What happened at the Maharashtra Cricket Association greentop on Tuesday was one of those quirky, wacky sporting instances of a happy, spirited bunch of lesser mortals getting their act together and thumbing their nose courageously at their famous, arrogant rivals.
MS Dhoni tried, as usual, to stress his point at the end of the game, that there was no need to worry about the defeat, which is true, but “the English conditions” in India he sought to highlight are a bit of a bother. What does he mean? That the India batsmen are not good at dealing with the seaming ball on green turf, and it doesn’t take any Jimmy Anderson to get the Indians dance to the ball, but just about anyone — Kasun Rachitha, Dushmantha Chameera or Dasun Shanaka — could trick the Sharmas, Singhs and Rainas into acting in different, damned ways?
To begin with, the Pune T20 game was about a few guys getting it all completely, unbelievably wrong.
First, it was the curator who prepared “the English wicket”, as Dhoni would put it. It was either that he forgot the fact that the game was played in India or that simple, age-old curator pride got the better of him to indulge in a bit of extra tinkering with the soil and grass.
Then there were guys who seemed to travel back in time — five or more years down memory lane when they had strolled out into the middle and hit the first ball they faced over the rope. And a guy who looked completely unaware of the most lethal weapon in his kitty.
Just a few days back in Australia, both Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh batted uncharacteristically cautiously at the start of their innings even when the situation didn’t demand so much of a straight bat. Their patience and persistence had helped India win the series and the top ranking.
What made Raina, Yuvraj and even Dhoni charge at the Sri Lankan bowlers from the word go in Pune is not very clear. Home confidence? A wrong idea of superiority stemmed from an absence of awesome personalities on the other side? A hilarious mix of both these, spiced with a desperate attempt to recreate their old selves, perhaps.
Raina was in an attacking mood right from the third ball of his innings, was dropped at third man, and he should have known the need to be patient after the big-hit attempt nearly ended his innings. Rather, he repeated the slog three balls later and was lucky his off stump was still intact. He was dropped again, this time at deep mid wicket, and it was only a matter of a very brief time before his luck ran out. On the sort of wicket where 135-140 runs would have been a par score for his skipper, he should have been wiser.
Yuvraj began in style, charging at Sachitra Senanayake to send the second ball he faced soaring over the long-on rope. He played and missed a few more balls before a vicious bouncer, one that went at him 145kmh, hit him on the shoulder. He wasn’t hurt, but his ego was, so he pulled hard at the next ball, which at 149kmh was quicker than he expected, and managed only to lob it in the air for the bowler to walk coolly under the ball and gather it.
Next, it was Dhoni’s turn to travel back in time. When the scoreboard had just moved past the 50 mark, with four wickets down, going for a big shot after watching Shikhar Dhawan, Raina and Yuvraj perishing in their attempts, it was unbelievable to see Dhoni heaving at the second ball of his innings, in the ninth over, as if it was the last ball of the final over.
The guy who forgot to fire his AK47 was Jasprit Bumrah. He was economical until he bowled the last over of the day, but there was not even a single attempt at bowling a yorker in any of his four overs. He was short and wide in the first three overs, but when the ball was tossed up to him in the 18th over it was the right time to unleash perfect yorkers. Instead, there was more of the same short, wide stuff.
As Dhoni said at the end of the game, you don’t get to play often T20 games on fast and bouncy pitches. Not even in Australia. The Indian superstars, hurt from the way they failed against Rachitha-Chameera-Shanaka challenge in Pune, will be licking their wounds and plotting for revenge in Ranchi. All of a sudden, this low-key, three-game series is more fun and fury than expected.