Pressure. It's what turns coal into diamonds. Changes in air pressure can cause Hurricanes or tornadoes. Pressure can cause great cricketers to make schoolboy errors.
From the first moment on day one, when Kane Williamson won the toss, he chose to bat so that India would be under pressure at the end.
When the Indian bowlers got on top early on, Williamson and Henry Nicholls needed to first absorb the pressure then apply it back. Then, after Nicholls got out, it was India's turn to apply pressure. Ross Taylor and Williamson absorbed it, scoring only 16 runs in their first eight overs together, then started to apply it back (49 runs off the next 10 overs).
Once Williamson was out, New Zealand were already starting to accelerate. Neesham and Taylor combined for a small, but a relatively quick partnership, followed by 38 runs off 22 balls between Taylor and Colin de Grandhomme. Taylor was now in the zone. And then the rain came.
The day off amplified the pressure on India if anything. The Indian players knew that New Zealand’s score was better than it looked, but that it was still chasable. They knew that they had the expectation of more than a billion people on their shoulders. And they knew that it was not going to be easy.
New Zealand did not manage to regain the momentum that they had leading into the rain delay but still managed to get through to 239. They did that despite only hitting one boundary in the final 5.5 overs, instead, they created pressure on the Indian fielders by taking quick singles and pushing for twos. This resulted in a run-out, but also in a number of overthrows, including one double overthrow where a short single resulted in three runs.
Pressure does funny things to a fielding side. But it also does funny things to a batting team.
With the ball, New Zealand had a clear plan. They did not go specifically looking for wickets, but rather stuck to a simple length, and kept hitting it. Trent Boult focused on two deliveries - the outswinger on a good length and the inswinger on a good length. He didn’t pitch it up and try for the magic ball. He didn’t bowl bouncers. He didn’t go wide of the crease. He just bowled the two variants, and let the pressure build.
Matt Henry was a little less consistent but still bowled roughly 80 percent of his deliveries in the first spell on the length between six and eight metres from the stumps. The plan was to keep the batsmen under pressure and let that pressure bring wickets. And it worked.
Rohit Sharma got a slightly fuller one, and edged it behind, Virat Kohli was struck in front trying to hit a ball from off stump to the leg. KL Rahul went part-way at a ball and just nicked off.
The pressure had brought some wickets but the score was still chasable.
New Zealand could have gone on the offensive - gone the full Brendon McCullum. They could have brought in four slips, two gullies and a man under the helmet. Instead, Williamson tightened the ring field slightly and tried to stop any singles.
One of the men there to save the single, Jimmy Neesham, would act as a catcher instead. Dinesh Karthik had stumbled along to 6 off 24 balls when Henry bowled another ball on roughly the same length as the others, only this one slowed up a bit off the pitch. TV replays suggested it was 0.08 seconds slower getting to the batsman than the ball before it, despite leaving the hand at the same speed. 0.08 seconds is not a very long time, but it is long enough to be the difference between a successful single and a batsman walking back to the pavilion after a stunning catch.
That wicket can be put down to the pitch. But part of the credit needs to go to Henry for the bowling plan. Keep hitting the same spot, keep building pressure, and sometimes different things will happen.
A few overs later, Mitchell Santner was introduced into the attack. Stephen Fleming would have probably put in a man under the helmet, to mess with the batsmen’s mind. Not Williamson. The plan was not to blast India out. The plan was to build pressure. And that is exactly what Santner did.
Dot ball after dot ball.
Like the water dripping from a slow leak, it was infuriating for the normally free-flowing batsmen. Rishabh Pant went for a wild heave across the line and found de Grandhomme standing in the outfield. The pressure had gotten to him.
Another seven overs passed. Hardik Pandya, used to scoring at more than a run a ball, was scoring half of that. It was too much pressure for him to bear. He would hit his way out of trouble...or as it happened, hit his way out of the match, as his top edge was comfortably pouched by Williamson.
Then came the real fightback from India. MS Dhoni is the king of absorbing pressure. Ravindra Jadeja has shown that he can bat and bat and bat. The battle between them and Williamson was like a duel from the wild west. Both itching to shoot, but both not wanting to be the one to draw first.
The staredown lasts three balls before Williamson got out his big gun. Trent Boult is back. India take three runs off the over, despite Dhoni being beaten three times. Then comes a strange move. Williamson pulls Santner, who had six overs 1 for 7 and replaces him with Neesham.
