Spectators’ favourite India will face New Zealand at Old Trafford, Manchester in the first semifinal of ICC World Cup on July 9. Throughout the tournament, Indian team has been excellent in all the departments, with the match against England being the sole exception. On July 9 too, Indian team is expected to continue with its impressive performance in the semifinal against New Zealand.
New Zealand’s excessive reliance on Kane Train
New Zealand has lost three matches in a row before this important semi-final, and consequently seems to have lost the momentum that it had generated at the beginning of this tournament. In fact, New Zealand could edge past Pakistan only on better Net Run Rate and not on better points or wins. History too does not favour the Kiwis, as they have lost 6 out of 7 World Cup semifinals in which they have appeared till date. New Zealand batting depends heavily on captain Kane Williamson. There has been very little contribution from the other batsmen, and none of them has been consistent. To make matters worse, the team’s weakness against spin is known to one and all. However, getting Williamson out is not an easy nut to crack. Not only is Williamson among the leading run-scorers of the tournament (481 runs, 2X100), he also has the highest average (96.20) during this World Cup. The fact that he has been dismissed only ten times in single digits in the last 4 years speaks volumes about his batting prowess. Among the other batsmen, only Ross Taylor (261 runs) and James Neesham (201 runs) have shown some mettle.
Impressive New Zealand Bowling
Bowling has been the strength of the New Zealand team. Lockie Ferguson (17 wickets) and Trent Boult (15 wickets) have been excellent in every match. James Neesham (11 wickets) and Matt Henry (10 wickets) too have been good support. However, it would be interesting to see how they fare in front of Indian batting.
India’s Fabulous Batting
On the other hand, India too has been dependent largely on Rohit Sharma’s brilliance. Rohit is the leading run-scorer of the tournament with 647 runs. And that includes unprecedented 5 centuries. Moreover, Rohit has been equally dominating against pace and spin. However, unlike its opponent, Indian team also got good support from other batsmen. After Shikhar Dhawan got injured, KL Rahul (360 runs, 1×100, 2×50) seized the opportunity and has been performing consistently. Although yet to score a century in this World Cup, captain Virat Kohli (442 runs, 5×50) has been as consistent as ever. Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant have also added the x-factor to the team, and the team can surely rely on them when it comes to make quick runs. MS Dhoni (223 runs) has been criticized for his approach recently, but he is one of the finest cricketers who understands cricket more than anyone else. What’s more, one can trust his wisdom, when it comes to extreme pressure situations.
Diversified Bowling and dilemma of 6th Bowler
Bowling has been an area where India faces the problem of plenty. World number 1 ODI bowler Jasprit Bumrah has been true to his stature. Mohammed Shami has been taking wickets whenever he gets an opportunity. Although Bhuvneshwar Kumar was a little expensive in the last match, his ability to restrict runs in the final overs, coupled with his batting abilities, makes him an important resource. In the spin department, the wrist spinner-duo “KulCha”–Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav – are likely to be included in the playing eleven. Chahal has taken 8 wickets in as many matches whereas Kuldeep Yadav has taken only 4 wickets in the 5 matches that he has played in this World Cup. Yet, he has been economical. They have been effective against Williamson too; each of the two got him out twice in recent matches. Although Ravindra Jadeja was good with the ball against Sri Lanka and provides strength to the otherwise lackluster tail of Indian batting, his inclusion in the team would mean dropping either Kuldeep Yadav or a batsman. Of late, India has taken the risk of fielding only 5 bowlers, which might backfire in case a bowler gets injured or has a bad day with the ball. The team management should reconsider its strategy from this point of view. Inclusion of Kedar Jadhav in place of Dinseh Karthik may solve the problem of 6th bowler.
New Zealand a Pushover? Fact Check
Perhaps any team would like to avoid the hosts before the finals, and Indian fans are indeed delighted that their team is not going to face England in the semifinal. Instead, they are going to face a relatively easy opponent–New Zealand. Old Trafford in Manchester has been a good ground for India in this tournament, where it registered huge victories against Pakistan and West Indies. People also call it a replay of U-19 World Cup 2008, where Indian team led by Virat Kohli defeated Kane Williamson led New Zealand in the semifinal. However, this is where the challenge could lie, if the team also starts thinking of its opponent as an easier one. Going head-to-head, India has won 55 out of 106 matches whereas New Zealand has won 45. However, in World Cups, New Zealand is leading with 4-3, whereas last match between the two teams was abandoned. India has never defeated New Zealand in a World Cup match in England, and in fact has lost all the 3 matches – in 1975, 1979 and 1999. So, India is up against history.
Eerie Similarities with 1987 World Cup
There has been a lot of talk about the resemblance between 1992 World Cup and this World Cup, specially the Pakistan team angle. However, there is an even more eerie similarity between India’s 1987 World Cup campaign and the present World Cup. In 1987, Indian team was one of the favourites, having stalwarts like Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, then World No. 1 batsman Dilip Vengsarkar, wonder boy Mohammad Azharuddin and the six-hitting machine Navjot Singh Siddhu. At the group stage, India lost only one match – against Australia, by 1 run – and convincingly defeated all other opponents, including Australia in the second-round group match. India was required to beat New Zealand in the final group match by reaching the target in 40 overs, in order to avoid playing semi-final against Pakistan in Pakistan. Indian team did achieve the target in only 32.1 overs. There was euphoria among the fans as India ensured a semifinal on Indian soil against England – a team known for its weakness against spin. Perhaps Indian team got too complacent and, in turn, perished.
Prospects and Predictions
However, present day Indian team is mature and thoroughly professional in its approach. It has the knack to handle the problems of becoming complacent and over-confident. Players have the ability to handle pressure, deal with adverse situations and overcome the challenges. Pitch is supposed to favor pacers to an extent and Kiwi pacers have been good in the tournament, but the way Indian team has handled Pakistan and West Indian pacers in its earlier matches at this ground is praiseworthy. Based on those matches, one can expect Indian team to handle Kiwi pace challenge too. Indian team has registered two big victories on the ground during this World Cup. The crowd support that the Indian team receives works as the 12th man. Add the fact that India has not lost a single World Cup match at Manchester in past 40 years. India had also won the 1983 World Cup Semifinal match against England at Manchester. Hence, I am quite confident that the Indian team is going to win this semifinal match and repeat the history.