Into The Sunset

Life has come a full circle in two weeks. Team India have pulled off the improbable, and the closest thing to revenge possible. That England tour must still hurt, but a little bit lesser now. Home is, after all, where the heart is.

5-0. The final score line of the ODI series. The two teams must be sick of each other, and both of them have had ample opportunity to cause hurt, harm and shattering defeats to one another. This time, in India, it was the home team (as expected) who came out on top. But the manner in which they have completely outplayed and stripped England of any dignity and pride that they possessed on arrival here, has proved most of us columnists and critics wrong.
This is more than a sport, after all. It is a test of character, mental strength and determination. It is NEVER easy to bounce back after having being handed your posteriors (as the best team in the world, no less) on an overseas tour. A 3-2 margin would have dominated most ‘expert’ predictions, but 5-0 is a resounding statement: ‘We’re still one of the better ODI teams going around, and we’re playing on the soil that saw us lift the greatest trophy in the world only a fortnight ago. Call us a ‘lions at home’ team, or whatever, but we’re proud to back it up with performances that cast a spell of fear and doom on all visiting teams. If England do that in tests back at home, we’re Champions of the limited over’s format.’

Odd-one out?

The fourth and fifth ODIs of the series, played in Mumbai and Kolkata respectively, were dead rubber games. For some reason, that seemed to spur on Dhoni and his men even further, and they actually dominated England the most in these last two games. With the help of a ruthless run machine called Kohli and the homebody Raina, they chased down a par score of 230-odd at Mumbai- with Dhoni proving to be the next best finisher in the game after Michael Bevan. By now, he was yet to be dismissed in the series. Varun Aaron, the Jharkhand quick, finally made his debut and impressed all with his ‘Zaheerisque’ ability to dispose of a strong tail with minimal fuss. And what’s more, his speed didn’t dip below 135 throughout. Promising enough, right?

The fifth ODI, played today, was a perfect textbook exercise of how to bat through 50 overs on a tough, misfiring pitch. We know the Eden Gardens pitch all too well by now, and considering the conditions at hand, Mahendra Singh Dhoni should be knighted for pacing yet another flourish to complete perfection. He struck at a rate of 50 for his first 30 runs, and broke free when the spinners came on. He lifted his comrades to a more-than-competent score of 270 in front of a noisy, Diwali-boosted crowd on a high. England were only playing for pride, to get themselves on the scoreboard on this tour. The crowd, surely, would have a role to play. At 129-0 at more than 6 an over, the score line was set to be 4-1, and it was going to be a noisy festive season nonetheless. If I were Dhoni, I’d have settled for that.

Return of the Prodigal Son

But Dhoni has tasted way too much defeat in the last 4 months- enough to last him an entire lifetime. One is not sure he is too fond of losing, because his secret weapon- Ravindra Jadeja (the bowler)- stepped up and destroyed the English top order with some rippers that would have done Kumble proud. This is the same guy whose head was called for, and who was mercilessly slandered when he messed up India’s last T20 World Cup campaign. Dhoni almost paid for his stubbornness, and eyes rolled when Jadeja was called up for the ODI series back in England. But he had improved by then, he seemed more confident in his abilities and he was backed by none other than MSD, once again. This time, he has proven to be the decisive factor- the missing link- in India’s middle-over bowling attack, and has filled the shoes of Harbhajan (thankfully) and the fifth bowler with superb ease.
In the end, you got to hand it to the captain. It took a lot of heartburn, loss and pain, but backing the Baroda all-rounder is finally paying rich dividends. Can’t even mock him anymore, can we, after a man-of-the-match performance at Eden Gardens?

Deja Vu?

MSD, at the end of it all, was yet to be dismissed from the crease at the end of 5 matches- thanks to some superb batting from Kohli and Gambhir in the previous games, and some abject English middle-over bowling that saw the ‘number one team in the world’ crash to their second INDIAN whitewash in three years. The last one in 2008 was not much of a surprise, but this is more of a lovely gift to Indian cricket loyalists for their support through India’s worst overseas tour ever.
A single T20 game will be played in a few days, which might further worsen England’s woes, considering they’re ranked ONE in the new T20 ranking system. A loss will see them jump down to 4 (yes, that’s how it goes- being a one match series and all) and a win will see India going from five to six. Not that it matters, but we’re hell-bent on sending the Poms back without a single win on tour, much like they did only a month ago.

Man of the Series- Dhoni
Highest Run-getter of the series- Kohli

Fortunes have changed, and how. Time to uncork the champagne, and drown ourselves in a happy festive season, and doff our hats off to the young India ‘B’ team that have whitewashed a world-beating outfit. Testing time down under, in December, for sure, but let’s enjoy the moment.

Five. Zero.

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