Sharma, coach and two other superstars ride into cricket sunset

India claimed a narrow seven-run triumph over South Africa to conclude the most exciting World Twenty20 Cup tournament ever that was co-hosted by the Caribbean and the United States.

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Seven months ago, Australia broke a billion Indian hearts and that of skipper Rohit Sharma in Ahmedabad as Pat Cummins delivered a stunning knockout punch in the final of the 2023 World Cup (50 overs) final.

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India entered the final on an unbeaten run and was the overwhelming favourite to lift the trophy for a third time. But it did not happen. The Aussies pulverized India for their sixth World Cup and India went into mourning and Sharma was reduced to tears and went into hiding for a few days.

On the weekend in Bridgetown, Barbados, Sharma lay flat on the Kensington Oval in tears again. But these were tears of joy after piloting India to a narrow seven-run triumph over South Africa to conclude the most exciting World Twenty20 Cup tournament ever that was co-hosted by the Caribbean and the United States. The game was finally poised and could have gone either way with South Africa at one stage looking certain of finally taking home an ICC trophy for the very first time.

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After Sharma got his hands on the trophy, India’s first ICC trophy in nine years, he announced he was stepping down from the Twenty20 version of the game. He wasn’t alone. He was joined by superstar and player-of-the-final Virat Kohli and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja. Also taking a walk into the Barbados sunset was Rahul Dravid, the brains behind this great triumph on his final day as coach after a six-year stint.

“As a player, I was not lucky enough to win a trophy but I gave my best,” said Dravid who was regarded as one of the world’s greatest batsmen. “I was lucky that this bunch of boys made it possible for me to be able to win this trophy. It is a great feeling,” added Dravid who represented India against Pakistan in the Sahara Cup tournament in Toronto in the 1990s.

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Dravid’s golden goodbye and that of his team nearly turned into a nightmare as the never-say-die Proteas made them sweat until the very end. In this nail-biter Aiden Markham’s Proteas got within sniffing distance of the trophy as it needed 30 runs off 30 balls with six wickets in hand. Heinrich Klassen had turned the game in his team’s direction in the 15th over by bashing spinner Axar Patel for 24 runs that included two fours and two sixes. South African flags were flying high and the parties in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban were getting started. But in a matter of three overs South Africa saw its hopes crushed by the fast-bowling attack of the great Jasprit Bumrah, Arshdeep Singh and Hardik Pandya. Bumrah initiated the breakthrough by splattering Marco Jansen’s stumps in the 18th over in which he conceded just two runs. The noose was tightening as the Proteas then needed 20 from 12 deliveries and this was definitely achievable. But Singh kept things in check by leaking just four in the penultimate over. That meant the Proteas who required 20 runs brought it down to 16 off the last six balls to be delivered by Pandya. The cricketing was on tenterhooks. It wasn’t a huge figure as we saw teams in the Indian Premier League smash their way to victory. Pandya kept his nerve but he cringed as the first delivery, a full-toss to David Miller, dispatched to what looked like a six as Indian hearts sank.

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But Suryakumar Yadav hugging the boundary line made a stunning catch. He snared the ball and lobbed it into the air, stepped outside the line and then back inside the field for a sensational piece of fielding that will go down in the annals of the tournament’s highlight reel. “Oh my god, I believe I’ve just seen athleticism at its very best,” former New Zealand wicketkeeper Ian Smith said in his commentary, calling Yadav’s effort “one of the greatest catches in cricket history.” Kagiso Rabada came in and edged a four but Pandya kept his cool to ensure India would be going home with the trophy.

Earlier Kohli rediscovered his form after his bat had gone into cold storage as he had managed just 75 runs in seven innings at a woeful average of 10.71. But in the showpiece match the best Indian batsman of this generation came to life with a 76 off 59 balls and held the innings together to guide India to 176 for seven. South Africa managed 169 for eight with Arshdeep taking two for 20, Bumrah two for 18 and Pandya three for 20. “This is what I wanted — I wanted to win the cup,” said Kohli as he signed off from the Twenty20 arena.

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India crushed defending champion England in the semifinals while South Africa stamped on Afghanistan. India won by 68 runs after scoring 172 and then bundled out England for 103. South Africa booked its place in the final with a nine-wicket thrashing of outsider Afghanistan. Afghanistan was skittled out for 56 inside 12 overs and South Africa reached its target in 8.5 overs.

The homecoming in Delhi for the conquering heroes will have to wait for later this week as the team was grounded by the powerful hurricane Beryl that soaked Barbados on Tuesday.

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