November 28, 2022

The Professional Times

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WTC FINAL – A Viewer’s Perspective

The time had come – After a day’s delay, the WTC Final began, and I stayed glued to the TV screen from the beginning, as it was one of its kind, something that no one had seen before. It promised to be electrifying, and, it certainly was.

One thing I liked about the telecast this time was the display of the 3 strengths / plus points of the player when he started his innings, either in batting or bowling. Also, when one was batting, they had a new column called ‘control’, which kind of showed the batsman’s prowess.

The toss went Kane’s way, and he chose to field first. The opening partnership was good, as Gill and Sharma were at it from the start, and they put on 62. Then, Sharma got out to a superb catch taken by Southee. I say do because, even though it was a good ball, it was the catch that got the wicket. Then, another wicket fell. There were two ways to see if – it was a ‘ quick not quick’ wicket. Hear me out – after Sharma’s dismissal, both Gill and Pujara had gone to a standstill.

For 3 overs or so, there was only one run conceded. So, the pressure got to the young man, and he was sent packing. I felt that Pujara could’ve taken some pressure off, as he was experienced and maybe he could have kept the scoreboard ticking. And his slate was empty for a long time. Kohli came, got off the mark, and still Puji was at 0. He finally got off the mark, after 30 balls, and he did so with 2 consecutive fours. After that? Well, he got out. 3 wickets in such a small space of time weren’t what I expected after that good start. I was disappointed at both Gill and Pujara, more at the latter, due to his experience.

Kohli took his time to settle, and Rahane was the new man in. Suddenly, NZ started appealing for a caught behind. The umpire didn’t give any reply, and just as the timer hit 0, Kane went for the review. But time was up, and it seemed everyone would continue to play. But the umpire signalled for a review, which led me to think that time was over, so why the exception? Then, I surmised that it was an umpire review. And it wasn’t really anything, as there was a whole lot of gap between bat and ball, as shown in UltraEdge.

They continued, mixing grace and control with the occasional boundary. The scoring was slow, but not too slow. Southee, Boult and Wagner were bowling brilliantly, and every now and then, they’d bowl balls that would make me go ‘ooh! ‘. The rest of the day continued in the same fashion. The 3rd day began on a slow note for India, while New Zealand’s bowlers tightened their line and bowled with much more accuracy. These efforts bore fruit, as 2 quick wickets in the form of Kohli and Pant were awarded to them. The latter’s wicket was due to a lack of patience, and it was frustrating to see him play such a shot and get out.

I was disappointed, but I got solace from the fact that we have a good bowling attack too. Rahane, who was the best player in overseas conditions, was playing well until Wagner took him by surprise with the short ball approach. It was quite a poor shot with respect to the ball, and Rahane had to depart at 49. Jadeja and Ashwin carried on for some time, but then Ash got out after a while. I started doubting whether we could put on a good total. Jaddu was then left alone, and he couldn’t manage the Kiwi attack. Meanwhile, Ishant and Bumrah got out in 2 successive balls to Jamieson, and he deserved the hatrick which was on its way.

I, too, thought that Shami couldn’t bat, what will he do? But he surprised all, by hitting a four off the first ball! Jamieson was denied of his hatrick, but India did not add any runs after that, as after a debate about the side screen, Boult removed Jadeja. The changing and fiddling with the side screen was a total waste! Anyway, that was that – India were bowled out, scoring 217, with no major, but plenty of minor contributions. I was pleased that at least it was a team effort in some way.

When it came to the bowling, Bumrah wasn’t as accurate or threatening as usual. Ishant and Shami were doing splendidly, and so was Ashwin, and for him to do so in conditions not suiting his style of bowling was impressive. He even landed the first breakthrough, after what seemed like a lot of time. Then, just as the day was about to end, Ishant stepped in and removed Conway.

The next day, I switched on my TV, hoping for a batting collapse, courtesy of Ashwin, Shami and Ishant. But what I got was a merciless downpour in Southampton. I kept checking for updates and was met with the same result. Day 4, like Day 1, was washed out, much to everyone’s disappointment. Though the missing action was compensated on the next day, as New Zealand got stuck in a rut for a while, scoring very slowly. Still, wickets were needed, and that’s exactly what India got soon. Taylor, Nicholls and Watling were dismissed in a short span of time, and Bumrah’s bowling highly improved – it was more accurate and fierce. The fielding was very impressive, and that was proved as well because 2 of the three wickets were due to spectacular efforts by Gill and Rohit.

Then, de Grandhomme also fell, but Williamson and Southee came together to stitch a small partnership, Southee mainly throwing his bat around. After a while, Williamson was sent back at 49. Soon, New Zealand was all out, taking a lead of 32 runs. I couldn’t help but notice similarities between the 2 innings – a good opening stand, 2 players being dismisses for 49, a collapse in the middle, a small partnership in between. It was just proof that what an even contest it was, and how talented these two sides were.

It was India’s turn to bat, once more, and I just hoped that Gill and Rohit would stand longer than they did last time. But they failed, and India was stuck in a soup, with 2 wickets down at the end of the day. The last day, the reserve day came, and it brought the sun along with it, much to my surprise. It was thought that this would help India, but, 3 wickets at the beginning suggested otherwise. Needless to say, Pant’s batting was… It was just something. I have run out of words to describe him and his style of play, as one moment he plays the most irresponsible of shots, and at other times he amazes us with his audacious yet spectacular ones. Jadeja, who was with him, was patient and calm, but he couldn’t resist the temptation given by Wagner and was sent packing. Soon, Pant and the others were dismissed, posting a paltry target of 132.

The match was on New Zealand’s side now, they could easily win. But still, I expected India to at least restrict the run flow and pick up 2 or 3 wickets, which would even the contest, albeit by a small margin. The first 3 overs were like that, but from the 4th over, Conway and Latham started hitting the ball well. But, Ash came in and took 2 wickets, that of the openers. It was nice to see a spinner come to the fore and shine through in such conditions. But that didn’t last long, and the Kiwis got into a rhythm once more. And just like that, New Zealand slowly drifted towards an ICC Trophy, the first of its kind.

As an Indian, I wasn’t happy with the result, but from a cricket point of view, India at least gave a fight in some parts of the game. Also, it was their batting that failed them, and the bowling wasn’t particularly good- it was the same old problem of struggling with the tailenders. It was now a staple, and it became the cause of our loss. Also, no utilisation of spinners, with mediocre batting was a weak point. India is a strong team, no doubt, but there is just something in the New Zealand side that manages to outwit them every time. I sincerely hope we manage to learn from this loss, and bounce back stronger than ever the next time.

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