India takes on New Zealand in the first semi-final of the 2019 Cricket World Cup at Old Trafford on Tuesday, with Virat Kohli’s men being firm favorites to win.
Both teams have had contrasting routes to the last four. India lost just one group match, against England, and their fixture against New Zealand was rained off. The Black Caps, on the other hand, were beaten in their last three games, to Pakistan, Australia, and England, thereby losing momentum at possibly the wrong time.
However, this is a knockout match and both teams have, in theory, an equal chance to make it to the summit clash.
Ahead of the clash, here are points to ponder for both camps.
Rohit Sharma (647 runs), KL Rahul (360) and Kohli (442) have forged one of the most consistent top-orders in the tournament. However, the middle-order still a far-from-finished article with only MS Dhoni (223) and Hardik Pandya (194) among the runs.
New Zealand will, therefore, be eager to take early wickets to put pressure on the rest of the batsmen.
The Black Caps have one of the best pace attacks in the World Cup, with Lockie Ferguson (17 wickets), Trent Boult (15), Jimmy Neesham (11), Matt Henry (10) having tested the best of world’s batsmen. Ferguson and Boult are among the 10 most successful bowlers in the tournament and, on their day, are good enough to stage a coup.
It could well happen in Manchester on Tuesday.
India, too, have a strong bowling attack – particularly a strong pace-bowling attack, ably spearheaded by the up-and-coming Jasprit Bumrah.
Bumrah is tied with Ferguson, England’s Jofra Archer and Mohammed Amir of Pakistan on 17 wickets in the competition. But what makes him a potent weapon for India is not just the fact he has taken plenty of wickets, but when he has taken those wickets. A case in point is the Afghanistan game when he sent Rahmat Shah and Hashmatullah Shahidi back to the pavilion in the middle overs to put India back in the game. His economy rate is also an impressive 4.48 runs per over.
Will India pick four seam bowlers, including Pandya, or just three – in which case one of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami misses out?
On paper, it seems like a no-brainer: Shami has 14 wickets from four matches, Bhuveshwar just seven from five. Their economy rates are similarly high: Shami (5.48) and Bhuvneshwar (5.42), while Shami has been more effective with the new ball.
In fact, it is one of the reasons why India have taken wickets in the first 10 overs of every match, except against Australia and England. Shami’s importance cannot be understated as early inroads will be key to an Indian victory – even if they are faced with the tricky proposition of bowling first and chasing runs in a knockout match.
However, Bhuvi is better at the death: he has conceded just 78 runs in 66 balls while Shami has given away 85 in 53. The former is also a better batsman.
Who to pick, therefore, is a close call.
Spinners are not expected to do all that well on Tuesday.
For one, New Zealand have played leg-spinners well at the World Cup, scoring 144 runs off 199 balls in the group stage. Secondly, Old Trafford has had the second-worst strike rate of 87.5 for spinners and the worst average of 89.4 in the tournament.
India will still be determined to go in with two genuine spinners, but the question is whether both wrist spinners – Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav – should play, or one of them should be dropped in favour of finger spinner Ravindra Jadeja, who is also a superior batsman and fielder.
Chahal has taken 10 wickets in the group stage while Kuldeep has five to his name, but the former has been more expensive, at 6.09, to the latter’s 4.89. In which case, it might be worth picking Chahal who can take wickets with Jadeja playing a holding role – like he did against Sri Lanka.
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson has been in excellent form, scoring 481 runs, including match-winning hundreds against South Africa and West Indies.
Unfortunately for them, Ross Taylor is their next most successful batsman having scored just 261 runs, which suggests the rest of the batsmen have not kicked on. Williamson’s tally represents nearly 29 percent of the team’s runs in the tournament.
Dismissing Williamson early will, therefore, be key.
New Zealand have the poorest World Cup semi-final conversion rate of the teams in the last four. They have reached this stage of the flagship tournament a jaw-dropping seven times, yet gone past it only once – this was in 2015 when they beat South Africa in a cliff-hanger.
Their record pales in comparison to that of Australia, who have also reached the semi-finals seven times but never lost even once. India have won three out of six and England three out of five.
New Zealand, though, have a marginally better head-to-head record against India at World Cups: four wins and three losses. But then their last meeting was in 2003, and Kohli and Williamson know all too well history – particularly statistical history – will have little bearing on their performance and the result on Tuesday.
It is expected to rain on Tuesday and on Wednesday – the reserve day – which means, if the match gets rained off, India will go through having topped the group. What will make the game interesting, however, is if the overs get reduced and team plans get altered.
The hope is for some meaningful cricketing action to take place on either of those days. It is the semi-finals after all.