Cricket World Cup 2019: India's top order must be aware of formidable New Zealand pace attack
Chitrabhanu Kadalayil offers his thoughts on the first semi-final match at Old Trafford on Tuesday
India take on New Zealand in the first semi-final of the 2019 Cricket World Cup at Old Trafford on Tuesday, with Virat Kohli’s men being firm favourites to win.
Both teams have had contrasting routes to the last four. India lost just one group match, against England, and their fixture against New Zealand was rained off. The Black Caps, on the other hand, were beaten in their last three games, to Pakistan, Australia and England, thereby losing momentum at possibly the wrong time.
However, this is a knockout match and both teams have, in theory, an equal chance to make it to the summit clash.
Ahead of the game, here are points to ponder for both camps.
Beware of the Kiwi quicks
Rohit Sharma (647 runs), KL Rahul (360) and Kohli (442) comprise one of the most consistent top-orders in the tournament. However, the middle-order still a far-from-finished article with only MS Dhoni (223) and Hardik Pandya (194) among the runs.
New Zealand will, therefore, be eager to take early wickets to put pressure on the rest of the batsmen.
The Black Caps have one of the best pace attacks in the World Cup, with Lockie Ferguson (17 wickets), Trent Boult (15), Jimmy Neesham (11), Matt Henry (10) having tested the best of the world's batsmen. Ferguson and Boult are among the 10 most successful bowlers in the tournament and, on their day, are good enough to stage a coup.
It could well happen in Manchester on Tuesday.
Bumrah remains India’s key
India, too, have a strong bowling attack – particularly a strong pace-bowling attack, ably spearheaded by the up-and-coming Jasprit Bumrah.
Bumrah is tied with Ferguson, England’s Jofra Archer and Mohammed Amir of Pakistan on 17 wickets in the competition. But what makes him a potent weapon for India is not just the fact he has taken plenty of wickets, but when he has taken them. A case in point is the Afghanistan game when he sent Rahmat Shah and Hashmatullah Shahidi back to the pavilion in the middle overs to put India back in the game.
That his economy rate is an impressive 4.48 runs per over is a bonus.
Bhuvi v Shami
India are less likely to go in with four seam bowlers, including Pandya, than they are three – in which case one of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami will miss out.
Who to pick then? On paper, it seems like a no-brainer.
Their economy rates are comparable – Shami (5.48) and Bhuvneshwar (5.42) – but Shami has taken 14 wickets in four matches while Bhuveshwar just seven in five.
Shami has also been more effective with the new ball. In fact, it is one of the reasons why India have taken wickets in the first 10 overs of every match, except against Australia and England.
Shami’s importance cannot be understated as early inroads will be key to an Indian victory on Tuesday – even if they are faced with the tricky proposition of bowling first and chasing runs in a knockout match.
However, Bhuvi is better at the death: he has conceded just 78 runs in 66 balls while Shami has given away 85 in 53. The former is also a better batsman.
So, Shami or Bhuvi?It is a close call.
Case for Jadeja
Spinners are not expected to do all that well on Tuesday.
For one, New Zealand have played leg-spinners well at the World Cup, scoring 144 runs off 199 balls in the group stage. Also, Old Trafford has had the second-worst strike rate of 87.5 and the worst average of 89.4 for spinners in the tournament.
India will still be determined to pick two genuine spinners, but the question is whether both wrist spinners – Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav – should play, or one of them should be dropped in favour of finger spinner Ravindra Jadeja, who is a superior batsman and fielder.
Chahal has taken 10 wickets in the group stage while Kuldeep has five to his name, but the former has been more expensive, at 6.09, to the latter’s 4.89.
In which case, it might be worth picking Chahal who can take wickets with Jadeja playing a holding role – like he did against Sri Lanka.
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson has been in excellent form, scoring 481 runs, including match-winning hundreds against South Africa and West Indies.
Unfortunately for them, Ross Taylor – who is their next most successful batsman – has scored just 261 runs. This suggests the rest of the batsmen have not kicked on. In fact, Williamson’s tally represents nearly 29 per cent of the team’s runs in the tournament.
Dismissing Williamson early, therefore, will be key.
Do historical stats matter?
New Zealand have the poorest World Cup semi-final conversion rate of the teams in the last four. They have reached this stage of the flagship tournament a jaw-dropping seven times, yet gone past it only once – this was in 2015 when they beat South Africa in a cliff-hanger at Auckland.
Their record pales in comparison to that of Australia, who have also reached the semi-finals seven times but never lost even once. India have won three out of six and England three out of five.
New Zealand, though, have a slightly better head-to-head record against India at World Cups: four wins and three losses.
Their last meeting was in 2003, though, and Kohli and Williamson will know all too well that history – particularly statistical history – have little bearing on their performance and the result on Tuesday.
Planning for possible rain
Rain is expected on Tuesday and Wednesday – the reserve day – which means, if the match gets rained off, India will go through having topped the group.
What should make the game interesting, however, is if the overs get reduced and the teams are forced to alter their plans. The hope is for some meaningful cricketing action to take place on either of those days.
After all, this is the World Cup semi-finals we are talking about.
Updated: July 8, 2019 08:02 PM