After winning 9 out of 9 matches, India face a tricky New Zealand in the semifinal today
Having won nine of nine matches, with every batsman and every bowler firing at some point, India have done everything that has been asked of them, in all conditions against all opponents. It’s not a coincidence that their semifinal opponents are the ones who stretched India the most in the league phase.
There is a Zen-like peace to the way this New Zealand team approach World Cup matches. They may have qualified in only fourth place, but they had very clear plans, a simple method and a group of people who understood their roles and coloured within the lines at all times. This is a team that understands the ebbs and flows of cricket. In many ways there is a Chennai Super Kings feel to their approach to competition play.
And that is ironic, given that it was New Zealand’s victory over India in the semifinal of the 2019 World Cup that ended Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s career.
At the Wankhede Stadium, where there will be an atmosphere worthy of the occasion, Rohit Sharma’s team need to think not about endings, but how this is one step towards the greatest opportunity in 50-over cricket.
The Wankhede Stadium is a ground that will not overly favour the style of play of either team but you can be sure that whoever wins the toss will want to bat first. The initial passage of play in the second innings, when the lights come on, has typically been a tricky one. There has been generous movement in the air for the quick bowlers and the ball has even darted around off the pitch from time to time.The good news for India is that they have enough experience both bowling first and second in this tournament.There is a quiet confidence within the unit and they are not overawed by the occasion. As Rohit pointed out, the outside narrative might be that this is a chance for a hat-trick of World Cup wins. But, within the team, many were not born when Kapil Dev’s team won in 1983. And most were not even playing top-flight serious cricket when Dhoni’s team won in 2011. Rohit said that this allowed the players to focus on the present.
All eyes will be on the Indian team, this the players know. Even more so, Virat Kohli will be at the centre of things. He might have drawn level with Sachin Tendulkar’s tally of 49 ODI centuries, but a demanding and adoring public will want to see No. 50 brought up soonest. The good thing about Kohli is that he can handle pressure and expectation like most others cannot. He can take the attention as inspiration rather than pressure.
But, the record Kohli will actually want to set straight is his performance in knockout matches. As grand as his body of work has been, Kohli averages 12.16 from six knockout games in ODI World Cups. This is a freakish stat and not a representation of what he has brought to the table in tournaments overall.
But Kohli is a proud man and will want to feel like he was able to play an innings in a knockout match that helped control the destiny of his team.
Another gun player who has yet to stamp his authority on these big games is Kane Williamson. He averages 34.67 in matches of this kind with only one half-century. Williamson’s ride to leading New Zealand in this tournament has been tricky. Some months ago it appeared that he would not even feature in the mix. Then, after a long recovery from injury, he made it, only to get hit on the hand by a throw to again miss out. Williamson might be the polar opposite of Kohli in terms of personality but the single-mindedness of his pursuit for excellence is unmatched.
The only thing that will be on the back of India’s fans minds is that the fivebowler-only structure is a risk. If at any point one of the main bowlers gets injured early in a spell, the part-time options Rohit can turn to are not terribly reassuring. New Zealand showed in the league phase that the way to stretch India is to put pressure on one bowler and thereby disrupt Rohit’s plans.
To win a World Cup takes not just highquality cricket but a slice of luck. India will be hoping that their luck with injuries does not take a turn for the worse. If that happens, it will take something truly special from the opposition to stop this Indian juggernaut.
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