Jadeja and Dhoni fail to save floundering India as brilliant Black Caps book final place
Ravindra Jadeja and MS Dhoni did their best, but once again India were found wanting in a big spot.
As was the case in the 2015 Cricket World Cup semi-final and the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy final, India cruised through a tournament before stumbling in a high-stakes situation.
A target of 240 against New Zealand should have been easily attainable for an experienced batting line-up that had Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli in imperious form, even on an Old Trafford track that had provided little pace and assistance to batsmen.
But having fallen to 5-3 just 19 deliveries into their reply, their soft underbelly was exposed and neither Jadeja (77) nor Dhoni (50) could prevent the Black Caps returning to the World Cup final, India dismissed for 221 to slip to an 18-run loss.
In a unique contest that spanned two days due to rain, the odds had been in India's favour throughout New Zealand's innings on Tuesday. The Black Caps were restricted to 27-1 in the powerplay - the lowest total in the opening 10 overs of this World Cup - with only captain Kane Williamson (67) able to find any real fluency.
Persistent showers forced New Zealand to resume Wednesday's reserve day on 211-5 after 46.1 overs and though Ross Taylor (74) finished as his team's leading run-scorer in their 239-8, India looked set to get home.
"Around 250 would never be enough in a bilateral series between these two teams on this surface but in a World Cup semi-final... it may just be," New Zealand great Brendon McCullum had tweeted on Tuesday.
He had a point - India have developed a habit of floundering in key major ODI games.
Around 250 would never be enough in a bilateral series between these two teams on this surface but in a World Cup semi final....it may just be!— Brendon McCullum (@Bazmccullum) July 9, 2019
Four years ago, they stormed through the group stage, winning six out of six and crushing Bangladesh by 109 runs in the last eight. In the semi-finals, their bowlers were taken apart by an Australian team that reached 328-7 to set up a 95-run victory.
Two years ago, they finished top of their Champions Trophy group and then lost just one wicket in chasing down 265 in the semi-final against Bangladesh. In the final, however, a revitalised Pakistan team they had thumped by 124 runs in the group stage piled on 338-4, India wilting to 158 all out in reply.
Here, the target was considerably smaller, but the story remarkably similar.
Rohit arrived in Manchester as the competition's leading scorer having plundered five centuries, but he edged a terrific Matt Henry delivery behind on one. Kohli, the number-one ranked batsman in ODI cricket, had also made a single before being given out lbw and when KL Rahul departed for the same score from the first ball of the fourth over, India were reeling.
Dinesh Karthik's dismissal from the final delivery of the opening powerplay left India four down. They had lost a combined four wickets in the powerplays of their previous nine matches combined. How would they fare without their leading batsmen?
The pressure appeared too much for Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya, leaving India still needing 148, their fate in the hands of Dhoni and Jadeja - two men with a combined age of 68.
Dhoni, in likely his final World Cup, would only tick along, as has been the case in recent years, while a pumped-up Jadeja provided the fireworks, dragging India back into position with four boundaries and as many maximums.
But when their 116-run partnership ended as Jadeja miscued to Williamson at long off, India still needed 32 from 13.
Dhoni slapped one delivery for six but for once he could not be the finisher, run out to end potentially his last ODI innings.
India's hopes went with him, too. They had only themselves to blame.