India's relentless march to the 2023 World Cup final on Wednesday had all the traits of a template coach Rahul Dravid's met set themselves for the ICC showpiece event.
Virat Kohli's World record 50th ODI hundred, a scintillating century by Shreyas Iyer and Mohammed Shami’s brilliant pace bowling powered the hosts past New Zealand in the first semi-final with a 70-run victory at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai on Wednesday.
After Rohit scored 47 off 29 balls, hundreds by Kohli (117 off 113) and Shreyas Iyer (105 off 70) and a fluent 66-ball 80 by opener Shubman Gill, who retired hurt due to cramps earlier, propelled India to an imposing 397 for 4 after skipper Rohit elected to bat.
New Zealand did well in the chase but were stopped at 327 in 48.5 overs, with Mohammed Shami taking seven wickets for 57 runs.
The toss was not precisely part of the template, but it aligned more with captain Rohit's pre-tournament desire to see a bit of fortune going the team's way in big events.
There is no gainsaying what would have happened had India chased, considering their current form, but winning the toss indeed gave them an edge.
Rohit and Gill have shared a 100-run stand with four 50-plus partnerships, including the 71 in 8.1 overs on Wednesday, in 10 matches. Those numbers actually do not do justice to the impact the two batters have made in India's magnificent run in the tournament.
At the Wankhede stadium, they blunted New Zealand’s new ball pair of Trent Boult and Tim Southee before defanging express pacer Lockie Ferguson. Their race off the block eased any nerves in the Indian camp while laying a solid foundation for a middle-order charge.
At 35, Kohli is no longer at the peak of his youth. Fifteen summers have taken its toll, but his near-superhuman fitness keeps the man going. His hundred on the day was a tribute to his endurance, the mindset to soak in pressure, conditions, opponents and occasion.
It allowed Iyer to bat around him with freedom, brave in the knowledge that an immovable force is at the other end.
Their 163-run partnership for the second wicket, after Gill retired hurt, ensured that India did not lose the momentum Rohit provided.
Iyer’s talent was never in question, and the right-hander has given a few manifestations of it too in the past. But in the semi-final, he conquered a big moment against an opponent that had beaten India more than once in the past in global events – with a 67-ball hundred.
His knock was a vindication of the faith head coach Rahul Dravid reposed in him while lauding his temperament.
Iyer batted in one-gear throughout his innings, pummeling the New Zealand bowlers with shots all around the park.
Then followed the Shami show! The pacer’s marvellous smooth run-up, flowing action and follow-through only conceal the destruction he is capable of with the ball.
He showed that against the Kiwis a seven-wicket haul. He got rid of dangerous openers Devon Conway and Rachin Ravindra early in the innings before New Zealand found some wind on their sail through a 181-run stand between captain Kane Williamson (69) and centurion Daryl Mitchell.
India needed a wicket to break the momentum and Shami gave two. He ousted Williamson and Tom Latham off successive balls in the 33rd over to hamper the Black Caps. In the process, he also completed 50 wickets in the World Cup.
Mitchell and Glenn Phillips were mounting a fightback, and the latter had extracted 20 runs off Mohammed Siraj, who bowled the 41st over. India needed a tight over to pile a bit more pressure on the Kiwis, and Kuldeep provided just that.
The left-arm wrist spinner gave away just two runs in the 42nd over, forcing the Kiwi batters to take risk against Jasprit Bumrah. Bumrah promptly got the wicket of Phillips in the next over (43rd).
In his next over, 44th of the innings, Kuldeep dismissed Mark Chapman to complete a fine spell.
In a high-pressure match, fielders can often make mistakes, but not Ravindra Jadeja. His safe pair of hands gobbled up offerings from Mitchell, Phillips and Mark Chapman in the death overs and that was the end of a spirited New Zealand challenge.