledon, bear great resonance with both our subjects from today.
On that July afternoon in Manchester, the one time in this recent period that these two entities saw their fortunes inter-change, we saw grace in glory from the Kiwis, while Sharma, and India, were dignified in defeat. For the rest of it, however, it’s been triumph-after-triumph for one party, and a series of disasters for the other.
You can rest assured, though, that both will continue to treat both impostors just the same. And in that, lies the victory of the sport. The victory of all sport.
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