For the third time in as many editions India failed to make the final four of the Champions Trophy, and even a consolation win against the weakened West Indies will not go far in easing the pain.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni won an important toss and quickly put West Indies in. On two counts this was an obvious choice — the wicket was pacer friendly and if Australia lost, India might have needed to score their runs quickly enough to boost their own net run rate.
Ashish Nehra, who has been India’s bowler of the tournament, set to work immediately, generating more pace than he has in years.
When Nehra finds his natural length, too short to play off the back foot and too full to play forward, at pace, he is as dangerous as any bowler in the world.
But it was Praveen Kumar who set the ball rolling, having Andre Fletcher caught at slip in the first over of the match. Nehra then prised out Kieren Powell and Devon Smith, both caught behind, and when Praveen sent skipper Floyd Reifer packing, West Indies were down and out at 27 for three.
At that stage, Australia were coasting towards victory, two wickets down and more than a hundred on the board. Perhaps this prompted Dhoni to do something unusual, handing the big pads to Dinesh Karthik and taking the ball himself. Bowling seam up, Dhoni was clattered for boundaries off his first two balls, but got his own back, bowling Travis Dowlin off an inside edge.
Apart from the odd dart and the rank bad ball that was put away, there was little meat in the West Indian innings. All of the bowlers feasted, none of the batsmen reached 25 and as news of wickets falling at Centurion came in, courtesy the public address announcer, India stepped on the gas. With attacking fields for the spinners and plenty of cover for the quick men, the innings came to a grinding halt at 129.
Even as they went off the field for a quick change of innings, India’s players watched the Pakistan-Australia game closely.
Sadly for them, even as their innings began, and before the need to calculate net run rates arose, Australia inched home, leaving India homeward bound.