New Zealand stunned India in a thrilling semifinal to end the Men in Blue’s fine run in the ICC World Cup on Wednesday. The 18-run victory in a match spread over two days due to rain at Old Trafford in Manchester sent the Black Caps into their second successive final while the Indians bowed out in the semifinal stage of the quadrennial showpiece for the second edition running.
Virat Kohli’s men were the favourites going into the semifinals as they had topped the league phase and lost just one game while winning seven matches. The Kiwis on the other hand scraped into the last-four stage pipping Pakistan on net run rate and had lost their last three games. But in the big game it was the Kiwis who played the crunch moments better to upstage their more fancied opponents.
Williamson makes the right moves
New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson had a near-perfect game while it was a match to forget for Kohli. Williamson won a crucial toss and made the correct decision to bat on a surface which slowed down as the match progressed. The Kiwis were cautious to start with and lost only one wicket in the first powerplay of 10 overs. Williamson and Ross Taylor, the two most experienced batsmen in the Kiwi line-up, were quick to realise that the wicket was on the slower side and wisely revised the target they had in mind. They battled on and did not throw their wickets away against the Indian spin duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravindra Jadeja. Taylor top-scored with 74, while Williamson made 67 as the Kiwis ended up with a fighting total of 239/8.
The key for India to chase down this target was to see off the new ball pair of Trent Boult and Matt Henry. The Indian top order consisting of openers Rohit Sharma and K L Rahul and No. 3 Kohli had been on a roll in the tournament. But the worst fears of the Indian fans came true as Henry dismissed both Rohit and Rahul for one each, while Boult got the prized scalp of Kohli for one.
India were off to the worst possible start at 5/3 and the Indians did not help their cause by promoting Dinesh Karthik ahead of the experienced M S Dhoni at No. 5. It was the ideal situation for Dhoni to come in and play out the overs while keeping the wickets in hand for a late launch. Further, Karthik is adept at cutting loose in the slog overs and would have been the perfect choice at No. 6 or 7. In the end, Dhoni walked in only at No. 7 and this tactical blunder probably cost India the game.
Both Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya, who came ahead of Dhoni, threw their wickets away while trying to play big shots off left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner after getting starts. It was only the fighting century stand between Jadeja, who was determined to prove a point after the ‘bits-and-pieces player’ comment by Sanjay Manjrekar, and Dhoni (50) for the seventh wicket which kept India alive in the chase.
But it was always a tall order and Williamson made the right moves at the death as the Kiwis held their nerve. Jadeja was dismissed by Boult for 77, while Dhoni, probably playing his final game for India, was sent back by a magnificent direct hit by Martin Guptill.
The fielding proved to be the big difference between the two sides. Jimmy Neesham pulled off a stunner to end Karthik’s stint while Guptill proved he’s worth his place in the playing eleven for his fielding alone. The ground fielding of the Kiwis too was top class. Sadly India, with the exception of Jadeja, gifted away easy runs through misfields and sloppy work.
No. 4 returns to haunt India
In the end, the absence of a solid No. 4 came back to hurt India in the big game. The Indian selectors and the think tank consisting of Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri failed to take into account the English conditions as they went in for rookie Vijay Shankar in the original squad, and later on Pant when opener Shikhar Dhawan was ruled out with a hairline fracture. A specialist middle order batsman such as Ajinkya Rahane or Shreyas Iyer would have greatly helped the Indian batting. The Men in Blue needed someone to play the anchor role while the others batted around him. The choice of players has always been a problem area during the Kohli-Shastri tenure and the World Cup was no exception.
The Indians were not really tested ahead of the semifinals apart from the loss to England and the scare at the hands of Afghanistan. To a large extent, it was the individual brilliance of Rohit, Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah which carried them into the semifinals. But in order to win a World Cup, team effort is of paramount importance. Also, Kohli, for all his achievements, failed to get going in the knockout phase of the World Cup yet again. The Indian captain is yet to score a single fifty in the business end of the marquee event across three editions.
Kohli and India will have to wait for another four years to regain the ultimate prize in world cricket. For that to happen, the preparations have to begin in earnest from now.