There had been so much criticism of MS Dhoni for not showing enough intent in this tournament. The same thing seemed to be happening today again. India looked down and out from the game at 92/6 with only Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja left at the crease.
But then Jadeja decided to become India's answer to Carlos Brathwaite and played an unimaginably good innings. New Zealand have struggled with their death bowling and that weakness was exposed again. But Jadeja was just sublime. He played shots cleaner than any of the accomplished batsmen and managed to time the ball better than others.
But, Dhoni seemed to be in a world of his own. He was happy to just turn the strike over to Jadeja and block those balls which were too difficult even to get a single. This meant that the entire responsibility of keeping India in the game and keeping the required run-rate from going through the roof was on Jadeja. And the boy from Saurashtra was delivering. India needed 90 of the last 10 overs but in the first part of these last 10 overs India seemed to be winning the contest with Jadeja striking the ball cleanly to the ropes and sometimes over them as well.
But then New Zealand got their act together and started accumulating dots and stopping boundaries. The required run-rate begin to climb. While Jaddu was trying his heart out, Dhoni was only looking for singles with the occasional two. Commentators waxed eloquent about the finishing abilities of Dhoni. But it wasn't him but Jadeja who was getting India closer. Because of the all-rounder, India needed less than 40 off the last 4 overs and time had come for even Dhoni to throw caution to the wind and start smashing boundaries.
New Zealand brought on their most reliable death bowler in Trent Boult. The first four balls of the over had produced very few runs. More than 30 were needed and delveries left were running out. Jadeja, in desperation, went for another big hit but got a huge top-edge that went miles up in the air and it was New Zealand's captain Williamson who took the catch.
Dhoni still believed the job could be done and gave himself the strike for the last two over and hit the first ball of the 49th over for six. He then got a rude bouncer that he fended away and went off for a couple of runs as the wicket-keeper had to chase the ball. But Martin Guptill came charging in, grabbed the ball and delivered a direct hit that caught Dhoni just short of the crease. That was the match for the Kiwis.
MSD scored 50 off 72 balls at a strike rate of 69.44. Jadeja scored his 77 runs off just 59 balls at a strike rate of 130. You have to wonder whether, if Dhoni had shown more intent and hadn't thrown the responsibility of hitting the big shots solely on Jadeja, things could have been different. It seemed like Dhoni was banking on the fact that New Zealand will have to use Lockie Ferguson and Jimmy Neesham, not their best bowlers, in the last couple of overs so he can chase any target down at the end.
But in cricket, taking the game into the last couple of overs is always very risky. Strange things happen, like the Guptill direct hit. Dhoni's decision to play ultra-defensively and leave things to the last over didn't work. You wonder whether it was the right tactic.