India 8 for 133 (Verma 46, Kerr 2-21, Mair 2-27) beat New Zealand 6 for 129 (Kerr 34*) by four runs
India squeezed past an error-prone New Zealand into the Twenty20 World Cup semi-finals and probable tournament favouritism, after Shafali Verma added to her tournament highlight reel and and then Harmanpreet Kaur marshalled her bowlers to suffocating effect at the Junction Oval in Melbourne.
Sent in to bat by Sophie Devine, India benefited from another whip-crack start thanks to Verma, who cashed in on two dropped chances on her way to 46 off 34, after scores of 29 and 39 against Australia and Bangladesh. While the innings faded at its back end, the bowlers had been given more than enough to defend on a sluggish surface that rewarded canny slow bowling against a New Zealand side eager to get to grips with the turning ball.
After Shikha Pandey struck first, Suzie Bates and Devine perished to deliveries they needed to wait just a fraction longer before hitting, and from that early loss of three wickets it was always going to be a game of catch-up. Amelia Kerr threatened when she took 18 off Poonam Yadav in the 19th over, but Pandey kept her nerve to send India through as New Zealand scored 29 off the last two overs when they needed 34.
Hurricane Verma blows into Junction Oval
There was absolutely nothing dull about Verma's latest appearance, although it was at times on the scrappier side as both sides adjusted from the pace of Perth to the slower Junction Oval surface. A few early plays and misses gave way to boundaries, and then the sign that Verma was really in when she deposited successive deliveries from Anna Peterson over the straight boundary for sixes, when an obliging half volley was followed by an even more generous full toss. All was not well at the other end, however, after Smriti Mandhana dragged Lea Tahuhu onto the stumps and then Taniya Bhatia's sound supporting innings was ended with a square cut off Rosemary Mair that arrowed straight to Kerr.
Verma's innings was also to grow more ragged, as she was twice put down by New Zealand at long-on and then midwicket. Further wickets, as Jemimah Rodrigues front edged a full toss and then Kaur offered the tamest of return catches to Leigh Kasperek, contributed to a sense of claustrophobia, and Verma's stay was to end with a catch to long-off. Spectacular as some of her shots had been, the innings was petering out.
Kerr restricts India
Despite a greenish tinge on the pitch, New Zealand loaded up on spin after the early overs, as Devine called upon no fewer than seven bowlers in her efforts to slow down India. Best of the bunch was Kerr, not surprisingly, who twirled her legbreaks and variations with typical skill and was rewarded with the wickets of Verma and Veda Krishnamurthy lbw on the sweep after New Zealand opted for the recourse of the DRS.
Having been 1 for 68, India declined as far as 7 for 111 before Pandey and Radha Yadav scrounged some vital runs at the death, including the only six of the innings not fired off by Verma. New Zealand were left feeling mixed about proceedings: they would probably have taken a target as low as 134 at the start of the match, but their profligacy in missing numerous chances - a trend for several teams in the tournament so far - left a sour sense of opportunity spurned.
Slow bowling, fast exits
Patience is a virtue when facing India's spinners, not only in terms of waiting for the bad ball but also in terms of waiting for each individual ball to actually arrive. For New Zealand's top order, this wait proved too much under World Cup pressure, as Bates and Devine played too presumptuously and too soon at balls whirring slowly down at them. Pandey's mediums gained the first breakthrough as Priest, having already found the boundary, aimed for midwicket and could only offer a skier to be caught inside the fielding circle after it swirled tantalisingly in the breeze.
Bates, spoiling to go on the attack herself, made a pre-movement across her stumps that gave Deepti Sharma a split second in which to slow her pace further, and have the New Zealand No. 3 rushing through her shot and bowled behind her pads. Devine, having dominated against all comers recently while churning out six consecutive half-centuries, waited and waited for Poonam's full toss to reach her, only to mistime it for another simple catch.
New Zealand suffocated
Despite a salvaging stand between Maddy Green and Katey Martin, the required rate drifted up and up over six, seven, eight, nine and 10, as an expectant Indian-centric crowd anticipated a victory.
Fifty-seven runs were still required off 35 balls when Green finally decided that attack was her only available path and ran down the pitch to Rajeshwari Gayakwad, who had artfully held one back just enough to gain the drop and turn required to spin past the bat and offer Bhatia a simple stumping. From there only a brilliant rearguard from Kerr, who scooped 18 from Poonam's final over, gave the Indians some jitters, before Pandey delivered an exceptional final over to close it out.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig