Those 45 minutes
New Delhi, July 11: Before the India-New Zealand semi-final clash, all the cricket pundits, including former spinner Daniel Vettori, believed that the only way Black Caps could have won against the Men in Blue was to play aggressive cricket in the first 10 overs, both with bat and ball.
"They will have to be aggressive right from the outset and bowl to take wickets. If you take early wickets and can get at that Indian middle order then you have a chance," Vettori had said.
And that's what New Zealand did on Wednesday. They had only one shot to aim and they did that perfectly to seal their spot in the World Cup finals for the second time in a row.
Chasing 240, the Indian batters would have known that if they could see off the new ball and don't give away too many wickets, they would win it rather easily at the Old Trafford.
However, that didn't happen.
Rohit Sharma, who was India's run-machine in the tournament till then, got a peach of a delivery from Matt Henry.
Skipper Virat Kohli, who is notorious of not performing in the knockouts of the ICC tournaments, never looked comfortable during his short stay at the wicket and was ultimately trapped in front by Trent Boult.
And K.L. Rahul, who has been guilty of poking out at deliveries outside the off-stump, once again became a victim of his own confusion of whether to play the ball or to leave it. Poking at a delivery on the fifth stump line half-heartedly, Rahul threw away his wicket and once again gave critics a chance to take pot shots at him.
Wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik, who was included in the side as an extra batter to strengthen the batting line-up, looked circumspect right from the start. He could not get off the mark off the first 17 or 18 deliveries which he faced. However, just when he was looking to get settled after hitting a boundary, he was undone by sheer brilliance from Jimmy Neesham who dived to his left-side at point and took probably what can be easily touted as the catch of the tournament.
At the end of 10 overs, India were left 24-4 in their chase of 240. From there onwards, the Men in Blue were always playing the catching game. Even though Ravindra Jadeja and M.S. Dhoni provided 1.3 billion Indian fans with a hope of what could have been a miraculous comeback at the biggest stage in international cricket, the mountain was too high to climb for the two-time world champions.
Had it not been for Jadeja who played a brilliant a knock of 59-ball 77, the margin would have been much bigger. Jadeja, who was termed as a "bits and pieces" player by Sanjay Manjrekar, produced a once-in-a-lifetime knock to drag India close to the finishing line. However, he holed out to Boult while trying to go for a maximum to a ball which he would have backed himself to throw out of the park.
At the other end, Dhoni almost pulled off a "vintage" Dhoni inning by scoring 50 off 72. However, the man who is termed to be the fastest between the wickets in international cricket, had a stirring end. The man who runs the hardest, has an impeccable judgment of a run, was run out brilliantly by Martin Guptill, who had till then done nothing for the Black Caps in the tournament. However, his perfect throw from deep square-leg was probably the biggest contribution he could have made for his captain, the always calm and composed Kane Williamson.
Wednesday's loss of 18 runs wasn't an expected result, considering India had finished at the top of the table and were drawn to play New Zealand, the lowest-placed side in the top four.
"Forty-five minutes of bad cricket puts you out of the tournament. Difficult to take it — but New Zealand deserve it," Kohli said after the game. And probably, those 45 minutes decided the fate for the Men in Blue.
(Aakash Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])