Karthik Krishnaswamy in ESPNcricinfo,com, !0 July 2019, where the title is “New Zealand in final despite thrilling Jadeja-Dhoni counter-attack”
It was a semi-final spread over 28 hours and 24 minutes, and it contained some of the defining features of this World Cup. Rain, enough of it to force the match into a reserve day. Terrific new-ball bowling. Incredible fielding. A tricky, two-paced surface that kept scoring rates down, but also ensured neither team was ever entirely out of the contest.
At the end of it, it was New Zealand who remained standing, reaching their second successive World Cup final with an 18-run win. India went out at the semi-final stage for the second successive tournament, but not without scripting a dramatic comeback that showed just why they are one of the world’s top ODI teams.
This Old Trafford is just half a mile from the other Old Trafford, and MS Dhoni time is just as potent a sporting quantity as Fergie time. Ravindra Jadeja was in the middle of one of the great does-not-deserve-to-lose performances at the other end. Chasing 240, India had roused themselves from 5 for 3 and then 92 for 6, and were somehow still in the contest. They were now 203 for 6, and needed 37 from the last 18 balls.
But it wasn’t to be their day. Jadeja, who had performed at the peak of his ability in every bit and piece of his cricketing skillset, finally miscued a slower ball from Trent Boult to depart for 77 off 59 balls. Dhoni, who had nudged and nurdled his way to 43 with only one boundary, carved Lockie Ferguson for six over point at the start of the 49th over to bring the equation down to 25 off 11 balls. But in an attempt to keep the strike, he turned for a desperate second run two balls later, and was beaten to the keeper’s end by an inch, undone by a breathtaking direct hit from Martin Guptill.
It was then, and only then, that New Zealand could breathe, and think of Lord’s, July 14.
They certainly couldn’t think of Lord’s at any point during their innings, which began on Tuesday morning and ended just over 24 hours later, after incessant rain had pushed its last 3.5 overs into the reserve day.
The skies were overcast throughout, and the pitch two-paced. New Zealand began by playing out successive maidens from Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, and ended by hitting just one boundary in their last six overs. Right through the innings – particularly when Kane Williamson shared partnerships of 68 and 65 with Henry Nicholls and Ross Taylor for the second and third wickets – New Zealand’s focus was on keeping wickets in hand. Run-scoring was a grind, particularly against Jadeja’s left-arm spin and the changes of pace from India’s three seamers.
But 239 was a fighting total in these conditions, and by the fourth over of India’s chase it looked monumental.
The new balls swung and seamed for Boult and Matt Henry just as it had for India’s opening bowlers, but perhaps to a smaller degree. Where Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah had beaten the outside edges of Williamson and Nicholls numerous times, Henry moved it just enough to kiss it. The length and line were impeccable on both occasions, and both Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul were forced into feeling uncertainly for the ball.
In between, Boult swung one into Virat Kohli and had him lbw, playing around his front pad. The ball hit the flap of his pad, and it was perhaps a marginal decision – Kohli reviewed, and ball-tracking suggested the ball would have clipped the top of the leg bail – and umpire Richard Illingworth called it in the bowler’s favour.
It took 6.5 overs for 5 for 3 to become 24 for four. Rishabh Pant was positive at one end, looking compact in defence but pouncing on drives through the off side when they were available, while Dinesh Karthik was static at the other, taking 21 balls to get off the mark. Soon after he did, he spooned a drive squarer than perhaps intended, and James Neesham flew to his left to complete a one-handed grab at backward point.
The first signs of an Indian recovery came via a 47-run fifth-wicket stand between Pant and Hardik Pandya. Neither batsman seemed in much difficulty in the middle, but were having to bat at a lower gear than normal, so the end of the partnership, and there was a sense that something would give, one way or another. Hardik Pandya played out a maiden when Mitchell Santner came into the attack, but Pant was less willing to bide his time, and he slog-swept the left-arm spinner to deep midwicket in his next over.
A miscued slog-sweep did for Pandya too, and the wicket came thanks to the pressure Santner had applied by conceding only five runs in his first five overs. With the pitch affording him natural variation – of both turn and pace – he kept things simple, angling it into the stumps from round the wicket to both left- and right-hander, bowling at a pace that made it difficult for the batsman to use his feet, and on a length just short of drive-able.
India were 92 for 6, and that might have been it in previous games, when they played both their wristspinners at the expense of Jadeja. Now they had a bit of batting depth, and the man providing it had already had a fantastic match. Jadeja had taken 1 for 34 in his 10 overs, and had been electric in the field, running out Taylor with a flat direct hit from the deep and catching Tom Latham with a backwards leap at deep midwicket. Surely he wasn’t done yet.
He wasn’t. Where most of his team-mates had struggled for timing, Jadeja looked fluent as soon as he walked in. When he made a move to attack, he made it decisively, often through the use of his feet to get close to the pitch of the ball and hit down the ground. He hit his first three sixes this method, two off Santner and one off Neesham. Each of his hits roused the largely blue-clad Old Trafford crowd, and by the time he brought up his fifty – off 39 balls – their roar must have been intimidating for the team in black.
But India were still chasing nine an over, and New Zealand still had their fast bowlers’ death overs in reserve. Jadeja kept India in the hunt with another six, this time over long-off, off Ferguson, and an edged four off Boult, but only five came off the 47th, a perfect over of short-of-length cutters from Henry. With more than two a ball required now, India would have to start swinging for everything. It could have gone their way on another day, but this day would be New Zealand’s.