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12.06.2019 01:20

Preview: Conditions favour the Kiwis as India look to hijack top spot

The two teams have enjoyed a perfect start to their 2019 Cricket World Cup campaign but now face their biggest challenge in difficult conditions.

Following a 36-run win over fellow-contenders Australia in south London, the Men in Blue now head to Nottingham to play New Zealand on Thursday; a match featuring the only two unbeaten sides left in the World Cup. The Kiwis have won all three of their matches while India have picked up maximum points from their two fixtures against South Africa and Australia.

GROUND REPORT

The city had been experiencing heavy rainfall last week and the forecast for the one ahead isn’t promising either. Chances are the game could get washed out or get interrupted, with light to heavy drizzles possible. Should the match start and go on, the overcast conditions and the pitch remaining undercover for days will suit the pace bowlers, making it significantly difficult to score runs. The last match on the pitch, however, was quite the opposite as Australia and West Indies both managed to register over 270-plus totals.

INDIA

So far, Virat Kohli and Co. have more than lived up to their billing as one of the favourites for the crown. After a brilliant and rather one-sided affair against the Proteas, the 2011-champions dismantled the formidable Aussie bowling to post a mammoth 352 runs on the board. That total made the job of the bowlers easier and saw the team make it two wins in two.

It’s not been all merry though. Opener Shikhar Dhawan, who scored a blistering century against the Kangaroos has been ruled out for three weeks with a fractured thumb. This leaves a huge void at the top for Team India to fill and could be something for oppositions to target. KL Rahul is the automatic pick to be Rohit Sharma’s partner now, with Vijay Shankar slotting in at number four.

Leaving that worry aside, the Men in Blue should be relatively confident going into Thursday’s showdown. Kohli, MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya have all scored substantial runs in the previous games and are, therefore, in good nick. With the ball, Jasprit Bumrah and Yuzvendra Chahal have been outstanding so far, picking up five and six wickets respectively. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been equally efficient and was probably India’s best bowler against the Aussies.

The team’s recent results over the Black Caps will be another bonus. In the recent five-match series held in New Zealand, India thumped Kane Williamson and Co. 4-1. Mohammed Shami was named the Player of the Series that time and Kohli might be tempted to recall him into the starting-11 at the expense of the economical yet underperforming, Kuldeep Yadav.

NEW ZEALAND

Many saw the Kiwis as one of the outsiders for the semifinals before the start of the World Cup. The team hadn’t really done anything great in the past year to make a case against those predictions and were very much depended on a select group of 4-5 players to carry them through. However, the Black Caps have surprised one and all not only by the results but by the nature of it.

In their first match, the Kiwi bowlers ran all over the Sri Lanka batting lineup, restricting them to just 136 runs. Openers Martin Guptill and Colin Munro chased that total in 16 overs, earning New Zealand their first points. The second fixture against Bangladesh was a much tighter affair, but thanks to their fantastic fast bowling attack and the ultra-dependable Ross Taylor, the Kiwis won maximum points again.

The third of those wins came against the spirited Afghanistan, where pacers James Neesham and Lockie Ferguson took four and five wickets respectively. Their pace attack is their strength and will be a thorn for the Indian batting lineup if the weather remains overcast. Of the 30 wickets that the Black Caps have taken, 28 have come from within the fast bowling department.

To add further context to that stat, their best bowler, Trent Boult has taken only three wickets from that and is yet to hit his sensational best. That is worrying news for the Indians as the left-arm pacer enjoys playing against the Men in Blue. He has picked up 22 wickets from just 12 matches against India and was again threatening when the two sides met in the warmup match, taking four scalps in six overs.

Words: Chandan Pandey

Images: PA Images