Let’s get the result out of the way first. India made 397/4 in their 50 overs and New Zealand replied with 327 in 49.5 overs as Mohammed Shami marked his exceptional World Cup with an India-best haul of 7/57, which extended the pre-tournament favorites’ unbeaten run to ten and set a date with one of Australia and South Africa in Ahmedabad on November 19. Now let’s get to the stage that had been set at the Wankhede Stadium on an unforgettable day.
The fear, the trepidation, the concern, the butterflies in the stomach, it all started to dissipate for Indian cricket fans when Rohit Sharma won the toss ahead of the World Cup semi-final and opted to bat. At the Wankhede Stadium so far in the tournament, every team but one had won matches when batting first. The team that managed to chase something was Australia, and that was because Glenn Maxwell played arguably the greatest World Cup innings ever.
So, the fans gathered inside the Wankhede Stadium, and the thousands still queuing in at various gates, had reason to feel optimistic after the toss went India’s way. No fielding first, as had happened during the 2015 and 2019 ODI World Cup semi-finals. A massive box ticked off.
The second moment of joy for Indian fans at the Wankhede Stadium on Wednesday was Virat Kohli getting to his 50th century in ODI cricket, thus going where no cricketer has ever gone. Two innings before this, at Eden Gardens, Kohli had finally drawn level with Sachin Tendulkar on 49 ODI centuries. At 5:07pm on a warm Mumbai evening, when he twirled a ball from Lockie Ferguson past square leg and pummeled between the wickets for two runs, Kohli made history to get to the landmark of 50 while also breaking Tendulkar’s 20-year-old record for most runs in one World Cup. And the Mumbai fans got what they had come here for. In the stands, Tendulkar smiled and cheered.
Before that unreal milestone was brought up, however, the bigger picture of India using the advantage gained from the toss played out.
First the fans were treated to another strong start from India’s openers, as Rohit again walked the talk and smoked four fours and four sixes in getting 47 off 29 deliveries and Shubman Gill dazzled with 79 from 65 before he was forced to retire hurt in the 23rd over. By then, India had 164 runs on the board, Kohli was set and Shreyas Iyer had a platform to build on.
Kohli, initially watchful, worked the New Zealand spinners around and played some trademark punches for fours when he felt like it. The Wankhede Stadium fans, almost entirely made up of Team India fans in blue jerseys with the name ‘Kohli’ written on their backs, just sat back and enjoyed the master doing what he does best: set himself up for hundreds to give India a total from where they knew the match was in the bag.
He was sluggish initially, particularly against the spinners, but as the innings progressed Kohli became more fluent. He fed off the vibe of the fans, who cheered his every run. On 80, he pulled Trent Boult for four. You knew he sensed that this time, unlike in Chennai, Dharamsala and Mumbai, he would get to three figures. And when he did, the stadium reverberated. You had to be there, like this writer was, to feel the emotion that the fans had for Kohli.
The 50th century raised, Kohli started hitting out. Glenn Phillips put down a tough catch in the deep when Kohli was 107, and the drop cost ten runs before the man of the moment skipped out and whipped a ball from Tim Southee to deep midwicket. The fans stood as one to applaud their hero off.
Iyer, his own form and confidence rekindled after scores of 82, 77 and 128 not out, did not hesitate to wow the fans in his own way. He knew, despite being a Mumbaikar and this being his home ground, that the public was here to see a Kohli century. But he just went on with his job, swatting sixes for fun, moved on to his fourth 50-plus score in a row, off 35 deliveries, and kept the tempo up to get his own century in 67.
So toothless was New Zealand’s bowling, and so bereft of a plan B was the team, that India cruised to 397/4 in their 50 overs. KL Rahul helped himself to 39* off 20 balls, extending his tournament batting average to 77.
The Black Caps did not go down without a fight, despite losing Devon Conway and Rachin Ravindra inside eight overs to Shami. Mitchell thwarted India for 119 deliveries, which fetched him his second century of the World Cup, a terrific 134, and Kane Williamson looked rock-solid for the 73 deliveries he faced in scoring 69. The Kiwi pair batted with purpose and ran superbly between the wickets, never turning down a chance to pinch a single even after hitting boundaries to turn up the pressure on India.
As New Zealand’s asking rate touched ten an over, Rohit went back to Shami and who else but he could have snapped that stand? In the span of two deliveries, Shami had Williamson flicking to the fielder at deep square leg and then won an lbw shout against Tom Latham, and New Zealand were suddenly 220/4 in the 33rd over.
But the fire was not doused just yet. Twenty runs came off Mohammed Siraj in the 41st over as Glenn Phillips struck two sixes and four to leave New Zealand’s asking rate at 12.67 per over, and the bowler to nurse figures of 8-0-71-0. Back to Kuldeep Yadav went Rohit, and the next over cost just two runs which was golden in that situation. Then Bumrah returned to produce the wicket of Philliips for 41 off 33, courtesy a mishit that was very well held by Ravindra Jadeja at wide long-off. Moments later, Jadeja took another catch to give Kuldeep his first wicket, as Mark Chapman also fell trying to clear the boundary-riders. But the catch that was really celebrated was the one Jadeja held to end Mitchell’s splendid century, for it gave Shami his third five-wicket haul of the World Cup.
He finished with a record 7/57, the crown jewel in India’s run to the World Cup semi-final. And to think that Shami had to sit four matches on the bench, and only got a chance because of Hardik Pandya’s injury.