Ravindra Jadeja – the hero India needed but didn’t deserve

Everyone thought hope well and truly died with MS Dhoni’s wicket. But it was Ravindra Jadeja who actually held more aces up his sleeve.

In the movie Any Given Sunday, Al Pacino motivates his team to dig deep into their reserves if they are to turn their team’s fortunes around.

He says the difference between victory and defeat is measured in inches.

When India were 5/3, a place in the finals looked a thousand miles away.

Dhoni and Jadeja bought that deficit down to inches.

MS Dhoni tried to pull of one final heist and fell short by inches when he tried to go for a suicidal second run in  a bid to get back on strike.

Indian fans got just what they wanted – a match up against New Zealand, a side that hasn’t been very convincing in the last few matches they played against India, a marauding Goliath that had won most of their matches in a convincing manner.

They hoped that it would rain all of Tuesday so it wouldn’t result in a curtailed match, making it tougher for India. Again, their wish was answered.

That’s as far as answered prayers went.

India came into the tournament with their top order in good nick and until the semi-finals, they did all the heavy lifting. The bowling effort was spectacular with Jasprit Bumrah standing tall and Mohammad Shami and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar playing pivotal roles.

But this World Cup was always about just one man – MS Dhoni.

Dhoni the captain cool who led India into the T20 era.

Dhoni the iceman who finished off matches with his cold blooded big hitting.

Dhoni who carried the weight of finishing matches on his shoulders all these years and was now waiting for a fitting end to a once-in-a-lifetime career.

8 years back, in the World Cup final, Dhoni promoted himself up the order after enduring a lukewarm tournament up to that point and played the innings of a lifetime to help India lift the trophy after 28 years. He is now 8 years older and as much as we wanted to believe that he could still pull it off, the reality was that the odds were always against him. His batting has been criticized in this World Cup, especially in the match against England. In his pomp, Sachin Tendulkar tore bowlers to shreds. In the latter half of his career, he watched from the other end as Virender Sehwag took over the baton of annihilating bowling attacks from him. Dhoni was in the side as a specialist keeper and his role in the middle order was to lend support to the big hitters like Pandya, Pant and to some extent, Jadeja. Expecting him to orchestrate a T20 like chase on his own was asking for the moon.

The mere fact that Hardik Pandya and Rishab Pant were promoted before Dhoni lent cadence to the argument that the team management had more trust in them to get the scoreboard ticking after the initial massacre.

In life, no one plans for disaster. No team has a handbook for what to do if you’re 5/3 in a World Cup semi-final. In all this talk about Dhoni’s run out being the turning point, if one watched the match, most of us would agree that it was Ravindra Jadeja who held more aces up his sleeve.

For all the years that he has played, we haven’t been able to decipher Ravindra Jadeja. He has been an afterthought in Indian cricket’s scheme of things. Back in 2009, he was lambasted for his inability to score during an important match against England in the T20 World Cup. In 2014, he played a pivotal knock in a test against England at Lord’s, helping the team secure a historic victory. It was a knock that lost its luster after the team careened and crashed to a miserable 1-3 series loss by losing the remaining three matches.

Commentator Sanjay Manjrekar, who has succeeded in making the mute button popular again and will shy away from any sort of ‘most popular commentator’ poll, called him a ‘bits and pieces player’. Come the semi-finals and Ravindra Jadeja had a point to prove. Not a part of the squad in the initial matches, he finally got the opportunity of a lifetime – just that it came after a calamitous start and the team’s hopes were hinging on a miracle.

The ‘bits and pieces’ player began putting the pieces back together, bit by bit, inch by inch.

Putting behind all the criticism that has been hurled towards him in his career, he almost did a Dhoni– orchestrate a miracle and taking the team over the finish line. His celebration after he reached his half-century seemed to suggest that he was searching for Sanjay Manjrekar, who had gone into hiding.

The truth is, between Jadeja and Dhoni, it was Jadeja who looked like he could take the team over the finish line. He took a great catch, inflicted a run out, bowled economically and played an innings that would have made history had he taken India over the finish line.

The bits and pieces player had become a complete one.

Since 2014, India have fallen short in pivotal matches.

The T20 finals in 2014.

The World Cup semi-finals in 2015.

The T20 semi-finals in 2016.

The Champions Trophy finals in 2017.

And now, the semi-finals in the 2019 World Cup.

Going forward, holding their nerves in a big match is an area they need to take a very hard look at.

As for New Zealand, they get another chance to create history. In 1992, their dream run came crashing down after they lost to eventual winners Pakistan in the semi-finals. In 2015, they fell apart during the finals. Cricket could do with a new winner and no sensible fan would begrudge New Zealand, always the under dogs, the victory of a lifetime.

Thank you Dhoni for everything that you have done for Indian cricket.

Thank you Ravindra Jadeja for looking fear in the eye and playing a special knock. You truly are the hero we needed but one we didn’t deserve.

Thank you Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar for giving us a chance to see a three pronged pace attack in action.

Thank you Rohit Sharma for all the entertainment.

Thank you Virat Kohli for being a statesman of the game by asking fans to back off from Steve Smith. It was a heartening sight and a far cry from the raging cricketer that you once were.

When India loses a critical match, everything feel surreal. The government in Karnataka is on the verge of collapse but it didn’t matter. At another corner of the world, sprinter Dutee Chand became the first Indian woman athlete to win a gold at the World Universiade. After going through a harrowing time on the personal front, she emerged victorious.

There are always bits and pieces of joy strewn around. You just have to look for them.

There wasn’t much traffic on the road, but that didn’t bring a smile on anyone’s face. And there will be tons of crackers in homes across the country that were waiting to be burst.

Now they too have to wait.

Unfortunately, on a day on which they should have exploded, India’s top order imploded.

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