There was nothing unusual about the Black Caps strolling out to the middle at 10.30am to play in a Cricket World Cup semifinal. They'd done it seven times before. No, the unusual part was that this was day two of their one-day international. Rain at Old Trafford in Manchester had pushed their semifinal against India to a reserve day, and the Black Caps were left to deal with some bizarre circumstances, resuming their innings at 211-5. It was, as it so happened, a historic start to what would be a historic day.
Ross Taylor (Black Caps batsman): We were thinking we'd either be going to London or coming home. Instead, we had to come back, umming and ahhing how to play the situation.
Trent Boult (Black Caps bowler): It was very unique to have the game across two days. To switch it around and make India bat at 10.30 in the morning was a little bit different.
Kane Williamson (Black Caps captain): It was unique that it was over two days but it was the right decision in the end. It was great that day could come in handy. Certainly from our perspective when you qualify in the fourth position - a washout doesn't really help you out too much.
Virat Kohli (India captain): It was fine. We knew that we had a good day yesterday and we were very proud of that effort. So we felt like we had the momentum and we had the right mindset to go in.
Williamson: I think the guys slept pretty well.
Taylor: I had a terrible sleep. I woke up at 3.00am wondering how I was going to bat these last 23 balls. I texted my wife at about 5.00am, I said 'I still can't go to bed' she said 'Oh dear', so I just turned my phone off.
The Black Caps resumed with 23 balls left in their innings. Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor had anchored the innings, adding 65 from 102 balls as Williamson made 67 from 95 balls, and Taylor 74 from 90. It led to some criticism that they had gone too slowly, with India heavily favoured by most to chase down whatever seemingly below-par score the Black Caps could produce in their final flurry on day two. But the Black Caps thought differently, and believed they had played to the conditions expertly.
Gary Stead (Black Caps head coach):
Originally we thought it was going to be a better wicket than what it was, we had a number of 290-300 in our mind that we thought was possible to achieve, and then after the first 10 overs you realise how tough it was. Not just tough because India bowled well, but the surface was slow and a little bit two-paced as well, which makes batting difficult and you just have to reassess. It was a really difficult wicket, and in some ways that little bit of rain we got yesterday helped us, the ball sped up just a wee bit and we were able to accelerate into the end part of our innings.
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Craig McMillan (Black Caps batting coach): Sometimes people say "you're not aggressive enough", but you're dictated to by the conditions, and that was exemplified by firstly Henry Nicholls – that 50 run partnership at the top [with Williamson]. With 27 runs off the first 10 overs, everyone was saying "too slow", and we needed to be more aggressive, but that set the base and the platform for us. Kane and Ross [batting together] - two experienced, world-class players – it was perfect.
Stead: They didn't get too far ahead of themselves. The danger was, if you go too hard too early, you get bowled out for 160 - and then you don't win any games.
Williamson: It was really tough.
Taylor: So tough.
Williamson: We had to assess the conditions quickly and certainly looking at the surface I think both teams thought it was going to be a lot higher scoring than that.
Taylor: It was very slow and very soft and we knew the spin was going to be very important.
Jimmy Neesham (Black Caps all-rounder): We struggled a bit on the deck, it was really two-paced, it was really hard to hit through the line. Rossco and Kane stuck it out and put together a partnership and got us what was probably a par score. We copped a bit of heat overnight about the way that we batted and that we were about 80 under par and all that jazz.
Kohli: I think the first half we were very very good with the ball in the field. I think we were spot on. Absolutely what we needed to get, we got in the field. We thought we would restrict New Zealand to a total which was quite chaesable on any surface.
The Black Caps set about attacking those final 23 balls to reach a score they believed they could defend.
We knew we only had 3.5 overs left and a run-a-ball was 23 runs, which would have got us to 234. With [Jasprit] Bumrah, how good he is at the death, we knew anything around 240 was a good number for us. They're not always easy wickets out there, and this was another one we had to adapt on and I was really pleased of how we played and got to a target that was going to be competitive.
Neesham: We came out and hoped the deck would play the same as it did yesterday, we hoped that it hadn't sweated under covers and started skidding on.
