Before the semi-final clash between India and New Zealand, many former commentators and cricketing analysts were congratulating Virat Kohli’s Indian cricket team. No one had given New Zealand a chance. In a rain-affected semi-final which saw it being played for two days, fortunes fluctuated. Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson slammed the fifties and New Zealand huffed and puffed their way to 239/8. Many cricketing analysts had slammed the nature of the Old Trafford wicket, with former Australia skipper Steve Waugh saying that a total of 240 was par. However, New Zealand has always punched above its weight in World Cups. Matt Henry took out Rohit Sharma for 1, denting his prospects of becoming the leading run-getter in an edition. Trent Boult got rid of Virat Kohli for 1 with an inswinger. India was reduced to 5/3. With Dinesh Karthik and KL Rahul falling cheaply, suddenly it seemed there was a match on the cards.
Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant tried to steady the innings but they fell in the quest for quick runs. However, India still had MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja. One had the power of finishing the innings while Ravindra Jadeja was already fired up by the ‘bits and pieces’ comment by former India player Sanjay Manjrekar. Both batsmen counter-attacked, Jadeja, in particular, smashing some big hits of the bowlers. Dhoni, on the other hand, focused on rotating the strike and taking the game deep. With 37 needed off 18, Boult got rid of Jadeja for 77. In the next over, Dhoni rekindled the 2011 World Cup heroics with a carved six over deep backward point.
Martin Guptill, who had failed in the whole tournament, produced a moment of brilliance as Dhoni was run-out by a direct hit from backward square leg. New Zealand sealed the win in style with this 18-run win in the semi-final in Manchester and reached the final for the second consecutive time since 2015 when they had secured a similar thrilling win against South Africa in Auckland.
On a tough wicket, New Zealand found the going difficult against the discipline of India's bowlers, particularly Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Guptill fell for 1 while Henry Nicholls steadied the ship with Williamson. After Nicholls' departure, Ross Taylor joined Williamson and ensured New Zealand did not lose wickets. The rain intervened and despite the best efforts, the match was pushed to the reserve day. New Zealand managed to get some crucial hits and ended on 239/8.
In response, Henry and Boult produced one of the best bowling spells in the tournament. Rohit Sharma, with 648 runs five centuries, was undone by a delivery that nipped away outside off and he fell for 1. Kohli was undone by the pace and swing of Boult and was trapped LBW for 1. The murmurs of the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy final grew. With KL Rahul falling to Henry and Dinesh Karthik falling to a superb one-handed catch from Neesham, India was in the doldrums.
Hardik Pandya played a subdued knock while Pant showed his aggression. The left-hander was looking in good touch but once again, a rash shot when settled resulted in his dismissal and that drew furious reactions from Virat Kohli in the dressing room. With the asking rate mounting, Pandya top-edged the slog sweep off Mitchell Santner and he holed out to Williamson.
Jadeja stepped up and broke the shackles by regularly finding the boundaries. He took the attack to the bowlers and revived the run-rate while Dhoni was content on playing second fiddle. When Jadeja reached his fifty, his sword celebrations were pointed towards the dressing room and he spread his arms to signify the hollowness of Manjrekar's 'bits and pieces' comment which spurred him on. Jadeja and Dhoni's partnership in the middle overs once again gave hope for India. With the partnership crossing 100 and with both having momentum, it seemed New Zealand was in pressure. However, the nature of the partnership was contrasting. While Jadeja found the boundary, Dhoni did not seem to press the accelerator to compliment Jadeja.
However, Boult struck in his last over as Jadeja fell to the dot-ball pressure while the game was sealed when Guptill, having a poor run with the bat, produced the match-defining moment when he ran out Dhoni with the batsman just inches short. The mood of the Indian fans and the stadium was off considerable disappointment. It was a sad way for Dhoni to go out in what could be his last game in the World Cup. For New Zealand, they showed that punching above your weight and flying under the radar does have benefits.