Kane Williamson called correctly and opted to bat in a memory which seems like it happened eons ago. Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were on the money straight away, Bhuvi using swing to push the batsmen back and Bumrah using angle to find Martin Guptill’s edge. Williamson was at the centre of yet another rescue mission. The Indian bowlers were miserly in their lines and lengths. Once Henry Nicholls played all over a Jadeja non-turner, Ross Taylor joined Williamson and patiently guided New Zealand to a respectable total. Williamson lost his wicket trying to up the ante and despite the match spilling on to a reserve day due to rain, Ross Taylor held his nerve and kept the runs flowing. Ravindra Jadeja showed why he is the world’s best fielder, a direct-hit which flew from his arm caught Taylor short and a brilliantly judged catch saw the back of Tom Latham, the last recognised batsman. New Zealand ended their scrappy innings at 239/8.
With the pitch having moisture, the Kiwi pacers knew that a few early wickets will ring alarm bells in the Indian camp. Getting India’s prolific top three was New Zealand’s only hope. Trent Boult and Matt Henry steamed in, finding every degree of swing possible. Henry struck off his third ball, pitching one up, forcing Rohit to play front. But the ball tailed away at the last possible second, kissing the edge of Rohit’s bat and flying to Tom Latham’s gloves. The next over, Boult set Virat Kohli up by bowling three out-swingers and getting the fourth ball to move back in. Kohli, expecting the ball to jag away, was ready to cover the line and dab it for a single but the ball changed course, moving back in and striking Kohli’s pads. Kohli reviewed the LBW decision to no avail as the ball was clipping the bails. Centimetres.
Matt Henry returned the next over, catching KL Rahul in two minds. Instead of leaving a harmless half-tracker outside the off-stump, Rahul poked at it and Latham flew to his right and hung on. India were in all sorts of trouble at 5-3. Dinesh Karthik was pushed up the order. Karthik hung on, taking 21 balls to get off the mark. He slashed a wide delivery but James Neesham at backward point dived forward and completed a sensational one-handed grab. Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya showed maturity beyond their age, picking the right balls to go after and rotating the strike well. Williamson decided to bring Mitchell Santner in. Both batsmen feast on spin and the surface offered minimal turn but the decision paid off. Rishabh Pant fell first, followed by Hardik, both to unnecessary slogs across the line. Santner had lured both batsmen into a realm of comfort but found enough drift and dip to get them outside that zone of comfort and chase glory. Youth and fearlessness turned to inexperience as India were left looking for a hero to get them home.
At 92-6, Ravindra Jadeja walked in to partner MS Dhoni. Jadeja played the knock of his life, bringing hope back into Indian hearts. He knew when to go big and which bowlers to target. Dhoni took absolutely no risks, holding the fort and running between the wickets like he was a long-haired, 23 year old with nothing to worry about. This was the Dhoni 133 crore Indians wanted to see, but he knew best.
42 were needed in the final 4 overs. Williamson’s captaincy is instinct-driven. Neesham had to bowl one over and Williamson knew that his over held the key. He decided to hold Neesham back and bowl Henry and Boult. Henry bowled the 47th over and gave just 5. Boult bowled the 48th, conceding a double and two singles off the first three balls. Jadeja sensed that he had to go big these last two balls. He had timed everything to perfection, his shots, his decisions to attack and even his celebration after his fifty. Boult bowled a slower ball and just when timing was needed the most, it was nowhere to be found. Williamson judged the skier and hung on to the catch. The last ball went for a single as Dhoni kept the strike. India needed 31 from the last two overs.
Lockie Ferguson was greeted with a mortally impossible cut off a bouncer from Dhoni, which flew for six. Memories of the countless times that Dhoni has finished off games, making the impossible possible, came flashing back. Nostalgia infected and belief injected, Indian fans knew that despite what countless people had criticised him for, Dhoni was the right man for the job. The second ball was a pin-point yorker, which Dhoni could only defend. The third was a bouncer, which Dhoni mis-timed to point. He sprinted the first run and turned back for the second. Guptill had got his hand to the ball and took aim and let fly, just as Dhoni was charging back. The ball hit the wicket and the bail lights flashed, just as the hopes, dreams and belief dimmed for a whole nation. Dhoni was run-out by millimetres. Millimetres.
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New Zealand completed a 18-run win and stormed to their second consecutive World Cup final. It was yet another case of close, but no cigar for India. In the next few days and possibly years, there will be many questions asked about the batting collapse and the decisions which followed. There will be discussions, debates and harsh decisions made but what one must take away and remember for life is the fight and the never-die attitude of Ravindra Jadeja and MS Dhoni, which made a nation believe.
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