Williamson: We spoke about trying to get 240-250 and we felt we would be right in the game and try and put India under pressure. Guys were really clinical in that middle-to-back end stage to try and get us to that competitive total without going too hard. We knew we had to run our twos well and use those last 23 deliveries as well as we could to get us to that point.
Matt Henry (Black Caps bowler): We rocked up knowing that if we could get 240 on the board, if we bowl well, we could make a really good game of it.
Taylor: Kane and I discussed that we thought 240 was going to be a very good total – I don't think too many pundits trusted our assessment of the wicket – but we knew it would be very tough on a new batter coming in. So we thought the best way of getting there was to take it deep, give our power men in Neesham and [Colin] de Grandhomme a platform to get to 240. We didn't quite get there, but 239 – we always knew we'd be a chance.
The Black Caps finished their innings on 239-8, handing the challenge over to the bowlers, especially their new ball combination of Boult and Henry. They were ready for the challenge.
When you look at the way we've played our cricket over this tournament, we've been thrown a lot of different challenges and we've had to stand up in different ways and adapt to conditions, and I think that was a classic case. It was tough when we had to bat, they've got world-class bowlers and bowled really well, but we soaked up that pressure and we got to a total that was defendable.
Neesham: We knew how hard it was to score on that deck and we know that when we got 239 on the board, it's such the New Zealand way - get a par-ish total and then scrap like hell to try and defend it.
Boult: There's enough pressure in a World Cup semifinal as it is, but we didn't know if it was a good score, a bad score, you can't really make those calls until both sides bat on the wicket, but we know for a fact if we get sides three or four wickets down within that powerplay, then it definitely makes it hard for the opposition.
Henry: We've always got belief in our side. We knew we would have to bowl really well, but I think that's what we pride ourselves on – we always give ourselves a chance and knew if we could put a couple wickets on it, create some pressure, anything can happen.
Kohli: Chasing 240, we were very comfortable. We were confident that we can get the score.
Perhaps they shouldn't have been. Remarkably, India's star trio of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli were all sent back to the pavilion for one run apiece as Henry and Boult put on a masterclass. 5-3 stretched to 24-4 when Jimmy Neesham took a remarkable catch to dismiss Dinesh Karthik, and after 10 overs, the Black Caps were on cloud nine.
I don't think we were expecting that start.
Neesham: The way the guys up top set the tone was outstanding.
Taylor: With that way the two opening bowlers performed, 240 looked a long way away.
Kohli: They were outstanding with the areas that they hit and the kind of swing that they got on the surface and the help that they got from the surface. I think it was the skill level that made life very difficult for the batsmen.
Boult: If we get the ball right and get things moving, it's good enough for anyone we play on the day.
An innovative fielding approach aided their cause, with the Black Caps bringing up third man into the inner circle early in India's innings, attempting to apply pressure with aggressive strategies.
We talked a little bit in the morning about what we could learn from how India bowled against us, because they bowled really well and we knew we needed to match that if we could. They were plans we had talked about in advance to try and throw something a little different at India – every team generally starts with a third man or a fine leg and it's pretty consistent in how they bowl. What we wanted to do was throw some different things at them, whether there was anything in the wicket or not, it was just to make them think a little bit differently – it was something we'd planned out and thought about.
Kohli: If there is a low total, we knew there's probably only one or two sides in world cricket that will put seven fielders in the ring and one was always going to be New Zealand. We knew they were going to attack more and not let the game go to the end, they won't take it deep, they will go all out and play the game that way because I have seen them play that way. Third man was up in the ring, and in a one-day game you had five catching fielders. They know how to create pressure.
Boult: The target was to get some early wickets and put pressure on … well, everyone, to be honest.
Henry: Initially, we had our plans to make sure they kept pushing forward, bring the slips into play – our natural games, I think.
Kohli's wicket was the biggest scalp of them all, with the world's best one-day batsman being trapped lbw by an ecstatic Boult. Kohli review the decision, but the review returned the three-letter verdict he desperately dreaded.
To nudge him on the pads and to see the finger go up was pretty exciting. You're always nervous when the decision goes upstairs, so nice to see the bails just falling off. It wasn't planned, I don't want to make it sound like I'm a magician against the best player in the world, but hey, it was just nice to see everything line up. Matty bowled extremely well, it was good pressure from both ends.
