Knockout games are all about handling pressure. New Zealand are masters of it. On Wednesday, however, at the Wankhede Stadium the Indian batters didn’t give them the chance to bring the game to a juncture when the Black Caps start to prey on the opposition players’ nerves.
In a perfect display of batting, India posted a total of 397/4, leaving their bowlers enough margin for error even if things turned difficult while defending under the lights.
It proved to be the difference in the semifinal game. During their third wicket partnership of 181 (149 balls), Darryl Mitchel and skipper Kane Williamson showed the Black Caps are always in the game no matter the target.
But the total proved too daunting even for their big-hearted effort.
India were well served by their sultan of swing, Mohammed Shami, who captured seven wickets, as they won the game by 70 runs and enter their fourth final. Winning their 10th game on the trot, they will play the winners of the second semi-finals between South Africa and Australia at Ahmedabad on Sunday.
The home team owed it to their batters though. In one of their most dominant displays in a high-stakes game, the entire Indian top-order clicked. Led by Virat Kohli’s record-breaking 50th century, everyone played their roles to perfection. After Rohit Sharma came out and again provided a blistering start with a 29-ball 47, Kohli anchored the innings with a 113-ball 117.
Shubman Gill maintained the momentum with 80 of 66 balls; Shreyas Iyer came down the order and put the game beyond New Zealand with a blistering 70-ball 105 and KL Rahul proved his versatility by straightaway coming and playing his strokes in the slog overs for a 20-ball 39 not out.
Defending the target, Shami raised hopes of repeating his show against Sri Lanka at Wankhede in the league stage. He removed Devon Conway off his first delivery and reduced New Zealand to 39/2 in 7.4 overs by inducing an edge off Rachin Ravindra too. But Mitchell and Williamson invoked their famous fighting spirit to get back into the game by taking the total to 220.
As panic started to set in the stands, Shami came back for his second spell and provided the breakthroughs. He got Williamson caught at deep square leg. It brought an end to his 181-run association with Mitchell. Two balls later, Shami trapped Tom Latham for zero to make it 220/4.
India were back in control at 224/4 with the Kiwis needing 174 off 90 balls at a run rate of 11.60. Mitchell continued to blaze away, but ran out of partners before getting out on a heroic 134 (119 balls).
The star of the evening was undoubtedly Kohli. By getting to a record 50th ODI century — one more than Tendulkar’s 49 — in a World Cup semi-final in Mumbai, Kohli only lived up to his penchant for the sense of occasion. And in a way only Kohli can.
Tendulkar was looking on from the stands when Kohli slumped to his knees and broke away from the man he grew up adoring. It was a moment to remember for football icon David Beckham too, who was enjoying his first cricket World Cup game.
Coming in at the fall of Rohit in the ninth over after India were off to a swift and statement-stamping start, Kohli did what he does best and has done for a major part of his ODI career: drive India’s innings along. Playing almost risk-free and near perfect for over 100 balls in the sweltering Mumbai heat that tested even the physical specimen that he is, Kohli stood out there like a rock as the other batters belted away.
It’s the kind of solidity and consistency that has personified Kohli’s 290-match ODI career as well as his 10-match World Cup so far. In eight out of those 10 outings, Kohli has scored fifty or more, going on to make three hundreds. Itis the most fifty-plus scores by a batter in a single men’s World Cup, going past Tendulkar (7, 2003) and Shakib Al Hasan (2019).
In a high-pressure home World Cup where there’s a lot more riding than a mere trophy, he’s scored a whopping 711 runs, the most by any batter in a single men’s World Cup.
The toss has been a big factor at Wankhede with batting first being easier. Once their captain did them the favour by calling correctly, New Zealand felt the full might of the home team’s batting.
The beauty of this line-up is how they complement each other. The big hitting of the openers has helped Kohli come into his own during this tournament. Not that he needs a lot of support, but it has helped him play to his strength of pacing the knock. They all played to the script. Gill had switched gears to jump to 74 off 57 balls and bring the 150 of the innings in 19.4 overs. It gave Kohli the time to play himself in, getting to 26 off 32 balls.
The challenge for India came when Gill started suffering from cramp. When in full flight, Gill had to retire at the score of 80 in the 23rd over. Their 93-run association had taken the total to 164/1.
It was a crucial juncture of the match. Given the batting friendly surface, the pressure was on India to put up a total which would be beyond the reach of the chasing side.
All eyes were on Iyer. To the delight of the home crowd, the Mumbai batter played the most impactful innings of his international career. Sharing a partnership of 163 runs off 128 balls with Kohli, he went on a six-hitting spree after taking some time to enter his 20s. Both the pacers and spinners were treated with disdain. Pacer Tim Southee was hit over midwicket and off-spinner Glenn Phillips smashed over long-on to raise his fifty off 35 balls. After left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner bowled a maiden over, 35th of the innings, Iyer and Kohli plundered 17 runs off Boult to make up. He went on to smash eight sixes in a 70-ball 105.
It was sweet revenge for India for the 2019 semifinal heartbreak by the Kiwis.