It was not supposed to be this way, the script had some other ending; New Zealand were firm underdogs. There was a proper jostle in the fag end of the tournament as to who wants to face the Kiwis in the final. But then cricket matches don’t often go to script.
In a game worthy of a World Cup semifinal, the New Zealand bowlers, defending only 239, tore through the Indian top order and even with Ravindra Jadeja going hammer and tongs, they managed to keep their nerves to win the contest by 18 runs and book their place in the final for the second straight time.
India had a horror start to their chase as they lost Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and KL Rahul all in the space of 11 balls for 1 each. Rohit was the first with the law of averages finally catching up to him, edging Matt Henry behind. It was a delivery that just tailed away late, enough to catch Rohit’s outside edge.
Trent Boult then got the big fish in Virat Kohli getting one back into him and catch him in front of the stumps to leave India 5/2. That soon became 5/3 when Henry got Rahul to nick off as a hush descended in Manchester.
Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant then dug in deep. They were cautious, perhaps a bit too cautious but that was the need of the hour. Karthik (6) remained on nought for 20 deliveries before finally getting off the mark with a four down to the third man fence. His joy though was short-lived when Henry struck for the third time but the wicket belonged more to Neesham who flung himself to the left and plucked out a one-handed stunner leaving India 24/4 after 10 overs.
Surprisingly, MS Dhoni did not come out next instead the team management decided to send in Hardik Pandya who along with Pant steadied the innings well. Both batsmen curbed their aggressive natural intent and dug in. Pant had a slight reprieve on 18 when Neesham dropped him and the duo carried on unperturbed for the next few overs. They stitched a crucial 41-run stand for the fifth wicket before both batsmen departed in quick succession.
Pant, having batted so patiently against Mitchell Santner till the time, went for the ugly slog sweep only to be caught at deep mid-wicket by de Grandhomme. He fell for 32, leaving the fans and Kohli visibly agitated.
Santner then got the big wicket in Pandya (32), who too looking to go across the line could only miscue one straight into the hands of Williamson who pedalled back from short midwicket to complete a good catch.
With the score on 92/6, India needed a miracle from somewhere and that was provided by Jadeja who started off like a train from the get-go. He came and said, ‘what pressure’ as he whacked just his sixth ball for a massive six down the ground that also saw India past the 100-run mark.
With Dhoni around, Jadeja made sure he got the big hits out of the way almost every over. He smashed sixes at will, ran like there was no tomorrow and kept things under control at all times even with Dhoni just content with collecting singles.
Jadeja soon reached his half-century with a brace and celebrated with his trademark sword celebration and also with arms aloft pointed at the commentary box, in all probability pointing to Sanjay Manjrekar.
The duo brought their century partnership up in style and with 42 needed off 24, the ball was back in India’s court. But a stupendous 47th over from Henry where he went for just five runs changed the complexion of the game. Boult got the huge wicket of Jadeja next over with the left-hander skying a good length delivery to Williamson for 75.
The moment of the match though came from Martin Guptill. Dhoni tucked the ball to the on side and going for a second run was run out for 50 courtesy a direct hit from Guptill that all but sealed the game.
Neesham got the final wicket of Yuzvendra Chahal to spark celebrations in the New Zealand camp. Henry returned 3/37 from his ten overs and was named Man of the Match.
Overnight on 211 for 5 in 46.1 overs after rain washed out, New Zealand looked to collect runs through doubles in the first two overs on the second day. It resulted in Ross Taylor being run out for 74 by a direct hit from Jadeja from deep square-leg. Tom Latham fell the very next ball when he slogged to deep mid-wicket, Jadeja completing the catch again.
The tail couldn’t finish too strongly either, as New Zealand managed only one boundary in the period. However, they added 84 in the last 10 overs of their innings. Jasprit Bumrah finished with 1 for 39 while Bhuvneshwar Kumar finished with 3 for 43.
On Tuesday, New Zealand won an important toss on a pitch that was slow and helpful for spinners. However, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar set the tone with brilliant, probing spells that restricted New Zealand to 27/1 in the first 10, the lowest score in the first Power Play this World Cup. Bumrah had a first spell of 4-1-10-1, Bhuvneshwar 5-1-13-0.
Williamson and Henry Nicholls rebuilt with a steady 68-run stand for the second wicket before Ravindra Jadeja bowled Nicholls. Batting wasn’t easy – there was turn, bounce and variable pace and New Zealand played out a period of 13.3 overs without a boundary at one stage with Williamson knocking it around and Taylor struggling for momentum. Williamson went past his 50 off 79 balls, and fell just when he was looking for an acceleration. He looked to hit Chahal over extra cover, but got an edge to point.
Jimmy Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme couldn’t provide big finishes as India’s bowlers – Pandya, Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah – used their cutters and slower balls to take pace off. Jadeja completed a superb spell of 10-0-34-1.
Taylor was struggling to get going, and was at one stage 36 off 64. He also had a reprieve when MS Dhoni dropped a tough low chance when on 22. He took the attack to Chahal in an 18-run 44th over but just when he seemed to get into rhythm, rain arrived.