The Men in Blue will clash Tuesday (July 9) with the Blackcaps, in the first high-octane semifinal of the ongoing cricket world cup, at the Old Trafford stadium in Manchester.
Expectations from both sides are high despite New Zealand’s underwhelming performances in the last few league fixtures. But the Kiwis are expecting a win over table toppers India to qualify for the finals for the second time in history.
With every intention to proceed into the finals of ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 themselves, Virat Kohli and company are training hard at present to overcome the crisis in India’s middle order.
India: Favourites on paper
The team is heavily dependent on its opening order led by the tournament’s top run-scorer Rohit Shamra and Virat Kohli, ninth in the list of top run-getters in the World Cup 2019, with 442 runs at an average in excess of 63.
They are joined occasionally by KL Rahul but former captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has faced a lot of flak of late for his alleged lack of intent in the last few matches that have cost them crucial wins, especially in the match against England.
Dhoni is joined in the middle order by Rishabh Pant who replaced Shikhar Dhawan after the latter was benched due to a fractured thumb earlier in the tournament. India also lost Vijay Shankar to a broken toe.
Kiwi spinners will look to get the better of this middle order crisis, especially if they manage to find swing at the Old Trafford. This will put Dhoni and Pant in a bit of a spot on Tuesday should Sharma and Kohli be sent packing before the second powerplay begins. But there is no reason to believe that India’s formidable opening partnership will relent in the crucial semifinal.
Speaking of India’s bowling lineup, Jasprit Bumrah who has been billed the tournament’s most impressive death bowler, will take the fullest advantage of New Zealand’s batting order. He will be joined by another firebrand pacer Mohammed Shami as well as Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Hardik Pandya.
Responding to India’s closing the group stage as table leaders, Kohli told reporters, “We wanted to play good cricket but we didn’t expect to have such a good record going into the semis. It’s an honour for all of us to play together for India. We don’t want to be one-dimensional in the knockout stages, and we will try to find the right balance depending on the conditions and pitches.”
Bumpy ride for the Kiwis
The Kiwis who were the 2015 World Cup runner-ups have managed to qualify for the semis four times in total and enter the finals only once. This year, they enter the encounter once again as underdogs, after having proven themselves to be a hefty challenge in the initial leg of the group stage but getting thoroughly outclassed towards the end.
The last three games resulted in three massive losses for New Zealand against Pakistan (6 wickets), Australia (86 runs) and England (119 runs), sending them from unbeaten group leaders to barely crawl into the top four, solely on the basis of net run-rate.
Kane Williamson’s side now has a huge responsibility to get back in form and play either England or Australia in the final on Sunday. In order to do that, they first need to turn the tables on India by taking on Jasprit Bumrah’s electric deliveries and Kohli’s consistent strike rate on the crease.
Issues with combination
Former NZ skipper Daniel Vettori spoke to reporters ahead of the semifinal, calling Bumrah unplayable at this point and urging the first order to get a “great ten overs at the start.” He said this in reference to the side struggling to find a firm footing in the first powerplay.
Except for Williamson (481 runs), no other batsman has been able to establish their authority on the crease. His partnership with Ross Taylor early on the match is, therefore, of paramount importance. Equally crucial are all-rounders James Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme, who need to surpass theri previous performances in the upcoming bout.
Another area of concern for New Zealand is their opening order comprising Martin Guptill only tallying 166 runs and Colin Munro being dropped after scoring 125 runs in six games.
Munro’s replacement Henry Nicholls hasn’t done any better, scoring only eight runs in two games which is why they could bring back to Munro, a left-handed impact player who may be able to give them a rapid start up front.
Vettori urged the team to get a bright head-start. “When you get on a bad run as team, you have to return to the individual. If one man can find a performance, that can permeate its way through to the whole team very quickly and build confidence, often within a game,” he said.
A three-match losing streak can evaporate pretty quickly, he added, citing South Africa’s win last weekend against Australia as an example.
Strengths and weaknesses
India was counting on the Ashes’ defeat in the match, which is what put them on the top of the table. It also meant they would get to the play the fourth-placed team instead of the third, England, which is the only side to have dealt them a loss in the group stage.
Former New Zealand captain and all-rounder Dion Nash, however, believed that the combination for New Zealand’s probable XI has not been fine-tuned. Speaking of the openers, he told News18, “Munro and Guptill are still very dangerous, if you asked any Indian bowlers they would say the same thing. India know what the two of them can do if they get them on the wrong pitch on the wrong day.” Playing Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi together was a bad idea, he added.
On the bright side, New Zealand was missing Lockie Ferguson, their leading wicket-taker and one of the tournament’s top bowlers, for the hammering by England, and his loss was felt keenly. He’s expected to be back to face India, however, which will play its advantages to the hilt on Tuesday.
“It’s right that India go in as the favourites. They have earned that right and I don’t know if New Zealand have earned the right to be here. Looking at their performances in their last few games, they have gone off the boil or maybe haven’t delivered,” Nash is known to have said.
Kohli told reporters, “The opposition has never mattered to us – we focus on what we can bring to the table. Regardless of who we play in the semi-finals, we just want to play a good game and get the result.”
The winner will face either England or Australia, who play their semi-final at Edgbaston on Thursday.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.
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