Hardik Pandya signalled for a change of bat in the middle of the 45th over of India’s batting innings. When Dinesh Karthik ran in with a choice of blades, India needed 71 runs from 32 balls and the men saddled with the responsibility of this near-impossible task were Pandya and MS Dhoni.
Pandya weighed his options and chose the one that he believed could clear the field. For, believe it or not, until that point India had hit no sixes during their chase while England had smacked 11.
As Pandya took strike, Liam Plunkett ran in to bowl. The ball was slow and short but Pandya’s premeditated thump was executed, and the mistimed shot soared into the hot Birmingham air. And about two metres shorter than Pandya would’ve wanted, it fell down the cupped palms of long-on.
Although Dhoni plodded on till the final ball of the match (he even smacked India’s only six in that over), Pandya’s wicket was when India’s chase had all but ended; an end that was first ushered in when the maharaja of chases, Virat Kohli, was dismissed (also by Plunkett) after he scored his fifth consecutive fifty of this World Cup.
From that point on, India did well to lose by only 31 runs – a deficit that ensured their first loss of this World Cup.
In the 29th over, Kohli attempted to cut Plunkett through square but couldn’t keep the ball down and it was snapped up by the substitute fielder, James Vince, stationed at point. Kohli was out for 66 and even though Rohit Sharma was batting at the other end on a score similar to his dismissed captain, India’s chase now rested on the young shoulders of the man walking in to bat – Rishabh Pant.
Not so much because Sharma was having an off-day and not really timing the ball like he usually does but more due to the fact that Pant can hit sixes at will and sixes were the need of this hour.
First ball, Pant nearly ran himself out. He dabbed the ball to point and looked to get off the mark on his World Cup debut and quickly realised there was no run in it and dived back into his crease just in time. Next ball, he was nearly out LBW – Plunkett’s full delivery had hit the lefty’s pads outside leg stump and Pant managed to get off strike with a leg bye. And even from the non-striker’s end he all but ended his innings, charging down the track when Sharma had hit the ball straight to mid-off and lunged back to make ground.
With exactly 150 runs needed from 15 overs at this point, it was high time for Pant to throw his bat around, advice Pant took rather literally. The Mark Wood delivery was short and Pant swung at it and missed even as his bat flew to square-leg. He didn’t always lose his bat, but almost always Pant missed these premeditated hoicks towards cow corner. And on the rare occasion he connected in the 40th over, he was caught by a diving Chris Woakes at deep backward square leg.
Such was India’s day. And the fans at Edgbaston – predominantly Indian – possibly saw it coming when the innings began with three consecutive maidens from Chris Woakes, who caught and bowled KL Rahul for zero during that period too. Sharma too would’ve been dismissed just as early (on 4 runs) had Joe Root clung on to the chance he got off Jofra Archer’s bowling. But although he went on to get a hundred, his third of this World Cup and 25th overall, Sharma really didn’t hurt England all that much. Such was his day too, peppered with leading edges and skiers falling between fielders.
This was Sharma’s only ODI century in which he did not hit a six. But neither did anyone else apart from Dhoni in the India innings. And by the time Dhoni did, at the very end of his bewildering innings where he seemed relaxed even as he walked his singles when nothing less than boundaries would have brought India close. His knock is bound to reopen the can of worms on India’s middle-order woes but Dhoni wasn’t the reason India lost on Sunday; India’s wrist spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav were, the two of them getting smacked for 160 runs between them.
And in the very end, England’s 11 sixes to India’s one mattered. For, Virat Kohli’s side lost by a run more than what five of those hits were worth.