The India-New Zealand semi-final will be so many things. India have to get the monkey off their back and start winning eliminators at ICC events. But if you are in the New Zealand corner, what better opportunity than to beat India in the country’s shiniest city for a place in the World Cup final.
The home team’s squad is an assemblage of IPL All-Stars. When IPL does introduce an All-Star match like NBA, one team will be full of Indians – there are so many of them. The collective IPL worth of India’s squad is ₹160 crore. New Zealand’s in comparison is ₹26 crore. More than half their squad members don’t even have IPL deals.
Blame it on the overseas quota limit, but it would hurt not to be a part of the glitziest and the most competitive league in the game. Rachin Ravindra may have done enough to encourage many paddles to go up for him in the upcoming auction. He would have to wait and see which IPL team he ends up with, for regular playing time doesn’t come easy in the league for foreign players.
Take Mitchell Santner’s case. He stands on 16 wickets in this World Cup, level with Ravindra Jadeja. But Santner’s time with Chennai Super Kings is spent living in his fellow left-arm spinner’s shadows. Imagine being a finger spinner and still be benched when the Chepauk pitch aids turn. Santner has featured in just 15 IPL matches across four seasons. Jadeja has played that many matches year-after-year for 15 seasons.
Jadeja is the more likely to produce the spectacular, like his dismissal of Steve Smith in India’s opening World Cup match in Chennai. Santner is no less sharp or lacking in guile. While Jadeja is faster, flatter and unerringly accurate, Santner’s success comes from the use of angles and change of pace. His first wicket at this World Cup was Jonny Bairstow, who was beaten in flight to a delivery bowled from wide of the crease and was caught at wide long-on. Shane Warne dubbed Jadeja the ‘rockstar’ while Santner is happy to carry the nickname ‘flatline’ — the laidback one.
For his express pace, Lockie Ferguson has the highest IPL contract ( ₹10 crore) among Kiwi players. Despite a good 2022 with champions Gujarat Titans, he was traded this year to Kolkata Knight Riders, where he didn’t get much game time. He and Santner are expected to bowl a lot in tandem in the middle-overs on Wednesday and vie for prized Indian scalps. Opener Devon Conway gets a load of runs for CSK on a ₹1 crore contract while his opening partner Ruturaj Gaikwad is paid six times more.
It must not be easy to be Kane Williamson and stay on the sidelines. You could argue T20 doesn’t seem to be his strength anymore, but Trent Boult is a top T20 bowler. He too is not rewarded fully compared to Indian players. Or Tim Southee, an experienced bowling all-rounder who gets underpaid in IPL compared to a Shardul Thakur of similar skill sets.
New Zealanders though are not the complaining sorts. Even when they don’t get to host an ICC event often, their preparations for a world title remain methodical, and outlook progressive.
Punching above their weight is second nature to New Zealand cricket teams. Its board doesn’t run a T20 league, aware of the time zone mismatch and commercial limitations. But their players are sought after in leagues around the world.
The Kiwis though hate any condescending reference to their team. “I mean the underdog thing – from what you guys write I don’t think it has changed too much, but that’s fine you know,” said Williamson on the eve of the semis.
They broke a billion Indian hearts in the 2019 World Cup semi-final. Lifted the 2021 World Test Championship mace, again beating India. Those were seaming conditions in England. Do they have what it takes to push past India in India, in front of 33,000 Indian fans and maybe 33 Kiwis at the Wankhede Stadium?
“There’ll be (few) more than that,” said Williamson.