New Zealand had played attritional cricket, with Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor slamming fifties. A total of 239/8 was viewed as an under-par score, not worth of testing the might of Rohit, Kohli and others in the batting order in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 semi-final in Old Trafford, Manchester. Instead, there was a dramatic change in the script. Matt Henry removed Rohit for 1. The one person who could have made the difference and had made five tons before this match was gone. Virat Kohli was trapped LBW by Trent Boult for 1. When KL Rahul and Dinesh Karthik fell cheaply to Henry, India was in dire trouble.
Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya attempted a recovery but both fell to Mitchell Santner and India’s hopes were fast fading away. A team-high on star power was now unfolding against a team known for their tactical acumen, mainly because of their skipper Kane Williamson. It was Williamson’s genius that ensured New Zealand had to grit it out to reach a total of 239. Now, he was rotating his bowlers brilliantly. Now, he was presented with the ultimate test. New Zealand had to go for the kill and in their path, stood MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja.
Dhoni was the finisher par excellence. Jadeja was on a redemption mission after being labelled ‘bits and pieces’ by former India player and current commentator Sanjay Manjrekar. The pattern was set. Jadeja was going to be the aggressor and Dhoni was the sheet anchor. The former India captain was consuming plenty of dot balls while Jadeja was clearing the boundaries with ease.
The power of Dhoni was such that he ensured Jadeja had all the freedom. Jadeja hit four fours and four sixes while MS Dhoni managed just one four. The 116-run stand had given 1.5 billion Indians reasons to dream again. Lord’s was still on.
However, India still had the problem of a mounting net run-rate. Dhoni was still not able to turn his aggressive switch on. He was consuming too many dot balls. The former India skipper was going by the blueprint that had made him India’s ultimate finisher. Hang in there till the end and go for the kill in the last over. With 37 needed off the last three overs, Williamson had a conundrum. He had bowled out Matt Henry and had only one over of Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson. James Neesham was the other bowler who was entrusted to bowl one over.
In Dhoni’s blueprint of death overs batting, his aim was to target the weak link in the bowling in a chase. In 2013, when India was in a similar situation against Sri Lanka in the tri-series final and had only one wicket remaining, Dhoni had gotten India to the final over. The right-hander then hit Shaminda Eranga for two sixes and a four in the final in Trinidad as India secured a brilliant win. In the 2019 semi-final, that weak link was James Neesham.
However, Williamson had other ideas. He presented Dhoni the challenge. He told Dhoni, go through Boult and Ferguson in order to get to the last over bowled by Neesham. Boult and Ferguson were Williamson’s go-to bowlers in the death. Dhoni was now presented with a new challenge in his blueprint. Boult had bowled four good balls and the pressure mounted. On the fifth ball, Jadeja miscued a full ball and was caught for 77. With 31 needed off 12, it was now up to Dhoni.
In many Twenty20 games and in the IPL, Dhoni had hogged the strike in the end and gotten India over the line or had fallen just short of it. Now, in the semi-final, he was expected to do the same. Dhoni upper-cut Ferguson for a six over deep backward point, rekindling the memory of the final of 2011 when he did the same thing to Thisara Perera at the Wankhede. However, next ball, Dhoni wanted a couple but a direct hit from Martin Guptill ended India’s hopes. It was a poetic tragedy that Dhoni’s career started with a run-out and his World Cup career ended with a run-out. Go deeper and even in 2015, India’s hopes in the semi-final against Australia ended when he was run-out in Sydney.
In this instance, one felt that Dhoni’s struggle to press on the accelerator and the moment when he had to do it was too late. However, Williamson had outsmarted Dhoni in that he had too much to do at the death. The IPL, with the conditions and the kind of bowlers, is a different thing. In a World Cup, it is a different beast. In all this, the fact that there were six New Zealand fielders outside the circle when there should have been five was overlooked by the umpires. However, such is the nature of the sport.
India had dominated the league stages of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 thanks to some brutal batting and clinical bowling. New Zealand, on the other hand, were reliant on only one or two individuals and were suffering a loss in momentum. The semi-final clash of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 between India and New Zealand was a mere formality in Virat Kohli’s path to Lord’s on July 14. Commentators, analysts, mostly Indians were already wishing the team all the best for the next two games. Media houses had already booked the Indian cricket team a ticket to the final. However, there is a saying in cricket which is ‘expect the unexpected’. India’s fans would hopefully learn. However, in an era of inflamed passion, this is difficult and a country with one-tenth the population of India showed their brilliance under pressure.