One of the worst feelings in life is fearing things that aren't in your control. So, last week, when it was confirmed that the all-conquering Team India would face New Zealand in the semi-final of World Cup 2023, a sense of anxiety filled every Indian fan’s heart as the scars of the past heartbreaks once again opened up.
With India’s last league-stage game finishing on the 12th of November, and the semi-final scheduled for three days later, the intervening period felt like a million lifetimes where fans relived flashbacks of those dreaded moments from the past against the Black Caps, while dreading the worst possible scenarios for the semi-final.
No team has inflicted more heartbreaks in ICC knockouts on the Indian fans than New Zealand, and with the Men in Blue having won just 1 knockout game since 2015, even the current ruthless juggernaut could not sway away the scars of 2000, 2019, & 2021.
But, the best thing about time is that it always changes. And, on Wednesday, November 15, time did change for the better as the fearless and ruthless Rohit Sharma-led unit washed away the scars of the past with their dynamic display.
Captain Rohit stamps his authority to give India a head-start
4 years ago, on a gloomy afternoon in Manchester, the beginning of India’s demise in that World Cup started with Rohit Sharma’s dismissal, and so it was only fitting that the redemption resumed with the stylish opener smashing the daylights out of the New Zealand new-ball bowlers.
All through this World Cup, Rohit has shown no mercy to the bowlers from ball 01, but to do it in a semi-final requires immense courage. That’s because the margin for error is so small in this sport for a batsman; it's a one-ball game.
Take the example of the very first over of the inning, when Rohit nonchalantly flicked Trent Boult over mid-wicket. The ball went for a boundary but it was also just a few inches away from being caught. Now, imagine the reaction had that been taken.
But Rohit looked like a man possessed, and he proceeded to show no mercy on New Zealand as he danced down the track to drive the fast bowler over the cover region besides playing his bread-and-butter shots- hook and pull.
Rohit will be disappointed that he again failed to convert it into a big knock, but his onslaught gave the hosts a headstart they so dearly wanted against their bogey side in a high-pressure game.
Virat Kohli: God’s favourite child writes his own script as he breaks ‘God of Cricket’s’ record to claim the Everest
If Rohit Sharma’s batting is rock n roll, then Virat Kohli’s batting is classical music tuned to its zenith, and on Wednesday, both icons of Indian cricket displayed that to the hilt.
After Sharma’s blitz, it was time for Virat to engineer another live tutorial of ODI batting. Kohli is at his dangerous best when he has a point to prove, not to others, but to himself.
He is a proud performer, and the past failures in the semi-final of the 50-over World Cup must have hurt him.
On Wednesday, in front of his adoring home fans, the champion batsman was never going to let this opportunity slip, and he didn't, as he went about writing the most beautiful script one could ever imagine; a script in which he leapt in the air, then sunk on his knees to soak it all in, before getting up to bow down to his idol, the same idol whose record he had just shattered and then turning to his jubilant wife.
Virat Kohli on breaking Sachin Tendulkar's record
"If I could paint a perfect picture I would want this to be the picture. My life partner, the person I love the most is sitting there, my hero is sitting there and I was able to get the 50th (ODI hundred) in front of all of them and all these stands in Wankhede as well, such a history venue so it was amazing.''
It was a typical Kohli knock, where he ran like a man possessed after threading gaps with surgical precision besides painting the Wankhede with his dazzling strokeplay.
Virat was eventually dismissed for 117 but not before etching his name in the history books as he became the first batsman to rack up 700+ runs in a single edition of a World Cup, and the highest individual score for India in the semi-finals.
Shubman Gill & Shreyas Iyer dazzled on the big stage
The beauty of this Indian team is that it is not all about Virat and Rohit in the batting department. So, while these two were doing their thing, the young guns, Shubman Gill and Shreyas Iyer were showcasing that the future is indeed bright as they stepped up big time in a high-pressure environment.
Gill (80* off 66) displayed remarkable maturity as he played the dual role of anchor and aggressor to perfection. He played second fiddle to Rohit when the latter was firing on all cylinders, and seamlessly switched to the main lead once his partner was dismissed.
The 23-year-old was at his stylish best as he unleashed his short-arm jabs with disdain to take the NZ attack to the cleaners. However, just as he was looking set for a memorable ton, cramps forced the right-hander to retire, and while he did return at the backend, there weren't enough deliveries left to complete the ton.
Gill may have not completed his hundred, but Shreyas Iyer, who replaced the former, ensured he did as the middle-order batsman went on to smash the fastest ton (67) in a World Cup knockout game.
Criticized for his issues against the short ball earlier in the tournament, Shreyas has batted beautifully in the 2nd half of this campaign, and on Wednesday, on his home turf in a WC semi-final, the Indian No.4 tapped into the highest level of his talent to produce a knock that will forever remain etched in the hearts and minds of all and go down as folklore.
Shreyas was in the perfect mood to aim for the stars as he kept going downtown to the spinners to paint the Wankhede with as many as 8 sixes, and by the time he was dismissed, he had all but ensured that his knock had smashed New Zealand out of the World Cup.
Amid all this, the cameo played by the omnipresent KL Rahul (39* off 20) should also not be forgotten as it proved to be the difference between India getting 370 and their eventual score of 397.
Super Shami’s record-breaking feat leads India’s juggernaut
Mohammed Shami is inevitable in World Cup cricket. And, even more so, when he is bowling against New Zealand.
Having already picked a 5-for against the BlackCaps earlier in the tournament, the champion seamer went 2 steps ahead to claim eye-watering figures of 7/57 to shatter multiple records, including best figures for India in WC’s and in ODIs overall.
Shami picked up both the New Zealand openers before returning to break the partnership between Daryll Mitchell and Kane Williamson, and then pinning Tom Latham to seal the game.
However, Shami’s 7 wickets were as much a result of his skills as it was because of the pressure created by the rest of the bowlers.
Which, in itself, symbolizes the greatness of this bowling attack. Jasprit Bumrah didn't have the best of nights by his very high standards, but he posed enough questions to the Kiwi batsmen, especially Devon Conway at the start. He finished with just 1 wicket but could have easily ended up with 3, if not for those drop catches.
Meanwhile, our spinners, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav, especially the latter, may have taken just 1 wicket between them in 20 overs, but the pressure that the duo created through a string of dot deliveries, especially against a set Daryll Mitchell, contributed towards the wickets.
The one aspect where India was completely off on Wednesday, was their fielding, and it is something they should look to address ahead of the big final against Australia on Sunday.
In the end, though, it was fitting that it was Shami who nailed the final nail in New Zealand's coffin and confirmed our rightful place in the World Cup final.
Featured Image Credit: BCCI