The aggressively charged Indian batsmen Rohit, Gill, Virat, Iyer, and KL Rahul outsmarted and outplayed the cunning New Zealand bowling unit, propelling India to a decisive victory and securing their place in the World Cup final.
The distinctive rituals of the Indian batsmen before each delivery Rohit’s quick rise, Virat’s bat twirl, Shreyas Iyer’s forceful tap on the ground, KL Rahul’s bat held aloft, and Shubman Gill’s composed stillness serve as subtle indicators that something extraordinary might unfold with the incoming ball.
On Wednesday, as India conquered nerves and a resilient New Zealand side by 70 runs to advance to the World Cup final, it invariably involved Rohit lofting the ball over covers, Kohli executing a bottom-handed whip, Iyer striking the ball into the stands, Rahul clearing the square boundary, and Gill elegantly guiding the ball through midwicket.
These sequences of ultimate swagger have been replaying consistently over the last six weeks. While the bowlers have brought the ‘wow’ factor with remarkable displays of seam bowling, exemplified by Mohammad Shami’s extraordinary 7/57, it’s the Fab Five who have consistently paved the way for India’s victories, maintaining a flawless record of 10 wins out of 10 matches.
Batting, perhaps due to its longstanding strength in Indian cricket, hasn’t received the same level of acclaim as the bowling prowess. Only once, against England, did a batsman outside the top five confront a challenging situation to rescue the team. Excluding that isolated incident on a low-scoring pitch in Lucknow, the quintet has delivered in every match of this World Cup.
Therefore, the outcome seemed almost predetermined when the coin favored India at the toss. Rohit, showing no hesitation, chose to bat first on a flat Wankhede deck on a humid Mumbai afternoon against a struggling New Zealand bowling unit that had conceded over 350 runs to the other two semifinalists, Australia (388) and South Africa (357).
Rohit Takes the Lead
There’s an arrogance in the way the batsmen have executed the demolition job, beginning, as it has throughout the campaign, with Rohit 2.0.
In football, when facing an equal or stronger opponent, targeting their best player first can rally the team and send a strong message. While cricket isn’t a contact sport, Rohit adopted a non-violent approach by going after New Zealand’s top bowler, Trent Boult, from the first over. Hitting boundaries on both sides of the wicket, Rohit set the tone, leaving New Zealand, who may have erred by choosing Tim Southee over Ish Sodhi on a slow pitch, rattled. India’s batsmen had an answer for every New Zealand strategy.
After being smashed for two boundaries, Boult shifted around the wicket, prompting Rohit to dispatch him over extra cover. When they attempted bouncers, Rohit casually stepped back and sent the ball over the backward square-leg fence.
New Zealand may have hoped for a moment of respite to shift momentum in their favor after Rohit’s brilliant catch by Kane Williamson in the 9th over, but that was not to be.
Gill, initially cautious, swiftly transitioned to a counter-attacking mode in the next over, hitting Lockie Ferguson for two fours. Despite Gill punishing him for another boundary in the subsequent over, Williamson persisted with his ace pacer. However, after Gill smashed him for a four and a six in the 13th over, Williamson was forced to remove him from the attack.
Following Gill’s departure due to cramps, New Zealand aimed to slow down the scoring rate, but Shreyas Iyer took charge. He hammered Rachin Ravindra for a six and a four in the 27th over, prompting Boult’s inclusion.
However, introducing pacers in the middle overs didn’t yield the desired results, as Kohli adopted an offensive approach.
On the first ball of Boult’s second spell, Kohli advanced and blasted the ball over mid-off for four. In the next over, the second ball of the 30th, he stepped out again, whipping Southee over mid-on and sending the ball into the Sachin Tendulkar stand.
Williamson turned to spin, hoping for assistance on a surface expected to favor spinners. Although Santner bowled a maiden over to Iyer in the 35th, Iyer and Kohli—breaking Tendulkar’s record for the most ODI centuries and surpassing his World Cup run record looted 17 runs off Southee’s next over.
It was a controlled, coordinated attack that has allowed India to dismantle most bowling attacks. Therefore, it was no surprise to witness their dominance over New Zealand on a lifeless wicket.
Celebratory fervor filled the stands as the Indian batsmen set New Zealand a target of 398. The excitement heightened when Mohammad Shami picked up two quick wickets, leaving the Kiwis at 46/2 after the first powerplay.
The jubilation turned to nerves as Daryl Mitchell and Williamson stitched together a 181-run partnership to keep New Zealand in contention for what would have been the second-highest run chase in ODIs.
New Zealand’s audacious effort capitalized on uncharacteristically sloppy fielding by India, including a wild overthrow by Ravindra Jadeja and Shami dropping Williamson.
However, Shami, returning to action, promptly picked up two wickets, including Williamson’s, extinguishing any hopes of a New Zealand fightback. Throughout the campaign, Shami, with a wicket in each of his three spells, had the last laugh. Still, it was the batsmen who set the stage for the victory.