Ind vs NZ: Ground rules at the Wankhede | Cricket

Watch out for the cut, pull and glance shots when the India-New Zealand World Cup semi-final gets underway at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium. Right-handed batters prefer square of the wickets to pick boundaries during powerplays but left-handed batters have a predilection for the region behind point. Right arm pace to left-handed bats is a match-up but only if the length is right and the ball moves in.

Trent Boult speaks with teammates during a practice session at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai ahead of their 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup semi-final match against India.(AFP)
Trent Boult speaks with teammates during a practice session at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai ahead of their 2023 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup semi-final match against India.(AFP)

Spinners haven’t played a huge role so far, but that doesn’t mean they won’t. When Kuldeep Yadav got the ball in the 17th over the last time India played at the Wankhede, Sri Lanka were eight down. But New Zealand are a bonafide knockouts team, which is why the 63% dot percentage of left unorthodox slow bowling at Wankhede might assume paramount importance in the middle overs. India are powered by a nine-match winning momentum. New Zealand, on the other hand, know what it takes to win matches at this stage. But Wankhede’s history is also expected to play a small but significant part in how the match pans out.

Batting first matters

During the World Cup, the average score at Wankhede batting first was 357. Barring Afghanistan—who did remarkably well to score 291 against Australia in the first place—each of the other three World Cup league games produced a first innings score of at least 350. Dew factor and the hypotheses of chasing becoming easier under lights may have prompted England and Sri Lanka to bowl first but South Africa had no hesitation about putting runs first against Bangladesh. They got 382, which after piling on 399 against England, just went on to show how much the Wankhede pitch has favoured first users.

But there is a catch—the pitch gets better to bat as the day progresses. Opening powerplay scores in all four first innings at Wankhede—59/1, 44/2, 60/1 and 46/1—suggest caution on the part of batters as well as probing bowling. The final powerplay scores—143/2, 144/2, 93/4, 96/2—however tell you that if a batter stays put, he will get more value for his shots and is almost assured of big hundreds. Quinton de Kock (174) and Ibrahim Zadran (129*) will vouch for that.

Aim for Conway, Ravindra’s bodies

You can say it’s a high risk-high reward strategy. Rachin Ravindra slightly more than Devon Conway but both the left-handed Kiwi openers like to attack, which explains why they aggregate 872 runs at the top. Twice has Conway been dismissed leg-before in this World Cup, and Ravindra bowled just once, illustrating how they connect more than they miss. But clues have been left all along New Zealand’s campaign that India can pick on and exploit the Wankhede pitch to their benefit.

England got the raw end of the deal as Conway and Ravindra romped to spectacular hundreds in the tournament opener, riding largely cross-batted shots. But those shots have also brought upon their doom. More often than not, Conway is susceptible to skipping down the pitch in search of the infield-clearing shots if he is cramped outside his off. Which is where Wankhede’s dismissal rate of 23.8 for the drive shot of left-handed batters becomes crucial in the initial overs. Ravindra’s dismissals are more specific—caught by wicketkeeper trying to turn the ball down the leg or miscuing the pull/swat over midwicket. Flicks and glances have been more productive at the Wankhede but left-handers’ pull shots have yielded a dismissal rate of 9 (four dismissals in 36 balls), making this matchup the one to look out for once Ravindra gets down to batting.

Right lengths for pacers

Fast bowlers have accounted for 47 of the 58 wickets to fall at the Wankhede Stadium in this World Cup. It has a higher dot percentage (54 to 44) than spin but also higher boundary percentage (15 to 10), meaning good strokes will get proper value here. The fact that average seam or swing doesn’t change much once the ball gets older underlines the importance of finding the right length at Wankhede.

Till date, 15 out of 47 wickets going to pacers at Wankhede have come in the 6-8m band from the batting crease at an economy of 4.5 runs per over and strike rate of 31 balls per wicket. It’s the good length in Test cricket and an ideal zone for a medium to fast (read 80-90 mph) bowler the best opportunity to make the ball deviate and beat the bat. Jasprit Bumrah swears by this length. It makes him awkward, difficult to score off and absolutely unplayable when the ball starts to zip around. That economy of 1.6 against Sri Lanka was proof of the difficulty in playing Bumrah.

But it doesn’t mean Wankhede doesn’t reward fuller balls, which Mohammad Shami and Mohammad Siraj’s actions are tailor-made for. Ten wickets have gone to balls pitching in the 4-6m length with a strike rate of 21 balls, making that length more devious—highlighted, once again, in India’s demolition of Sri Lanka—for batters. The only downside is that even a slightest miscalculation will result in runs. But that is a risk India might be willing to take if the circumstances are right.

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