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08.07.2019 01:54

Preview: India’s moment of truth has arrived against New Zealand

The Cricket World Cup 2019 has entered its final lap with the commencement of the semifinals. The Men in Blue will feature in the first fixture, where they face a slack but dangerous Kiwi side looking to win the crown for the first time in their history.

India’s charismatic captain Virat Kohli will face the biggest test of his leadership yet in the first semifinal of the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup. The two-time champions finished top of the table after hammering Sri Lanka in their last league fixture. They were also helped by Australia’s loss to South Africa in their final match. The Kiwis, on their part, have stumbled rather than float into the final four. Their record at this stage isn’t great either but records hardly matter in high-pressure knockout ties and they can bury their past by getting the better of the tournament favourites. 

GROUND REPORT

The Old Trafford Cricket Ground has been a happy hunting ground for the Men in Blue. They prevailed quite comfortably against both Pakistan and the West Indies in the group stage games at the same venue, after posting massive totals on the board. However, the Kiwis were also victorious in their sole match on the ground, and they too batted first.

In fact, in every 2019 Cricket World Cup match played at Old Trafford, the side batting first has been the winner, with runs proving hard to come by in the second innings. That would be something both captains and management will be mightily aware of when they step out for the toss tomorrow.

As far as the weather’s concerned, there are predictions of light showers and extensive cloud cover. Incidentally, the group stage fixture between the two got washed out due to rain, but supporters will be hoping history doesn’t repeat itself.

INDIA

The World’s number one cricket team had a pretty faultless group stage campaign, where they ended up on top. Their campaign got off to a late start, but the Men in Blue more than made up for it with clinical performances and a stylish philosophy. Following easy wins over South Africa and the defending champions Australia, India’s match against the Kiwis got washed out. Nonetheless, their form wasn’t hampered one bit as they rolled over arch-rivals Pakistan, Afghanistan and West Indies in their subsequent three games.

The more-determined hosts then got the better of the Men in Blue, but that mattered little as Virat Kohli’s men finished with emphatic wins over Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. In nine matches, the two-time champions dropped just three points, while their net run rate was amongst the best too.

The form of the top order has been one of the major contributors to their run so far. Opener Rohit Sharma looks in the form of his life, smashing record-breaking five centuries already in the tournament. The loss of Shikhar Dhawan has been adequately compensated by KL Rahul’s assured and classy knocks. Captain Kohli is again one of the top run-getters even though he hasn’t scored a ton yet.

The presence of world number one, Jasprit Bumrah makes India’s bowling an equally formidable weapon. The 25-year-old has been immaculate, if anything, at the tournament so far, with his ten over spell the most important for the country. The other seamers and spinners have done their bit themselves, making the Men in Blue a decent, if not the best bowling attack in the tournament.

Doubts will, however, keep coming back until the Men in Blue settle on which player occupies the No.7 slot. Ravindra Jadeja offers the option of both bat and ball, making him more appealing than a Kedar Jadhav or Kuldeep Yadav. Conditions on the day will play a major role in the final decision, but the uncertainty is an uncalled distraction.

There are also concerns regarding how the batting lineup would do should the top order perish. The Kiwis would have looked into the fragility of the middle order as an avenue through which they can hurt India. Rishabh Pant, MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya and Jadeja (if picked) can all bat but cannot be relied on to post a 300-plus run total on the board.

NEW ZEALAND

It wouldn’t be wrong to consider that the Kiwis are slightly fortunate to have made it through to the semis. They finished with the same number of points as Pakistan but progressed courtesy of a better net run rate. The Asian giants, however, beat Kane Williamson’s men in the group stage fixture between the two sides and will be feeling slightly hard done by the rules of the tournament.

Nonetheless, New Zealand are no dummies at this stage after reaching seven previous World Cup semifinals, albeit haven’t won the competition yet. They began this year’s edition with wins over Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The following match against India got washed out, but the loss of points mattered less as they won the two subsequent matches against South Africa and the West Indies. That was, however, followed by three consecutive defeats to Pakistan, England and Australia.

The form of the top order remains their biggest concern going into the India match. Martin Guptill and Colin Munro have failed quite spectacularly in providing a decent start for the likes of Williamson and Rose Taylor. The pair have done decent enough, with the former being possibly their best route to runs. Apart from that, there’s nothing much that the batting offers.

In the bowling department though, there’s much more for the Kiwi fans to cheer about. Trent Boult, Lockie Ferguson and Matt Henry make up a devastating fast bowling attack, which has previously hurt India. Spinner Mitchell Santner has done equally well and so has all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme. Williamson and Co. will take little heart from the fact that they conclusively beat the Men in Blue in the warmup match before the tournament, although India have been a completely different beast since.

Words: Chandan Pandey
Images: PA