It is a move that is very easy to be critical of in hindsight, but there was a clear plan to this. Both Jadeja and Dhoni are comfortable against left-arm spin, but there’s a theory that Jadeja does not match up well against Neesham. So bringing in Neesham was designed to increase the pressure. The move fails spectacularly, however, as Jadeja puts a full ball from Neesham into the stands.
The plan is reversed. Both bowlers are pulled, and Williamson opts for Santner and Henry. Back to dots and ones. The required run rate per over rises to eight. Then nine. Still, Dhoni and Jadeja absorb the pressure.
Williamson goes to “agreed singles” mode. Here he allows the batsmen an easy single. But makes it difficult to get anything more. Do they take the easy one, or do they take a risk? He knows that they know that they cannot afford a mistake.
Drip drip drip.
Every single causes the required run rate to increase.
Drip drip drip.
The fielders are sprinting to save twos. They know what the plan is. They know what their job is.
But the two Indian batsmen are starting to apply the pressure themselves. Jadeja gets a couple of deliveries in his arc, and sends them into the stands. They pinch a couple of twos. Those singles are still increasing the rate, but are they doing enough?
Williamson waits. He knows an opportunity will come. He is not giving the ball to a part-timer to attempt to buy a wicket like Martin Crowe would have done. He just tightened the field slightly. Trying to keep up the pressure.
India need nine an over for the last 11. The take nine off the 39th. They take nine off the 40th. They take nine off the 41st. Is self-doubt starting to set in?
Ferguson comes back. Dhoni defends. Dhoni leaves. He looks like he’s got all the time in the world. But getting only three runs causes the required rate to increase.
Here’s Neesham. The theory is that he matches up well with Jadeja. He gets a mishit. But it falls short of Taylor at fine leg. He edges one on the bounce to short third man. He mishits one, it bounces in front of Santner. Perhaps he really does match up well. 7 runs off the over. The required rate rises past 10.
Dhoni laughs in the face of a required rate of 10. It’s still not time to panic. He defends one ball and leaves another. Jadeja, however, launches an over-pitched ball into the crowd. The spectators in the blue shirts are starting to make some noise. They can sense something special is happening here.
Ten runs off Ferguson, 10 runs off Boult. Forty-two runs needed off four overs. 10.5 runs per over. People in the crowd in both colours of shirts are hiding their faces. Pressure.
Four bowlers have one over left each. First up is Matt Henry. Back of a length for a single. Back of a length, play and miss. Back of a length for a single. Back of a length for a single. Back of a length for a single. Back of a length for a single.
It is not flash. It is not fancy. None of those balls will make the highlights reel. None of them defined the match. But each one built the pressure. Each one did its job.
Trent Boult has the ball now. Three good bits of fielding in the first four balls. Each one adding to the pressure. When is it going to break? On the fifth ball, Boult rolls the dice. He goes for a slower ball. New Zealand have not been trying many tricks, but this one pays off. He draws a false shot. Jadeja hits the ball high. High, high, high, high. It felt like there was time to nip down to the shops and back before it came down. But nobody moved.
Settling under it was Kane Williamson. Who else.
The pressure is now on Williamson. Drop this, and there may not be another chance. He will be the new Herschelle Gibbs - the man who dropped the world cup.
He doesn’t even look like dropping it. In the stands, men wearing their Kane Williamson - ‘’Steady the Ship’’ captain’s hats are hugging.
But the match is not over. There’s still Dhoni. And where there’s Dhoni, for India, there’s hope.
Ferguson is the new bowler. He bangs one in. Dhoni leaps like a salmon and cuts the ball just over Mitchell Santner’s head on the point boundary. 25 needed off 11. Can he do it?
Dhoni wants to do it himself. He turns down a single next ball. The one after that he sprints through for a couple. Latham hares off after the ball. Who’s at the stumps? Doesn’t matter.
Martin Guptill hits the stump directly. The pressure of the situation made Dhoni take a second where he wouldn’t normally.
The rest of the match is an anti-climax. New Zealand pick up the required wickets off the next six balls to end the dreams of India for this episode.
Ultimately the pressure does the trick.
In the press conference afterward Kohli sums it up nicely: “New Zealand deserve it because they put enough pressure on us.”