Chasing in the mountains no sweat as India's calm prevails in the land of the Dalai Lama
Mohammed Shami led an incredible comeback from the Indian bowlers but New Zealand's 273 was the most hosts have chased in this World Cup.
Another night, another successful Indian run-chase. That sums up the top-of-the-table clash against New Zealand in Dharamsala, a match that tested India’s mettle and character, their composure and poise. Mohammed Shami’s remarkable spell on his comeback prevented the Kiwis from posting 300, very much on the cards heading into the last ten overs. Even so, New Zealand’s 273 was the most India had conceded in this World Cup, and against one of the more balanced and incisive attacks, the hosts needed to be on top of their chasing game to maintain their unbeaten run.
It helped that India had won their previous four games batting second. The confidence that flows from successful run-chases can’t be quantified. There are times when, having suffered a stutter or two, teams embrace feet of clay when confronted with a target. Then, there are times, like now when India are on a roll, when no target appears out of reach, no situation too daunting.
Since being rocked at the start of their chase in their opening tie against Australia two weeks back in Chennai, India have bore down on totals with consummate ease. The belief derived through winning from three wickets down for two runs when chasing 200 against the Aussies was easy to discern, especially during two flash points on Sunday night when they lost two wickets in quick succession.
Against Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh in their last three fixtures, India blazed to their target at a canter. New Zealand weren’t going to roll over as easily. For India to secure the two points, they had to do the running because Tom Latham’s men wouldn’t give an inch.
A regulation win might have appeared on the cards when the old firm of Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill got the hosts off to a cracker, but in a stirring reminder of why they are so consistent in world events, New Zealand surged back into contention through Lockie Ferguson, who dismissed both openers in the space of 14 deliveries. In no time, India had gone from 71 without loss to 76 for two. Mini crisis No. 1.
Out walked Shreyas Iyer to join Virat Kohli. India gave Iyer every chance in the lead-up to the World Cup to return to full fitness after back surgery; Iyer is well on his way to repaying that faith. As for Kohli, what more can one say? If there is a better chaser in the history of the game, he has been exceptionally well concealed.
Kohli’s presence in the middle has the twin effect of lifting Indian spirits and instilling doubts in the minds of the opposition. So often has he carried his team past the finish line that sides tend to focus on the batter at the other end. Iyer is no slouch himself, however. He might have walked into artificial pressure but he quickly imposed himself with a flurry of boundaries, ensuring that India didn’t get bogged down despite the twin Ferguson strikes.
Kohli and Iyer added 52 to steady the ship, then KL Rahul helped his former captain put on 54 for the next wicket. At 182 for three with the run rate not an issue, everything was hunky dory. Until it wasn’t.
Rahul fell leg before to the admirable Mitchell Santner and Suryakumar Yadav, on his World Cup debut, was run out with a ball-watching Kohli culpable of playing his part in the dismissal. India were 191 for five, still needing 83, with Ravindra Jadeja the last of the recognised – or first of the non-recognised – batters. Without Shardul Thakur, there was not even the token insurance of another batting option. This was it, make or break.
If Kohli was shaken by his role in the Suryakumar run out, he showed no outward signs. If Jadeja felt the nerves in his first hit of the tournament, it didn’t manifest in his body language. If either or both were worried about the lack of batting resources in the hut, there were no indications. There was no panic, no hare-brained running, no outlandish shot-selection, no unseemly hurry to hurtle home. Instead, there was an eerie calmness. In the land of the Dalai Lama, that seemed entirely in the fitness of things.
Brick by assiduous brick, they rebuilt the chase, no frills, no drama, no fuss. Ones and twos were the bread and butter, but the boundaries weren’t ignored. Their icy cool percolated to the stands, their grim focus broke Kiwi spirits. This was a proper chase, from a proper chasing side.
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