The target for India was 288. The score, as Sikander Raza prepared to bowl the last ball of the 35th over , was 158 for 4, with Suresh Raina on 48; captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni had joined him with the score on 92 , with Zimbabwe sensing a real chance of victory. Raza bowled and Raina swept, not for the first time rather unconvincingly. The ball took a top edge and ballooned high , dropping conveniently into the hands of Hamilton Masakadza – who dropped it.
It is not always possible to make these apparently facile judgements but on this occasion one can assuredly say that the fate of the match turned on this one ball. The drop was followed immediately by a drinks break but it was hard to avoid the feeling that despite that brief opportunity to regroup, Zimbabwe knew the game was up. Raina had had a quiet World Cup and needed time in the middle. Dhoni is simply the best one day chaser – and finisher generally – in the world. Most sides have a good finisher. Even England have one in Jos Buttler( the problem is that conventional wisdom has it that for something to be finished it first has to start). But Dhoni is the best of them all: cooler , cleverer, an amazing reader of the game, a kleptomaniac stealer of impossible singles and a serpentine threader of balls through impenetrable gaps.
Dhoni left the big hitting to the audacious Raina who finished with 110 not out, but they both ended up with strike rates over a hundred. At the end of the 41st over India were 204 for 4 with the required rate pushing nine. Almost imperceptibly they just stepped on the gas. In the next six overs they hit 67 runs and it was really all over. Dhoni finished it off with a club for 6 over midwicket.
The partnership was breathtakingly effective especially considering the genuinely perilous position in which they found themselves. One of India ‘s few problems in the tournament is that because their top order batsmen have done so well the likes of Raina, Dhoni and the lower middle order have had few opportunities to flourish. They were also, it has to be said, fortunate in their opponents. This was not the first time that Zimbabwe’s bowlers had caused problems for the opposition’ s top order: in fact they have usually done so. Their problem has always been sustaining penetration – or even maintaining control – after that opening burst. Raina, in particular, was able to milk the support bowlers and the batsmen’s brilliant running caused a degree of panic amongst the normally superb Zimbabwean outfielders.
It was impossible not to feel sorry for the Zimbabwe captain, Brendon Taylor. He had announced that this was to be his last match for his country and he made an absolutely superb 138 off 110 balls with 15 fours and five sixes. He too had come in at a crisis – 12 for two which became 33 for three. His was an innings of the highest class. He really must have thought they had done enough…..
India have had an exceptionally good World Cup, somehow rather better than one might have thought. Have they been a bit lucky? They pummeled Pakistan who just made too many mistakes. They subjugated South Africa , who perhaps just had a bad day. And they walloped the West Indies – enough said. It seems likely that they will face Australia in the semi final ( of course anything can happen between now and then). That will be interesting.
As for Zimbabwe the future is a little less rosy. They will miss Taylor desperately : he is only 29, approaching his peak as a batsman. Of course what they need is to play more cricket against the top sides. That seems unlikely under the current dispensation.
The next World Cup will be contested by only ten sides with the two ” bottom ‘ full members taking part in a competition with the Associates to see who gets in. So Zimbabwe might not even make it This all seems sad and misguided given the Associates’ contribution to this tournament. If only cricket , at national and international level , were run by former players with common sense rather than by ” industrialists” and retired bankers. But that is another story.
Bill Ricquier, 14/3/2015
This article was published in The Sunday Leader: http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2015/03/15/raina-rains-on-taylors-final-parade/
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