What makes this semi-final super exciting is the fact that these two teams are yet to face each other in this competition. Their round-robin fixture was washed out and hence this knock-out game brings about a sense of mysterious excitement to the table. Manchester is set to host this game, with India having played 2 and the Kiwis a single game on that ground.
There is something about this Indian team that is so different from the teams that took part in other World Cups – there is an aura of invincibility, but at the same time, some glaring weaknesses they have done very well to hide so far.
7 wins out of 9, with 1 loss and 1 No-Result – it is not possible to achieve this without a strong top-order and a gun bowling attack. And that’s exactly what this Indian team possesses in its ranks.
Rohit Sharma has been in the form of his life, with 5 centuries to his name. The starts he has given his team has made setting and chasing huge totals possible. He has made batting look so easy. With him, there is always this tendency to play a risky, unwarranted shot at the most unpredictable of times, but for good reason he has kept that temptation under wraps in this World Cup. I sometimes do believe that he still doesn’t get the recognition he is due, and that is primarily due to only one reason – the presence of Virat Kohli in the same team. Kohli has done well in this World Cup to date, but the absence of a century against his name still baffles me. He has the best 50 to 100-conversion ratio amongst all batsmen, but for some reason has not been able to do just that in the tournament yet. I do feel that is due to him applying more caution to his batting as his innings progresses, possibly because he doesn’t have that much confidence in his middle order. He is at his best when he bats with disdain and arrogance and should do just that against the Kiwis.
2) Gun Bowling unit
Talk of any Indian team in the past has revolved around batting and batsmen. But this might be the only Indian Cricket team whose bowling is as strong or even stronger than the batting. Its the reason why India was able to defend considerably low scores against Afghanistan and WestIndies, and is the reason why they will consider themselves slightly superior over the rest of their semi-finalists. There is still a debate on which bowling combination they should play for this game, but I firmly believe India should play 2 frontline spinners. They have played that combo in most of the games so far and should not change that for this game. The Kiwis aren’t the best players of spin either and India could stifle their middle order with some quick overs. There is no concern with the pace bowling unit. Bumrah has been terrific and Shami has been in great wicket-taking form. This combination should not be disturbed.
70/3 in 15 overs – Rahul, Rohit and Kohli back in the hut! How will the Indian middle order respond in such a situation? India has not been in this position as yet, but it looks like they are only one top-order collapse away from elimination. Will this happen in the semi-finals, and if it does, do they have the firepower, mentality and the personnel to help them claw out of such a situation?
Pant although is a huge talent, is still untested and unreliable. Dhoni hasn’t been at his best so far and has attracted his share of criticism in this tournament. Hardik Pandya plays only one way, and coming in to bat at the 20th over mark, might not suit his playing style. Kedhar Jadhav/DK haven’t had much batting in this tournament, and walking in to bat at a such a perilious situation on a semi-final might not be the best situation for either of them. The Kiwis know this only too well and will hence target to get the top-3 out cheaply. If they do that, India will be in dangerous waters. It will be fascinating to see what tactics they would deploy in that situation to get out of the rut.
Along with SouthAfrica, the Kiwis have been Cricket’s perennial underachievers. 7 semi-final appearances, a single final appearance, and no World Cup trophy yet. This will be their 8th appearance in the last-4 of a Cricket World cup, and they would be really looking to bring their best game forward, which has been missing for a while now. Unbeaten in their first 6 games in the competition, but without a victory in their last 3 has taken the sheen out of a superb run of performance. They do not have the momentum and should therefore start really well in their game against the Indians.
1) Captain Kane
481 runs with 2 centuries against his name, Captain Kane has been the fulcrum of the Kiwi batting. When he scores, NewZeland win, and when he doesn’t they struggle to cross the line. This has been their story so far at this World Cup. He has looked tremendously solid and has scored heavily in most of the games. He has this knack of making batting look ridiculously easy. He is also a very good accumulator of runs and before you realise, he is already batting on 30 not out. Ross Taylor and Jimmy Neesham have supported him considerably well, and De Grandhomme has ability. But otherwise, it has been more of a team-effort with the bat.
Apart from Williamson, none of the other batsmen have been consistent and posed much of a threat. There has been the odd 70 or 80 from a couple of them, but nothing major that would concern India. This to me is NewZealand’s biggest concern. Where are they going to get the runs from? This has been a usual problem that the Kiwis have always faced – the lack of solid match-winning batsmen that can take the game away from the opposition. There was Martin Crowe then and there is Kane Williamson now – but none others.
Guptill has to come good, and so does Ross Taylor. If not, the Kiwis will fail to post a good enough total on the board – a problem they faced against Australia, Pakistan and England.
They also lack momentum now, having not won a game since that victory over the WestIndies on June 22. Confidence might be a tad low, and it is for this reason that they should start well against India. Winning the toss and batting first would be a definitely good start.
Boult v Rohit Sharma
Apart from Mohammad Amir, Trent Boult is the only other left-arm paceman in world cricket today who can consistently bring the ball back into the right-hander. And that can be a major concern for the Indian openers. Rohit Sharma has always had that weakness to the ball coming in and it will be interesting to see what kinds of adjustments he makes to his batting. An early wicket will pump the Kiwis up and open up the Indian middle order a tad bit sooner.
Bumrah v Guptill
Guptill hasn’t clicked in this World Cup, but when he does, there is no two-ways about it. What NewZealand have been lacking is an explosive 1st powerplay and that’s because Guptill has been getting out for low scores. But India will know of his impact and will be looking to get the better of him, and who better to do that than Jasprit Bumrah. Their contest will be fascinating to follow. Watch out for lots of big shots and some explosive bouncers and changes of pace!
My playing 11s
India – Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Kohli, Pant, Dhoni, Dinesh Kartik, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Shami, Bumrah, Chahal
NewZealand – Munro, Guptill, Williamson, Ross Taylor, Latham, Neesham, GrandHomme, Santner, Henry, Ferguson, Boult