Henry: It was also about making sure we could apply some pressure with the run rate – if we could create pressure with that, then hopefully wickets would come. Thankfully today the wickets came first.
It was a spell of opening bowling that left India in ruins, and justified the batsmen's earlier assessment of the wicket and conditions.
It's possibly as good as I've seen from New Zealand bowlers. When you take the calibre and class of Kohli and Sharma and the runs that they've scored, and you have them 24-4 after the first 10 overs, it was amazing to watch and amazing to be part of.
Kohli: I think the game pretty much changed in those first 40 minutes when we were batting. New Zealand deserve a lot of credit because they put up a great display how to bowl with the new ball and they had perfect line and lengths and forced us to make errors, or bowled good deliveries to us so the pressure created was immense in those first 40, 45 minutes. The way they bowled, they did not provide any opportunities for us, for the first seven or eight overs we didn't get a ball to drive. So that shows the kind of control they bowled with - they put the fielders in the right positions and that was a perfect spell of fast bowling with the new ball, which put us under a lot of pressure.
Williamson: There were some good deliveries in there. Sometimes they take the edge and sometimes they don't. They did for us and it put us in a good position.
Kohli: Yeah, Rohit got a really good ball. I thought my ball was decent. When you lose [three wickets for five runs] it is very difficult to come back into the game.
They gave it a good shot, though. From 24-4, Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya combined for a 48-run stand, and with talented batsmen still in the sheds, India eked their way back into the contest.
We knew that as it slowed up it was going to be a tough squeeze so we needed to stay in the game for long periods. We also knew that India were looking to consolidate and so if we were able to keep looking to take wickets, but also try and create pressure where the run rate was going to keep growing - we thought there were two bites at it.
Henry: You just look at their batting lineup, it's an incredible lineup and they bat so deep with the likes of MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja – some of the best closers in the game. We knew that even though we got early wickets, that if it went deep, that we still had to keep taking wickets.
Taylor: They're world-class from one down to eight, and it showed.
The big breakthroughs came from spinner Mitchell Santner. Pandya tried to slog, only to sky a shot which Williamson safely nestled underneath, while Pant's dismissal – caught on the deep mid-wicket boundary, left India frustrated.
He is an instinctive player and did well to overcome that situation and stringing a partnership with Hardik, I think the way they played after the loss of four wickets was quite commendable. He will learn, he will look back and think yes, he could have chosen a different option in that situation and he realises that already.
Williamson: It was an outstanding spell from Santner on a surface that no doubt was offering to the slower bowlers, so we expected he would operate well. But to put up a performance like that was very special in a period of play that was very, very important.
Henry: Santner was absolutely outstanding – we needed everyone to step up and I think everyone stepped up in different ways.
Those wickets brought MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja to the crease at 92-6, with 19.3 overs remaining to get 148 runs. The two last recognised batsmen, the pair were India's last hope, and while Dhoni went slowly, Jadeja hit out, and India started to believe again.
For sure [I thought a win was on]. I think [Jadeja] had an outstanding game. Just going out with so much clarity and turning the game around in no time was outstanding to see. There was only [Bhuvneshwar Kumar] to follow after so [Dhoni] had to hold one end together in my opinion and because Jadeja was playing so well you needed a solid partnership. You would obviously expect New Zealand to fight back at some stage because the target was steep after losing five or six wickets, but the way they batted together, I think it was the perfect tempo for that situation.
Henry: They're world class finishers - we knew that to win this game, we were going to have to get them out.
Snaring that wicket proved easier said than done. A World Cup record stand for the seventh wicket of 116 runs dragged India back into the match, and suddenly they required just 42 from the last four overs.
They looked likely to win it there for a while, the way they were hitting the ball. The innings that Jadeja played, it was like he was playing on a different wicket. He timed the ball beautifully well. He was very clear in how he operated in that partnership with Dhoni, it sort of swung things to parity, perhaps even them having the momentum going into the last few overs.
Kohli: In my watching Jadeja for ten years, this is probably his best knock because the kind of pressure, the stage we are at, almost out of the game and then he produces that.
Taylor: They batted incredibly well – a 100 partnership in a pressure situation. We weren't out of the woods yet.
