The Inches that Separated Triumph from Heartbreak
Jay imagines what the cricketing Gods were thinking on Sunday
I’m doing it again!
This time it’s 3 off 2.
I know. I know. 50-over cricket is not supposed to be this close this often. But I’ve got a large captive audience. Eyes all around the world are focussed on Christchurch — the canvas for my latest masterpiece.
Hold on. I’m going to dip my brush into maroon. I want you to see the West Indies watching this. They’re just as powerless as you to influence the result of this game.
You probably think I have an affinity toward the West Indies. After all, I’ve placed them in three thrillers and they’ve won all three of them.
But you’re mistaken. My brushstrokes have no bias. Their only loyalty is to the beautiful chaos and disorder that has come to define the best World Cup we’ve ever witnessed.
Do you see that there? No, right there, in the green. That’s Mignon du Preez. Two balls ago, I made sure her batting partner Trisha Chetty was run out. Earlier today, I painted her as the main culprit in Marizanne Kapp’s run out.
Before that, while attempting a lofted shot to the leg side, I had her dropped at long on by the usually safe Smriti Mandhana.
I should probably remind you that she averages twice as much against seam bowling than she does against spinners.
Yes, you guessed it! Off-spinner Deepti Sharma is bowling to her.
Before the start of this game, it was almost unthinkable that Deepti would be bowling the last over. She was India’s most expensive bowler in the tournament and could barely buy a wicket. Today, however, I thought I’d make her the most economical.
She’s got the ball in her right hand, tossing it up and into her left palm as she surveys her field. Du Preez, with her bat on her shoulder, looks leg side.
Everyone in the stadium is on their feet. An Indian supporter is chanting “Jeetega bhai jeetega, India jeetega” before her voice box fails her…little does she know, this is an omen for what’s to come.
It’s been three minutes between deliveries. It’s still 3 off 2.
More adjustments to the field. The stump mic picks up du Preez thumping her bat onto the ground. She stops and backs away again, looking straighter. She looks behind the wicket on the off side, taking stock of all the changes to the field.
A two-worded question enters the mind of everyone watching: Super Over?
See how I’ve given you thriller after thriller without any of them going to a tiebreaker? I know. I can be a little extra sometimes!
Deepti is having a chuckle out in the middle. But why? It’s been nearly five years since India’s heartbreaking loss in the 2017 World Cup final. And all of that preparation; all of that expectation boils down to these final three deliveries.
Deepti knows this. But she also knows that this World Cup has been certifiably bonkers. And it’s about to get crazier.
Finally, Deepti runs in. Mignon’s backlift reaches up behind her shoulders. Is she thinking about a boundary? Deepti loads up and is about to deliver.
But she pulls out of her action! It’s still 3 off 2. I love doing this to you!
On the way back to her bowling mark, Deepti bends down to pick some sawdust up off the pitch, applying it onto her hands and onto the ball. The atmosphere is so tense and her control of length so immaculate that you’ve forgotten all about the dew factor.
Finally, she runs in. She bowls. Mignon charges at her. But it’s an arm ball. It drifts away from Mignon. She’s not to the pitch of it, and it’s not in her swinging arc, but she goes through with the shot anyway.
She hasn’t middle it. The ball is in the air. It’s going toward long on once again.
Who’s under it? Smriti again? No! It’s Harmanpreet Kaur.
The ball is still in the air. The commentators are silent. You’ve stopped breathing. Nobody is blinking.
It’s coming down now. Harman settles under the ball…And takes it!
Tri-colour flags start waving in the crowd! Friends and families are hugging each other. Strangers who’ve barely spoken to each other are locked in an embrace.
Mignon Du Preez looks to the heavens. “What have I done?” she thinks to herself as India’s fielders celebrate! Deepti Sharma has a fierce look in her eyes and yells out what may be an expletive. Everything that has happened to her in the World Cup — those expensive overs, those wicketless spells — none of it matters anymore.
Mithali Raj, in her final World Cup campaign, is beaming. Harmanpreet Kaur lets out a primal roar. What a tournament she’s had!
On a cold night, the South African dugout has somehow gotten even colder. The West Indies, who’ve beaten England and New Zealand in the tournament, watch their semi-final hopes slipping away. This World Cup could’ve been a fairy tale for Stafanie Taylor’s side.
Instead, one false shot, one tight equation, one result beyond their control could take everything away from them.
South Africa is 8 down. They need 3 off 1. India, after losing to England, Australia, and New Zealand is about to prove that they can beat top teams after all. They’re so close to the semi-final they can smell it.
Wait! Something’s happened…What have I done this time?
The umpires ask Mignon du Preez to stop where she is. Some of the Indian fielders haven’t realized what’s happening. They’re still celebrating.
Hold on! The third umpire wants to check if Deepti has overstepped.
Unsuspecting Indian fans abruptly stop dancing and crane their necks up to the big screen. The outnumbered South African contingent does the same. They’re not as confident. This seems like false hope. Any moment now, they’ll have to re-live the trauma of India’s supporters screaming in excitement.
The replay has loaded. Deepti’s foot goes up. It’s close to the line. It comes down. It lands. No part of her foot is behind the line!
Hearts sink. It can’t be. The camera zooms in. It can’t be.
Umpire Jacqueline Williams sticks her right finger out to the side.
Natalie Germanos in the commentary box sums it up perfectly.
“And with that, all the hearts in India start breaking…”
What happened next is well-publicized.
Indian fans, I’m not evil! Being a cricketing God comes with a lot of responsibility.
I know it can seem cruel for India to miss out on a semi-final by mere inches, especially in Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami’s swansong, but I have larger plans for team India.
One day, you will hold aloft a trophy and because of the tribulations in the last few days, because of the heartbreak of 2017, it will mean more than you can fathom right now.
To the rest of the world, to the people who run the sport, I keep scripting these thrillers to show you why women’s cricket is so special and why it needs to grow.
But you mere mortals take my artistry for granted.
Your World Cup is only eight teams large. In 2029, it will expand to 10 teams. This is not enough.
I’ve given you everything in this World Cup. I’ve given you everything you could have wanted in that Deepti Sharma over. Those last six balls encapsulated everything beautiful and painful about the sport.
Whether you're Indian, South African, or West Indian you would've felt hope, jubilation, despair, regret, your world caving in, relief, and elation at various points in a 15-minute marathon of madness. No matter how much you’re hurting and regardless of whom you’ve supported in the last three weeks, you’re so amazingly lucky to have been a small part of history.
There are still three games left. You know something crazy is going to happen and I want you to be a part of it.
So dry your eyes, keep your chin up, soak everything in, and realize that I’ve chosen you to spread the gospel of the women’s game.
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