28 March 2015
India CWC15 wrap
Before losing to a clearly superior team, India had a most memorable World Cup, winning seven games on the trot with most of its players contributing to the successes
India wasn't able to defend its title at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, but fans can be proud of the team's seven-match winning streak in the tournament
That India's dream run was brought to a halt by Australia in the semi-final wasn't too surprising. Prior to the tournament, Australia had defeated India in the Test series, in the One-Day International tri-series and even in the ICC Cricket World Cup warm-up match.
But, as it turned out, India losing out to England in the tri-series proved to be a blessing. It gave the team time to recharge its batteries and play the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 with a renewed sense of purpose.
And the India v Pakistan game to kick off the campaign proved to be the perfect tonic for Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men.
It was a carnival atmosphere at the Adelaide Oval, and the special setting demanded a special performance. On cue, Virat Kohli, the fan favourite, set the platform with a sparkling century, the first by an Indian against Pakistan in ICC Cricket World Cups. The bowlers then delivered a 76-run victory as Pakistan was all out for 224, making it India's sixth win against its rival in World Cup history.
"This game was fantastic for us as far as the bowling, batting, and the fielding department is concerned, this can be a benchmark in the coming games," said Dhoni afterwards. "We'll be playing tougher sides, and hopefully we'll be able to replicate the performances."
Dhoni didn't have to wait too long for a bigger challenge, as next on the agenda was South Africa, a team India had never beaten in a ICC Cricket World Cup. But this India side wasn't willing to dwell on the past. This time, it was Shikhar Dhawan's blazing century and an enterprising 60-ball 79 by Ajinkya Rahane that put South Africa under the pump.
The bowlers were once again aggressive, but it was the fielding that stood out. India ran out both AB de Villiers and David Miller and then skittled South Africa out for 177. The margin of victory was a whopping 130 runs, and India looked like a champion unit once again.
"The kind of wins that we have had in the last two games, it's tough to get, so definitely both the games were important for us,” said Dhoni after the game.
When India cantered to a nine-wicket win against United Arab Emirates, overhauling a 103-run target in 18.5 overs, there was a bit of a concern that India's batsmen weren't being tested enough. However, India got the work out it craved against West Indies in Perth.
Chasing 183, India stumbled to 134 for 6 before Dhoni and R Ashwin came together to take India across the finish line.
“It was a tough wicket,” conceded Dhoni. “It's not easy to chase this kind of a score on a wicket which it's slightly double-paced. I felt when the West Indian team was batting, it was slightly more difficult, especially the first 10 overs. After that, it settled down, but still, there was a bit of swing for the West Indian bowlers, which meant it was definitely difficult for our batsmen also. The good thing is all the batsmen got a chance to bat."
But it was Dhawan's performance that was a revelation. Luck and form had deserted him in the matches prior to the ICC Cricket World Cup, but he proved his century against South Africa was no fluke, slamming another ton against Ireland to take India to an eight-wicket win in Hamilton.
Dhoni, however, wasn't surprised by the turnaround, explaining that it was just a matter of time before Dhawan came good. "He's not someone who is happy getting a 50," said Dhoni. "He knows that the team needs him to score big runs. So once he gets to his 15, he hits the next milestone which is a hundred. With him doing that, it becomes slightly easy for some of the other guys to bat around him."
India's last group game against Zimbabwe provided another good workout for the lower-order batsmen. India was reduced to 92 for 4 in pursuit of 288 and it needed some cool heads out there in the middle to see the side through.
And if there's anyone who has mastered the art of being cool and collected, it's Dhoni. From the moment he walked out to the crease, he was in control. He and Suresh Raina forged an unbeaten 196-run partnership to ensure India topped its group with six straight wins.
"If you get an easy win, you don't get a lot out of that game," said Dhoni. "What was good was the spinners were put under pressure, and also we lost quick wickets initially, and that actually put our middle and lower middle order under pressure, so we gained a lot out of it."
While Dhawan, Kohli, Rahane, Raina and Dhoni all had notched up big scores, Rohit Sharma had been kept quiet thus far in the competition.
Rohit chose the quarter-final against Bangladesh as the day to rise to the occasion with a steady 137 as India went past 300 for the second time in the tournament. And, as was the story throughout the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, India's bowlers proved too hot to handle. R Ashwin was economical, going for only 30 runs in his ten overs, and Umesh Yadav grabbed four wickets as India sealed a 109-run win and a semi-final berth.
“I think what's important for us is that we have scored runs in all the games, whether we have batted first or chased, and still we don't have our batsmen in the top five run-scorers’ list for the World Cup,” said Dhoni. “That means everybody has chipped in, everybody has contributed, which is a good position to be in, especially in the knockout stages."
But the law of averages eventually caught up with Dhoni and Co in the semi-final. Though the crowd was firmly behind India, history and statistics favoured Australia.
Steve Smith had been hugely successful against India in the Test series and the promotion to No. 3 proved to be a clever ploy. Smith made a scintillating century and the lower order provided the last-minute fireworks to take Australia to 328 for 7 – the only time 300 had ever been scored in a ICC Cricket World Cup semi-final.
It was the first time India hadn't bowled out a side in the tournament and it needed a special knock from someone in the top order to pull off a victory. But that never materialised. Mitchell Johnson removed Kohli for 1 and Rohit for 34, and India never recovered from those blows. Dhoni top-scored with 65 as India was bowled out for 233.
Despite the loss, Dhoni didn't look too beaten and accepted that the better team won on the day. “Even before the start of the tournament, when we played the tri-series, we had a lot of problems to deal with, the cricketing problems, the form of the players, to manage the team," he explained. "We were here for over two months, and we had another two months to go. All in all, it was a tough one for us.
"I felt everybody rose to the occasion, how the fast bowlers bowled throughout this tournament, how the spinners have done, learning from all their past experiences when we went outside India. All of that together contributed to the kind of performance that we have given in this tournament.
Yes, I am disappointed we couldn't go into the finals, but only one team can win, and I felt they played better cricket on the day.”
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