India moved to top of the 2023 World Cup table with a four-wicket win over New Zealand, making them the only remaining team yet to taste defeat in the tournament. Set a target of 274 in Dharamsala, India were indebted to another fine unbeaten innings from Virat Kohli, who made 95 out of the final score, after Mohammed Shami earlier marked his first appearance of the World Cup – also, as in 2019, after four matches – with a match-setting five-wicket haul.
Make no mistake. If India are 5-0 at this World Cup, it is because the best bowling attack in the tournament has set the team targets of 200, 273, 192, 257 and 274. These are targets easily achievable for this Indian team at home, where since 2015 only one team, Australia, has managed to win an ODI series. Full marks to Rohit Sharma, Kohli, Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul for finishing chases thus far into the World Cup, but these five wins for India would not have been possible without India’s excellent bowling unit.
The Dharamsala track was not a 315-plus surface, but India still did very well to keep New Zealand to 273. Six wickets fell in the final six overs of the innings, and just two boundaries were struck between overs 41 and 49. To do this after a stand worth 159 between Rachin Ravindra and Daryl Mitchell was astute work from India, and here much of the credit has to go to Shami and Jasprit Bumrah. Both experienced pacers changed their pace and lengths to constantly try and force the set batsmen into indiscretion, and in particular the use of the yorker by Bumrah stood out. There is a very fine margin with that specific delivery, and to see Bumrah repeat it successfully to a well-embedded Mitchell was noteworthy, because the allrounder is a fantastic striker of the ball when in flow.
And while he did not have a wicket to show for, Ravindra Jadeja getting through his ten overs for just 48 runs, on a day which Kuldeep Yadav conceded 73 in his quota, while taking some tap from Mitchell, was very good.
The story of the innings, however, was Shami. Deemed surplus to India’s requirements in the previous four games, the sudden absence of Hardik Pandya – whom Rohit termed his third pacer- meant that India had to draft in a batsman and bowler. Shami underlined his worth with a wicket first ball and five in all, thus becoming the first Indian bowler in the history of World Cups, dating back to 1975, to take two five-wicket hauls. And had Jadeja not dropped that catch in the 11th over, New Zealand could have scored far less.
As he did in Mohali against Australia in a rare ODI opportunity a few weeks ago, Shami bowled tidy lines and was always at the batsmen. Initially he bowled quick, but as the surface started to play two-paced, Shami smartly changed his offerings. When Rohit called on him to break the swelling partnership between Ravindra and Mitchell, Shami did just that as the former swung him down to long-on for 75. In his final spell, very tactfully using the variable bounce, Shami tied down Mitchell and got his man for 130, swinging out of frustration and finding a pumped-up Virat Kohli stationed at cow corner. Shami even managed a hint of reverse to pick up Mitchell Santner and Matt Henry in successive deliveries.
However, India’s fielding – before this match another highlight of their tournament so far – also let them down. Ravindra was on 12 when he steered a delivery from Shami to Jadeja at point, but the catch was grassed. In Jadeja’s first over, a crouching KL Rahul started to rise too early and fluffed the ball when Mitchell got a faint edge. The New Zealander was on 60 at the time. Not long later, on 68, Mitchell went after a wide ball from Kuldeep and was dropped at long-off by Bumrah, who covered good ground but let the chance spill out of his grasp.
As it panned out, thanks to the splendid work at the death, India had, once again, a target that was achievable. Rohit, Shubman Gill, Iyer and Rahul all threw away starts, but Kohli hung around to take India to the doorstep of victory with 95 from 104 balls, and was given company by Jadeja who made 39* off 44 deliveries. This was another excellent innings from Kohli, who smoothed over the loss of wickets to come close to levelling Sachin Tendulkar’s ODI century mark of 49. That it was not to be owed to his own eagerness to finish the match with a six to give him his 49th hundred, but on the day India had a chaseable target in front of them.