During the changeover between the 14th and 15th over, a forlorn Hardik Pandya was spotted sitting on the electronic advertisement board near the India dugout. Behind him was the support staff watching the tragedy unfolding before them with a sense of numbness. The players on the field, too, walked detachedly, perhaps wishing for the ordeal to end.
By then, India had practically lost the semifinal. England, after a 14-run over from Mohammed Shami, required just 15 runs from 36 balls to hunt down the target of 169 India had set for them. Exactly two overs later, they wrapped up a most comprehensive victory, with 10 wickets and four overs in the bank.
The executioners of the chase, Alex Hales and Jos Buttler hugged each other heartily.
The game was an exhibition of England’s prowess as well as the depth of their talent. It was also a realisation that India needed to rethink their approach in T20s. They are still old-school. The powerplay conservatism when batting and reliance on swing bowlers upfront have become outdated. Hales and Buttler, T20 specialists and stars of leagues around the world, scored 63 in the first six overs.
India’s Top 3 — Rohit Sharma, K L Rahul and Virat Kohli — were conservative, managing just 38 in the powerplay.
That Pandya is leading a new-look team to New Zealand within days could be a precursor. The leading voices of Indian cricket too were suggesting change. “India may have to look at a relatively new team,” said Ravi Shastri after the game.
Sunil Gavaskar, too, hinted at that. “There could be (T20) retirements, there are a lot of players in their mid-30s,” he said.
A wholesale churn is expected and emulating England’s template wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Buttler’s unit was confidence personified. Once they had restricted India to 168 on a placid, subcontinent-like surface, England knew this was their game to lose. In the innings break, leg-spinner
Adil Rashid told the broadcasters: “If you’d said 168 in the beginning of the day, we’d have been happy with that.”
That they probably assumed they lost some momentum at the death was due to Hardik Pandya’s brutal 63 off 33 balls, enabling his team to pick 68 off the last five overs. But for his death-over strikes, India’s embarrassment would have been deeper on a day when England made a team full of IPL stars look like a club side.
England, meanwhile, have shown the depth of their pool in Australia. Just before the World Cup, they had lost their star wicket-keeper batsman Jonny Bairstow, who slipped when playing golf. His replacement was Hales, who has been on a roll this World Cup.
Hales has been away from international cricket after the fallout with former captain Eoin Morgan and other disciplinary issues. He was nowhere in the reckoning, but the selectors and captain Buttler thought his BBL experience and success in Australia would be handy. His inclusion has not just been handy, but the most inspired decision in England’s journey to the World Cup final. He is England’s top-scorer, with 211 runs at an average of 52 and strike rate of 148.
The 33-year-old and Buttler ransacked 33 runs from three overs by India’s new-ball pair of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Arshdeep Singh. The biggest sign of the panic was Axar Patel being summoned to bowl the fourth.
Not that the Englishmen relented. They maintained a rate of 10 runs per over throughout the game. On a pitch with no steep bounce, untoward lateral movement or outrageous turn, India’s bowlers struggled to find a breakthrough. How dearly they missed someone like Jasprit Bumrah, someone capable of producing magic from thin air.
England, too, could have argued that their best T20 bowler, Jofra Archer, has been long injured. A day before the final, they lost their second best, Mark Wood, too. But their depth is frightening — in came Chris Jordan, who bowled splendidly at the death.
England, distinctly, had a varied attack. Jordan amped up pace; Chris Woakes produced extra lift that accounted for KL Rahul with the new ball; Sam Curran’s blend of angles and slipperiness kept India’s batters on a leash; and the wrist-spin of Rashid prised out the most dangerous of India’s batsmen, Suryakumar Yadav.
As resourceful as England’s bowlers were, India’s batsmen were short of ideas. They were too rigid. The usual strategy of cementing a solid base and expanding at the death — albeit a safe template against most teams or when chasing, would not work on a benign surface such as this — at least not against a team that bats deep and has a wide variety of hitters.
India will curse the stars that of all the games, Surya chose this one to flop. But championship-winning sides don’t rely on just one or two individuals alone.
It raises a bigger question. Did India have the quality to win a championship? In fact, apart from Zimbabwe and the Netherlands games, they have been pushed to the brink and had to rely on individual dazzle and panicky opponents.
The euphoria after the Pakistan game looks distant. Pakistan, on the other hand, will believe that fortune is smiling at them. The World Cup of 1992 is playing out all over again. The last alignment of destiny, too, has arrived in the form of England as their opponent in the final. And now it’s a matter of who could be their Wasim Akram next Sunday.