India have dominated the group stage like never before and are the clear favourites to go on and win the World Cup itself because of the way they have dismantled sides thus far. However, fans of the team would be working hard on tempering their emotions, as now India play the semi-finals and the final, two games to which all those group games they won comfortably were nothing more than stepping stones. Furthermore, it is almost like those steps disappear as soon as you reach this stage – it doesn’t matter how dominant you have been in this tournament, you lose this, you are out.
India have not reached the final of the ODI World Cup ever since they won it in 2011. Moreover, they have effectively reached the final of this tournament just three times in its entire history – in 1983 where they won the title against a dominant West Indies, in 2003 where they lost to the mighty Australia and in 2011 when they beat Sri Lanka. India were knocked out in the semi-finals in the two tournaments since 2011 and in 2019, that blow came from New Zealand in a thriller of a game. India had in fact last defeated New Zealand in a World Cup match in 2003 before they did so earlier in this tournament.
That game in Dharamsala was seen as India’s biggest challenge at that point. Both sides had won all four of their opening matches and the Kiwis for the first, and thus far only, time put pressure on the Indian bowling attack through the middle overs of their innings. But India came roaring back and took the game by seven wickets.
Who is bogey for whom?
New Zealand’s tendency to beat India in matches of major tournaments have led to them being seen as a ‘bogey’ side for them. However, in some ways, this is a bogey match-up for New Zealand overall. In the last three World Cups, New Zealand have been knocked out by a host nation – Sri Lanka in the semi-final in 2011, and Australia and England in the 2015 and 2019 finals respectively.
The crucial first innings
Since there is a clash of the ‘bogey’ factor here, it might be better to take a look at how each team might think up tactics. The Indian coaching staff has already taken a good look at the pitch. The Wankhede Stadium has never been an easy place to bat second, despite the fact that India had won the 2011 final while chasing. This has become more obvious than ever in this tournament – of all the four games that have been played here, only one have been won by the chasing side and that was Australia on the back of a once-in-a-lifetime 201 not out off 128 balls by Glenn Maxwell. When there are no miraculous, logic-defying rescue acts of that sort happening, the second innings scores at the Wankhede in this tournament have read 170, 233, and 55. The corresponding first innings scores were 399, 382 and 357 respectively. Australia’s score before Maxwell’s magic trick was 91/7.
It is quite clear, hence, that the sensible thing to do after winning the toss would be to bat first. If India do end up chasing, their place in the final will really hinge on whether their high-performing bowling lineup can restrict a New Zealand side who, unlike the previous game, will have Kane Williamson for the long haul. Moreover, if New Zealand do manage a 300-plus score, one shouldn’t be too surprised if Rohit Sharma decides to tone down the aggressive starts he has often given India in this tournament considering the tendencies for batting lineups to collapse here in the second innings. It is not like batting is an impossible task under the lights at the Wankhede, as Maxwell’s innings showed. According to ESPNCricinfo, HawkEye data suggests the swing will stop posing too many problems after about ten overs, and seam movement dies down after the 15th over. Attacking after the 15th over might not quite be like attempting sixes during the first powerplay, and so it is reasonable to expect that while Rohit will go for the big shots in the first 10, he will be more restrained than he was against Netherlands on Sunday. Moreover, the Indian middle and lower-middle order have shown plenty of times that if the team has wickets in hand and a fairly good score around the 35-over mark, the likes of KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja are more than capable to make a hot dash towards the end.
Interestingly enough, New Zealand also could be forced to target the middle overs, particularly Jadeja, regardless of whether they bat first or second. Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj and Mohammed Shami are as potent an attack as they will ever face, regardless of whether India would be bowling in the day or under the lights and especially if the latter is the case. The match against New Zealand was the only one in which Jadeja bowled 10 overs and didn’t pick any wickets and Rohit seemed to be aware of the superior match-up that the Kiwis’ three left-handers possessed against his premier spin-bowling all rounder. This time, New Zealand would be hoping to take more than the 48 runs they took from Jadeja the last time around.
Getting Williamson and Ravindra
New Zealand are not a big-hitting team but they are a team that possess some big-hitters. Daryl Mitchell can score quickly when needed and down the order there is Glenn Phillips. But this is no T20I and they would be hoping against hope that a steady hand in the top order takes the innings deep and if it is either of Rachin Ravindra or captain Williamson, it could spell trouble for India. The 23-year-old Ravindra has shown his ability to take the game away on his own a number of times in an extraordinary World Cup campaign and India would need no reminders about why Williamson’s wicket is important. Ravindra and Williamson are the two players New Zealand will be depending upon to see off that phase of 15 overs if they bat second, or see off India’s extraordinary pace attack batting first and if they do survive into the middle overs, the hosts will have a proper challenge in their hands to say the least. Ravindra had fallen to Shami in Dharmsala, but only after he scored 75 and put up a 159-run partnership with Mitchell.