The World Cup’s first semi-final between India and New Zealand risks being completed in front of an underwhelming crowd after Manchester rain pushed it into a reserve day.
The match was interrupted at 2pm, with New Zealand precariously placed at 211 for five from 46.1 overs, and never resumed – despite the ICC’s desperation to get things done and dusted.
For a while, it looked as if India might have to chase a potentially tricky 148 off the 20 overs that would have constituted a game – a scenario that would have brought New Zealand’s high-class seam attack into contention, and risked robbing India of a place in Sunday’s Lord’s final against either England or Australia.
That would have necessitated a 6.35pm start, but the rain did not relent, leaving India with the more palatable prospect of chasing down a modest total in a full 50 overs on Wednesday. When the umpires finally called a halt, they were the more relieved of the sides.
The tournament organisers must now hope that most of the spectators who turned up for the first day will return for the second. Those unable to make it were encouraged to hand in their tickets, which will be distributed for free among the Greater Manchester cricket community.
But with thousands of Indians fans having already re-routed at short notice from Birmingham to Manchester following Australia’s surprise defeat by South Africa on Saturday – a result that left India first in the group, not second – there was a danger on Tuesday night that some would head home rather than fork out for a hotel room. Anti-climax at a critical moment in this 46-day tournament is not what the ICC had in mind.
Not that the players will see it that way after a tense three and a half hours in which New Zealand failed to justify Kane Williamson’s bold decision to bat first under slate-grey skies.
There was some logic to his move: 16 of the last 20 group matches were won by the team setting a target, while New Zealand themselves went down to heavy defeats by Australia and England batting second. It also seemed as if his own bowlers would be operating in helpful conditions later in the day – a theory he was not able to test.
Instead, India’s opening attack of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and the outstanding Jasprit Bumrah offered few freebies on a sluggish surface. Martin Guptill’s horror tournament continued when he was well caught at second slip by India captain Virat Kohli off Bumrah for a single, and New Zealand’s 10-over score was 27 for one – the lowest powerplay score in this World Cup.
Henry Nicholls was then bowled through the gate for 28 by left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, who hurried through 10 overs for just 34, before the ever-reliable Williamson and Ross Taylor slowly rebuilt.
But progress was so slow that by the time Williamson popped leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal to point for 67, New Zealand had used up more than 35 overs reaching 134.
All-rounder Jimmy Neesham perished cheaply trying to up the rate, succeeding only in heaving Hardik Pandya to deep midwicket, and it was 200 for five when Colin de Grandhomme steered Kumar to wicketkeeper MS Dhoni for 16.
Taylor remained unbeaten on 67 when the rain arrived, and will be crucial to New Zealand’s attempts to cash in on the final 23 balls of their innings on Wednesday morning. But the unhittable Bumrah still has two overs up his sleeve, and India are favourites to reach their fourth final.