It almost happened again. Four years since that gut-wrenching defeat in Manchester, New Zealand nearly put a dagger through the hearts of over a billion and a half Indians all over again. This, despite an afternoon of legendary proportions. Virat Kohli scored a record 50th ODI century and bowed down to his hero Sachin Tendulkar, Shreyas Iyer’s second World Cup hundred on the bounce and India bludgeoning their way to 397, the highest score ever by any team in any ICC tournament knockout. And still, New Zealand almost pulled off a… well, New Zealand. The only team to reach the final of three ICC tournaments in the last eight years, fought tooth and nail, almost enforcing on India another ’40 minutes of bad cricket’ before Mohammed Shami express derailed the Kiwi chase.
How many teams can’t afford to breathe easy after posting around 400? Ask India; they were put under pressure – for the first time in this World Cup since their top-order collapse against Australia – with an audacious 141-run partnership between Kane Williamson and Daryl Mitchell. With each cracking blow, the Wankhede plunged into further silence. There’s a reason why New Zealand have enjoyed a historical advantage against India – it’s phases like these. Another such possibility loomed, and imagine the pure cruelty had India dropped the World Cup at the very venue they won it in 12 years ago.
For a good 45 minutes, it seemed so. Despite the absence of dew and ball zipping around under floodlights, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj struggled to control the swing. An overflow of wides handed away, and just like that, the notorious Wankhede, feared in this World Cup for dismantling the top orders of chasing teams within the first five overs, took on a different character. Instead, New Zealand were 30/0, the most promising start for any team batting second, all while the breezy support from the nearby Marine Drive favoured the quick bowlers.
However, Shami, on either end of that forgettable period of play for India, once again turned saviour. Shami has delivered in this World Cup the bowling equivalent of Virender Sehwag’s first-ball fours from 2011. He has struck in his first over five times in six games, twice against New Zealand. But after bossing over Devon Conway and then the in-form Rachin Ravindra in back-to-back overs, India were blindsided by Mitchell and Williamson. And that’s when a sense of panic started to settle in the Indian camp.
Between 8:20 PM and 9, all sorts of things started to happen which indicated another potential heartbreak. Too many inside edges for India’s liking raced away to the boundary, and the Ravindra Jadeja, who’s been pretty much spotless with his left-arm spin, overstepped. A heave from Mitchell was mistimed so brilliantly that it fell in no-man’s land. KL Rahul accidentally dislodged the bails with his gloves even though it would have been a direct hit. Suryakumar Yadav and Bumrah misfielded, and Jadeja even gave away an overthrow for four. Overthrows is a vintage example of India beginning to feel the heat. And make no mistake, suspense lurked in the air. Moreover, just when things couldn’t get worse, Bumrah’s mouth was left wide open, his face buried when Shami put down Williamson. Over 33,000 people in shock. Was this India’s Herschelle Gibbs moment?
Shami raised his hand up and said No. This version of him is a far cry to the one that cut a frustrating picture of constantly straying on the pads and leaking boundaries. Even Shami’s recent interactions have been full of swag, fun, at times comical but always straight from the heart. There was no way he was going to let that drop catch be the image that is remembered as his last in World Cups. Between his drop and three overs to go for his second spell, Mitchell and Williamson slapped 4 fours, one six and brought up their 150-run partnership.
The charm of ODIs lies in its balanced duration — neither as brief as T20Is nor as prolonged as Tests. The ideal length of this format provides the perfect canvas for teams and players to stage comebacks. And it’s precisely what Shami did. Two wickets in an over… and India were right back in it. He had dismissed all four New Zealand batters, three of which were left-handers. In fact, eight out of his 23 wickets in the tournament have been left-handers – he averages a miserly 4 against them.
Shami is like that difficulty level in a video game which even professional gamers hate to play – legendary. Even if the epic Cricket 2007 is to be recalled, a bowler on legendary difficulty would induce edges out of nowhere, change the game on its head. Truth be told, on current form though, Shami is even a notch above it. First Indian to pick seven wickets in an innings making it the best figures ever, the only bowler from India to reach 50 World Cup wickets, first overall to claim 4 five-fors in World Cups, the legend of Shami grows.
And to think he wasn’t even part of the Playing XI for the first four games.