My apologies that it’s taken me a while to write this piece after the first semifinal. Being the only media professional from New Zealand following the blackcaps across the length and breadth of India it took me a while to come to terms with the fact that our World Cup campaign is now over. We did lose to the best team in the tournament, but at 220 for 2 in the 33rd over chasing 398 for victory there was a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe a miracle would occur, but it wasn’t to be.
Conceding 397 in 50 overs is not a problem. The problem is when you could see it coming from a mile away. In their last 5 matches New Zealand have bowled first on 4 occasions and barring their final round robin game against Sri Lanka they have conceded totals of 388 against Australia in Dharamshala, 357 against South Africa in Pune, and 397 against India in Mumbai.
The blackcaps have paid a heavy price for their inability to break partnerships in this World Cup. In Mumbai it was the trio of Gill, Kohli and Iyer who put on a whopping 256 runs for the 2nd wicket. Wickets in any form of the game are like gold. You don’t pick them, and you will remain a pauper.
The three quicks Boult, Southee and Ferguson bowled 28 overs between them and picked up 4 wickets for 251 runs at an economy of 8.96. If the remaining 22 overs had gone for a similar economy rate India would have made 448. Thankfully the spinners led by Santner (10-1-51-0) and supported by Phillips and Rachin combined to bowl 22 overs for 144 runs i.e., an economy rate of 6.55. The quicks picked up wickets but when they come at 8.96 runs per over, they aren’t worth much.
Over the years New Zealand have built a reputation for their planning and execution. For their discipline and self-control. The bowlers, especially the quicks will be disappointed with their efforts in a big game. The width offered along with the inconsistent lengths was an invitation for a run feast and we know how hungry the Indian batting line up currently is. They said ‘Bon Appetit’ with glee.
White ball cricket is a batter’s game. Thicker bats, flat pitches, lightning quick outfields, small boundaries, two new balls and three powerplays all designed with the intention of increasing the boundary count. Yes, it’s not fair how heavily skewed it is in favor of the willow but it’s the same for every team. You can either whine and moan or you can improve your skill set to such a level where regardless of the various parameters you still pick up wickets. This bowling performance left New Zealand’s batters a herculean task to achieve in a must win game.
The only time we looked like we were in the game was during the 181 run Williamson-Mitchell partnership. As the partnership grew you could sense the nervousness in the Mumbai crowd. When Shami dropped a sitter offered by Williamson, every Indian went four years back to that 2019 semifinal and wondered if history would repeat itself. Once Williamson & Latham fell in the same over the writing was on the wall.
In his first ODI World Cup Daryl Mitchell has made sure people stand up and take notice of him. 552 runs in 9 innings at an average of 69 and strike rate 111.06 with 2 hundreds and 2 fifties is exceptional. Remember he bats at number four where opportunities are few and far. But like a well-trained actor Mitchell walks on to the set, understands the scene, and plays his part perfectly. He submits himself fully to the team’s cause and never tries to be the star of the show.
As competitive and fiery as he is on a cricket field Mitchell is the epitome of humility and humbleness off it. In every interaction I am amazed at how grounded he is. “I don’t let success get to my head and I don’t let failure bring me down either. I am blessed that I get to represent my country on an international stage and try to execute the role I have been given to the best of my abilities.” Genuine words from a genuine human being.
From India’s point of view there were two special performances. Virat Kohli reaching his 50th ODI hundred and Mohammed Shami picking up 7 for 57 with the ball. Virat’s wife Anushka is a Bollywood actor and producer, and even she couldn’t have scripted it better for Virat. Breaking Sachin Tendulkar’s record on Sachin’s home ground with Sachin in the audience is the stuff that blockbusters are made of. Growing up Virat idolized Sachin. When he reached the landmark in a touching gesture he bowed to Sachin and paid homage. Flying kisses to his wife followed. The crowd went berserk. All they came to see was an Indian win. Everything else was the icing on the cake.
On the morning of the semifinal, I woke up to a storm on social media over the pitch being used in Mumbai. Was it a used pitch? Yes, it was. Had it been changed without the knowledge of the ICC? Well, the ICC issued a statement saying that they knew about the pitch being changed to a used one instead of a fresh one. Was it a good pitch? Over 700 runs were scored on it, 3 batters scored centuries, spinners from both teams bowled well on it and an Indian seamer picked up a 7-wicket haul. Sounds like a pretty good wicket to me. At the post-match press conference, I asked Kane Williamson his thoughts on it, and he said he had no issues with it at all.
The BCCI’s organizing of this World Cup has been shambolic. The schedule was released very late. Then it was changed again. The ticketing system has been an epic failure. The state of the outfield in Dharamshala was horrific and the facilities offered to the fans left a lot to be desired. They might be incompetent, but this baseless attack on their integrity is uncalled for. Through the course of this World Cup India has been accused of using a different ball to the rest of the sides when they bowl, they have been accused of pitch doctoring and now the latest accusation is that they fix the toss of the coin as well. Why do we have such an issue accepting the fact that they have played bloody good cricket? There is a saying in India that when you get jaundice, the whole world starts appearing yellow to you.
If India are 10-0 in reaching the finals, Australia too have won their last 8 games in a row to reach the finals. The India- Australia rivalry has provided cricket lovers with some mouthwatering contests in the past and I won’t be surprised if these two teams provide the 130K fans at the stadium along with the billions watching at home with a final for the ages.
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