IMAGES from the first semi-final of the ICC World Cup played between India and New Zealand at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai on Wednesday.
Making the big stage his own, Virat Kohli added more lustre to his larger than life persona with a historic 50th ODI century that extended India's bullish World Cup run to the title clash even as New Zealand threatened to spoil the home team's party with a lion-hearted fight, in Mumbai Wednesday.
The semifinal tilted heavily in India's favour after Rohit Sharma's team put on board a massive 397 for four, bulldozing the Kiwi attack but before the hosts romped home by 70 runs for an unprecedented 10th win in a row, New Zealand did cause considerable anxiety in home team's camp.
It was Daryl Mitchell's valiant 134 off 119 balls that had the Indian hearts racing as the equation became a gettable 112 from 54-balls with six wickets in hand but Kuldeep Yadav delivered under pressure a price-less two-run 42nd over that released the pressure.
Pacer Mohammed Shami, who had scalped top four Kiwi batters earlier, then sealed the fate of the Kiwis by ending Mitchell's belligerent knock and ended up with a gold-standard seven-wicket haul.
Shami is serving reminders of his class in each and every game since making the playing XI after being left out initially and he only made it bigger at the big stage.
When it was alleged that India tried to take advantage by opting for spin-friendly track, it was a fast bowler that made the ball talk.
New Zealand folded for 327 in 48.5 overs and India rejoiced a hard-earned memorable victory with yet another team effort, that earned them a shot at their third ODI world title.
A fearless Rohit Sharma (47 off 29) dented the confidence of New Zealand bowlers with his ultra-risk, power-packed knock that blew away the pressure of the big semifinal, leaving the stage for Kohli (117) to conjure up the knock that perched him atop a mountain from where displacing him does not seem possible for a long time to come.
Shreyas Iyer not only watched Kohli take the crown from his idol, Sachin Tendulkar (49 ODI centuries), from the best seat in the house but he himself made a huge contribution in India raising a mammoth total, albeit his knock of 105 was overshadowed due to the sheer significance of Kohli's milestone mark.
New Zealand has always been a big-match team and it fought through Mitchell and inspiring leader Kane Williamson (69) but in the end their efforts only saved them from the ignominy of losing by a bigger margin.
Rachin Ravindra (13) and Devon Conway imploded under pressure and the Kiwis did not get the kind start which is required for such targets.
FOURTH ODI WORLD CUP FINAL FOR INDIA
India have now reached the ODI World Cup final for the fourth time, having won the trophy in 1983 and 2011.
India had ended runners-up in 2003 and will know their title clash rival on Thursday when five-time champions Australia clash with South Africa at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
KOHLI'S MAGIC AND KIWIS' STRUGGLE
The New Zealand bowlers surprisingly looked at sea against the home batters, who scored boundaries with consummate ease.
Kohli scaled the highest peak in ODI batting and was the centerpiece of India's domination with his third century of this World Cup, scoring 117 off 113 balls with nine fours and two sixes.
Kohli (713) also became the highest run-getter in a single edition of World Cup, again surpassing the legendary Tendulkar (623 run in 2003).
"The great man just congratulated me. It feels like a dream. Too good to be true. Big game for us and I played the role so that the guys around me can come and express themselves," Kohli said.
Kohli's feat was witnessed not only by Tendulkar, whose record the modern-day great broke, but also by batting legends Sunil Gavaskar, Viv Richards and football legend David Beckham.
Complementing Kohli's sustained brilliance was Iyer's 70-ball 105 laced with eight sixes and four fours — a knock that pummelled New Zealand into submission.
If both Kohli and Gill could play their games it was because Rohit's ultra-aggressive approach yet again had provided a rollicking start that blew away the pressure of the big game.
It was not a huge score but the way the India captain went about his business in his 29-ball 47-run knock that punctured New Zealand resistance and they could not recover from that.
Rohit went hammer and tongs from the word go to rip apart New Zealand pacers Trent Boult and Tim Southee.
Having stroked his way to 47 with four sixes and as many boundaries, Rohit got beaten by an off-cutter from Southee that ended his assault.
For Rohit had left New Zealand gasping for breath - the usually composed Kiwis appeared to be scrambling for answers to stop the Indian skipper until Tim Southee found one.
The senior Kiwi bowler produced a smart slower delivery - an off cutter - which lured Rohit to go for another big hit. But this time, he could not connect as well as he had done earlier.
The ball went high in the air but not the distance.
Gill, who was forced to retire hurt due to severe cramps, did well to come out at the fag end and finished at 80 not out off 66 balls, hammering eight fours and three sixes in the process.
India's score was a record total for any team in history of 50-overs World Cup semifinals.
Kohli's strokes pierced the field with utmost precision, the running between the wickets was impeccable as ever and the ball seemed to have hit the meatiest part of his bat most of the times after he survived a close leg-before appeal at the start of his innings.