India may no longer be one-day world champions but MS Dhoni and his merry men in blue have given us many reasons to hold our heads high and be proud, no matter what a particular news channel might say.
Arnab Goswami claimed on the News Hour that India rolled over but if he believes that, he didn’t watch the game.
India were being put to the sword by Steve Smith and Aaron Finch. It looked like Australia would get at last 350 and maybe even 370, as they did against Sri Lanka on the same ground. But India did not fold up their tent and go home. Instead, they set a trap for Smith and sprung it perfectly. Glenn Maxwell then threatened to smash India out of the Sydney Cricket Ground. So Dhoni called on R Ashwin, who has a history with Maxwell. It was a huge risk. But it was a calculated one. Everyone and their dog knew Maxwell would go after Ashwin but in the space between aggression and recklessness lay India’s best chance to dismiss him.
Ashwin floated his first ball up and ripped it off the pitch, forcing Maxwell to defend. The second was flatter, quicker and on legstump. Maxwell went for the slog-sweep and hit it straight into the hands of the fielder Dhoni had put on the deep midwicket boundary precisely for that shot. It set off a spell where India took 3 for 16 from 29 deliveries. A side that rolls over doesn’t do that.
Despite Australia’s commanding position, India did not back down and settle for containment. They continued to hunt wickets and in doing so, showed strength of character and determination. They refused to go quietly into that good night.
That India ended up losing to Australia is not the point. Australia is a damn good side and favourites to win the World Cup at home, just like India were favourites four years ago. Yes, the final margin of defeat was disappointing but it does not take away from the brilliance of India’s seven-match winning streak in the tournament, nor the heart, guts and togetherness the team showed after spending four months away from home under the relentless spotlight of the Indian media and their fans.
It is no wonder #shameontimesnow was the number one trend on Twitter yesterday and continued to be so today. India’s cricket fans have rightly recognised the magnificent effort their team put in to get to the semi-finals. India rarely do well in Australia. They hadn’t won a game in the tri-series. But they came out all guns blazing against Pakistan and never let up. And the fans saw in the players the desire to win, to push themselves, to constantly get better. That they ran into a better team is no reason to feel ashamed. That is the nature of sport.
While there were pockets of frustration and anger at the team, there were many more sympathetic messages, like this one from Samar Singh Sheikhawat that was put up on Facebook.
“I am proud of my team. I am proud of my captain, who had tears in his eyes. Who is yet to meet his new born. I am proud of Virat Kohli, the best batsman in the world and the fact he had the guts to confess his love openly. I am proud of my bowlers who are in the top five. I am proud India cricket team fan. I am ashamed of Indian media which has the guts to trend shameinsydney. I am ashamed of the fact that I have friends who are sharing messages which call a woman whore just because she was at the stadium. I am ashamed as an Indian cricket team fan. #isupportteamindia #bleedblue #IndvsAus
Times Now failed to grasp this sentiment and so became the very object of ridicule that they tried to turn the team into.
What they should have done instead, was focus on how this India team has grown as a group and as individuals. Unlike in 2011, India were not among the favourites to win the tournament. And after failing to win a Test or an ODI during their Australia tour, expectations were low. India not only exceeded those expectations, they did it with a ruthlessness nobody thought they possessed.
MS Dhoni captained with swagger and flair and his players responded. The bowlers showed a willingness to adapt and learn and the discipline to stick to their lines and lengths. The top six batsmen took personal responsibility, witch each one wanting to be the there at the end. Most importantly, there was a hunger to win games, embodied by India bowling out their first seven opponents.
The player who best symbolizes India’s transformation is R Ashwin. In 2012, Ashwin played 7 matches in Australia and took seven wickets at an average of 43.42 and a strike-rate of 54. In 2015, he also played 7 matches but took 11 wickets at an average of 24.63 and a strike-rate of 36.. He abandoned his penchant for experimentation and essentially stuck to two deliveries – the offbreak and the arm ball. Like the spin masters of old, he used flight and loop and pace to outfox the batsmen, a philosophy that will stand him good stead around the cricketing world.
None of this is to say India are the finished article but the signs are there that this team wants to mix it up with the best in the world, anywhere in the world. That they ran into an Australian buzz saw in the semi-finals is just one of those things that happen in sport. To attempt to tear them down for it not only misunderstands the nature of sport, but disrespects the team and their fans.