Stead: I was relatively calm, I think there's been other games in the tournament where the heart has been racing a little bit more. I felt it was always just out of their reach. Having to score 50 off five overs, it hadn't been done in the game whatsoever, and Dhoni, as good as he is, all it took was one mistake, and I thought our guys held their nerve really well.
Boult: I thought they absorbed the pressure really nicely, to get it to a stage where they needed 25 off a couple of overs was pretty amazing.
Kohli: We all felt like in the changing room the game can be closed out, it can be done.
With India now requiring 37 runs from 18 balls, Williamson brought back Boult to bowl his final over. It proved to be a superb decision, as Boult finally ended Jadeja's superb innings – the all-rounder departing for 77 from 59 balls after skying a shot to Williamson.
Someone like Trent - obviously a world-class bowler for us - we were trying to use his death overs as well as we could to either (a) push the run rate up to a point that it would be more challenging or (b) trying to dismiss the guys batting at the time, Jadeja and Dhoni, who we know can hit the ball a long way and can win games from that position. So trying to use your resources slightly earlier was a good move. It obviously proved to be an important part of the match.
Taylor: It was a nerve-wracking moment. Because they lost those early wickets we knew we were only one wicket away – that if we could get Jadeja or Dhoni that we could open an end up and create pressure on that new batsman. It took a lot longer than we would have liked.
Kohli: I don't think [Jadeja's dismissal] was even a mistake, it was lack of execution which in one-day cricket you have to take a risk here and there.
That left it to Dhoni, and as the equation got tougher – 25 from 10 balls – he too had to take a risk, attempting a second run against the arm of Martin Guptill, eager to make amends for a rough run with the bat. The bails went flying, Dhoni was short, and so was India's chase.
We'd talked in the lead-up to this game about the Grant Elliott moment - and who would do that in this game.
Williamson: He's probably the only man on the pitch that could create that run-out. We've seen Dhoni finish games from those similar positions on a number of occasions. For him to do that and pull off what was a significant turning point in the match was special and then obviously a great thing for our team.
McMillan: It was great to see a smile on the face. We haven't seen a lot of that in recent times. Any time you run MS Dhoni out, when there's a runchase and the game's on the line, that's a pretty crucial moment.
Taylor: The boys were joking out there that "Gup – he always misses the stumps. When there's a runout on, he always misses the stumps." It was Tim [Southee] who said "After all those misses over the years, he only hits when you actually don't need to worry about it" – but he didn't [this time], and the boys celebrated accordingly and were very happy for him.
Henry: To win games like that you need those big moments and that was a huge moment. Dhoni at the crease at the end there, the best closer in the game, that was massive. For Guppy to step up – one stump as well – is pretty special.
Boult: It was nice to see the end of him – we definitely understood anything was possible with Dhoni at the crease.
Taylor: Guptill's had a very quiet World Cup and we talked about doing something brilliant in the field and he certainly did that. Dhoni in that pressure situation, he's got India across the line many a time, and to get him in that situation … Once we got that, we were pretty confident of getting the result.
The Indian tail couldn't pull of a miracle, falling 18 runs short. The Black Caps were into their second World Cup final, and India were left heartbroken.
We played outstanding cricket throughout this tournament, and to just go out on the basis of 45 minutes of bad cricket is saddening and it breaks your heart. We are not shying away from accepting that we didn't stand up to the challenge and we were not good enough under pressure. We have to accept that - and accept the failure as it shows on the scoreboard. New Zealand deserve it because they put enough pressure on us, they were far sharper when it came to the crunch moments.
As their accomplishment sunk in, the Black Caps began to prepare for what will be a special occasion – a World Cup final against England at Lord's on Sunday.
We knew in the camp that we were good enough to be here and good enough to win. We wanted to prove to ourselves that we were good enough and it was nice to get across the line. No one really gave us a shot here, and if we go there and have a similar mindset of just scrapping and giving it our best, then hopefully we can get across the line and go one better than any side that New Zealand's ever produced.
Boult: The World Cup final is a unique experience, obviously having a taste of it in 2015 - 97,000 people at the MCG was pretty crazy. I'm sure that will put us in good stead.
Henry: It's a pretty special moment and we look forward to it.
Boult: The guys are extremely excited. A World Cup final - anything can happen.