Sitting in the dressing room India head coach Ravi Shastri must have craved for a microphone in hand when Dinesh Karthik hit the winning six off the last ball of the Nidahas Trophy 2018 final. Not to forget Karthik had put an Instagram post on the eve of the match where he wrote, "Hope we finish the tour in style." And he indeed finished it in style.
One has to admit that Nidahas Trophy 2018 has fooled all of us. It was not supposed to give us so many close contest. Somewhere the series was like AR Rahman's music, you did not like it at the start but the craze caught on soon. The fact that India, despite its regular squad, went on to win the series tells you the enormous depth of talent at helm. Sri Lanka might be going through a rough patch in international cricket, and Bangladesh might not be a superpower in international cricket but winning a tournament without four big players like Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah is not a small achievement.
But India's journey in the tournament did not have the best of the starts. Here is India's road to lifting the trophy.
Sri Lanka gave a wake-up call in the first T20I:
In the first T20I captain Rohit Sharma's plans failed. India had beaten the Lankans back home late in 2017 and that might have made the Indians take things for granted. After being put into bat, India posted 174 runs on the board, a pretty decent T20 score, all thanks to a stand-out knock by Shikhar Dhawan (90 off 49 balls). However, the day belonged to another left-hander wearing a darker shade of blue - Kusal Perera (66 off 37), who set the tone hammering 27 runs off the third over of the innings, bowled by Shardul Thakur. That set the match up for Sri Lanka who cruised to victory in 18.3 overs. India got jitters after a long time and thankfully for Rohit, in the first game of the series itself.
Youngsters stepped up to give India their first win, against Bangladesh:
India's second game in the tournament justified the selectors' decision to send a young squad. After the loss in the first game, India had to win the encounter against Bangladesh. The young Indian bowling line-up displayed a far better performance, restricting Bangladesh to a meager 139 for 8 in 20 overs. Vijay Shankar, Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur bowled with a lot of heart. Chasing the target, it was again the Shikhar Dhawan's willow which did most of the talking. He left for dressing room after scoring a 43-ball 55 and by then it was too late for Bangladesh to make any sort of comeback in the match as Manish Pandey and Dinesh Karthik completed the formality with six wickets and eight balls in hand.
Avenging the loss in first T20I against Sri Lanka:
Sri Lanka met India again in the fourth game of the tournament and this time the visitors had plans ready for the hosts. Luck favoured Rohit Sharma as he won the toss and unlike the first match, India bowled first. They wanted to avenge the embarrassment of the last encounter alright, but Shardul Thakur had his own little battle with himself. He had given 27 runs in an over against Sri Lanka in the first game. He came back strongly to give 27 runs in total in his quota of 4 overs and scalped 4 victims to help India restrict Sri Lanka to 152/9 in the 19 overs per side rain-curtailed match. In response, the Indian top-order got derailed and at one stage was reeling at 62 for 3. Manish Pandey (42 off 31) and Dinesh Karthik (39 off 25) the got together and came to India's rescue as they finished the game in just 17. 3 overs. The victory was crucial to gaining momentum in the tournament.
Cementing their place in the final:
Up next was Bangladesh, who were coming off a spectacular win against Sri Lanka. The Mahmudullah-led side talked of playing 'Bangladesh brand of cricket'. There were talks about the emergence of 'Nagin' dance and how the team had learnt to finish games now. India did not think too much about these things as they kept things simple. Mahmudullah asked the Indians to bat first after winning the toss. This was the game where a struggling Rohit Sharma hit form at a crucial juncture with a 61-ball 89. India finished with 176 for 3 in 20 overs but was it going to be enough? Well, the bowlers stepped up again to provide the answer in affirmative. Mushfiqur Rahim, who played a Dhoni-like innings in the last game against Sri Lanka, ended up feeling like Dhoni who ran out of partners in this game and could not finish the game. India won the match by 17 runs and cemented their place in the final.
The final and that last ball six which sealed the deal:
Bangladesh arrived in this game on the back of a fiery win over Sri Lanka where the tempers flared and both the teams were criticised for their behaviour. India, on the other hand, were aiming stamp authority in world cricket and send out a message that they could win such a highly-contested series even without their stalwarts. Rohit Sharma won the toss and asked Bangladesh to bat first. The Tigers started off poorly, losing three wickets for just 33 on the board. There were little partnerships in the middle but nothing concrete as they lost wickets at regular intervals. It was the late onslaught by Sabbir Rahman (77 off 50) and Mehidy Hasan (19 off 7) that propelled Bangladesh to a competitive total of 166/8.
India, in their chase, got off to a brisk start but in process lost two wickets early. Rohit Sharma then provided the much-needed stability with a 42-ball 56 knock but his departure at a crucial stage made things tricky for India. They required 68 off 40 when Vijay Shankar joined Manish Pandey in the middle. Shankar who had not got the opportunity to bat in the series was sent ahead of Dinesh Karthik and the pressure of the big stage got to him as he couldn't connect the ball. He could score just 1 run off the 18th over and it resulted in Manish Pandey throwing his wicket away under pressure.
Requiring 34 off the last 12 balls, Dinesh Karthik came to the crease and started off with a stylish six down the ground off Rubel Hossain. He then went berserk and hit hit another six and a couple of fours to bring the maths down to 12 runs off the last over. Vijay Shankar, finally connected one as he guided a full delivery through backward point for a crucial four but his struggles ended off the penultimate ball of the match when he was caught down the ground off a slower ball from Soumya Sarkar. The batsmen had crossed by then and more importantly Karthik was on strike again. Needing 5 off the last ball, Dinesh Karthik smashed a flat six to cover boundary to win it for India. He followed it up with just a simple raise of the bat as the entire Indian contingent went wild in celebrations.