Dubai: The Cricket World Cup is entering the knockout stages with hosts India taking on New Zealand in the first semi-finals at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Wednesday.
All eyes will be on the contest after the Men in Blue, led by Rohit Sharma, have maintained an unbeaten run in the league phase, which has skyrocketed the expectations.
In almost under similar situation, India lost to New Zealand in the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup in England and that scar is still fresh in the memory of both players and fans alike.
Not easing their grip
However, with a four-wicket victory over the Black Caps in Dharamsala during the league phase, which almost scuttled New Zealand’s plans, the hosts are not looking to ease their grip on the World Cup this time.
After a run of four wins, the loss to India had pushed New Zealand’s campaign in a tail spin, leaving them with four consecutive loses. Only a win in the last match against Sri Lanka saved them from elimination and helped them edge out Pakistan on net run-rate. The script so far has been similar to 2019 journey when they finished runners-up to England after edging out Pakistan for a place in the semi-finals. So will this semi-finals also yield a similar result? Gulf News takes a look at five reasons why the Indian team start as favourites and can achieve the result in their favour.
Team with best form
India have been the team in best form during this World Cup. Not many teams were able to break the shackles of India at home, a fortress that is hardly breached in recent times. India have managed to extend their domination in this World Cup with all three departments firing on all cyclinders, decimating all opponents en route to the knockout stage. India have managed to end New Zealand’s winning run in Dharamsala, defeating the Kiwis for the first time since 2003 in the World Cup. The setting is different from the foot of Himalayas to the shores of Mumbai, which should give the Indian batters plenty of room to play their shots.
Batting revolves around Rohit and Kohli
Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli have been the two pillars of the Indian batting. While Rohit has been going on the offensive to give the hosts a brisk start, Kohli has been playing at a lower gear to ensure that he stays till the end. If the opposition believe that getting these two wickets will be enough to make inroads into the Indian batting, then they are mistaken. The star duo are followed by Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul, both have a number of runs under their belt in this World Cup. Let’s not forget that Shubman Gill has not been on top of his form yet after the bout of dengue. New Zealand, on the other hand, have to bank on young opener Rachin Ravindra and Daryl Mitchell, the two batters in the top 20 of the batting charts. The others have not been able to get into their acts, except on one or two odd occasions.
Home conditions and law of averages
There is a lot of talk on law of averages catching up with India. It should not affect the team’s performance in the knockout stage. While past hold nothing to a match as every day is a different day. So a good performance or a bad performance, the next game starts with a zero. Still, a good run will bring a positive vibe among the players and that will help them to continue their winning spree. Three teams on five occasions have successfully remained unbeaten all the way to the title. The team is familiar with the conditions and knows exactly how the pitch behaves at what time. Though a few New Zealanders have some knowledge after years of playing in the Indian Premier League, still it is not going to be easy.
The Wankhede Stadium has some fond memories for India and the most-important among them is the 2011 World Cup final, which India won against Sri Lanka. India’s four main players have been bred on the hallowed turf in Mumbai and that includes skipper Rohit Sharma, Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah. The Gujarat pacer has been the lethal weapon for Mumbai Indians and knows the right lengths and areas to bowl to keep the batters under check. The semi-finals will be all the more important for Suryakumar, who has not been among the runs this World Cup. However, the home conditions should give him the much-needed confidence to play his shots 360 degrees. SKY could be a bigger threat to New Zealand than any other batter in the semi-finals.
Indian bowling hold the edge
The bowlers will be able to tilt the balance in favour of India against New Zealand. Led by Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav and Mohammed Siraj are all in the top 15 among the leading bowlers, which augurs well for Team India. Shami, who was the top wicket-taker in the previous World Cup, has been in stunning form and has managed to get 16 wickets in just five matches he has played so far. An untimely injury to Hardik Pandya has given Shami the start, which the veteran pacer has grabbed with both hands. In contrast, Mitchell Santner and Trent Boult will have to share most of New Zealand’s bowling burden after their spearhead Matt Henry has been ruled out due to injury. In 10 meetings so far in World Cups, New Zealand hold a 5-4 advantage, but the five-man Indian bowling can make it 5-5.