New Zealand were beaten by the rules, not by England.
India take on New Zealand in a Cricket World Cup semi-final today at Old Trafford. It is billed as the easier of the two semis as the Kiwis seem to have lost the wind from their sail.
After a very good start to the tournament, New Zealand’s game against the West Indies was a game of inches; those few inches by which Carlos Brathwaite’s thunderbolt failed to clear Trent Boult.
Perhaps the Black Caps thought that was their mandatory ‘loss’ in a long tournament, but what was to follow was bizarre. They lost three in a row, including one against a resurgent Pakistan, but, more importantly, the losses were quite comprehensive.
New Zealand have batted first only two times so far. Their early games were against lower ranked teams, which they won. But even then, they barely managed to chase down Bangladesh’s score, winning by only two wickets. Their fixture against India would have provided an idea of their real form, but that game was washed out.
That said, there was some indication of their form in the warm-up game in May, where they beat India quite easily in typical English conditions with the ball moving around. Boult was the spearhead, knocking over the Indian top order in his first three overs – including Rohit Sharma. Since then, however, his performance has not been that devastating.
Alongside Mitchell Starc and Jasprit Bumrah, I was expecting him to be one of the bowlers of this tournament, but it seems like the largely benign conditions since that early phase of the tournament haven’t helped him.
His lack of wicket-taking on slowish wickets has come to the fore, where another lefty, Mustahfizes Rahman, has excelled. Though the indifferent form of his pace partners in Tim Southee and Matt Henry hasn’t allowed a partnership, which often sets the platform for dominance.
Lockie Ferguson has been a revelation with his consistent express pace and incisive bouncers. Jimmy Neesham’s medium pace has served the Kiwis well also, but the missing main thrust from opening bowlers haven’t allowed the Kiwi attack to be what I was expecting it to be.
The only chance for them is the weather. If, as predicted, there are clouds around, Boult and co. have their best chance to make inroads into the Indian batting fortress. Once inside, they can have some chance of stopping the juggernaut that Indian batting could be. If they allow the Indian top order to be there until the 30th over, they will be chasing a big number against perhaps one of the most balanced attacks in this tournament.
India’s batting is looking formidable, especially now with KL Rahul also getting to triple figures in the last game. However, a World Cup knock-out game can create its own pressures.
India’s top three have looked very solid, but with their soft middle and shaky lower order, they have their own combinations to ponder. Given the conditions may turn a bit English, would they shore up their batting to counter possible early losses and ensure their fragile lower order is not exposed too early in the piece?
With Kohli and selectors faith in Hardik Pandya’s ability to deliver a full quota of ten overs being strengthened, they trialled going in with only five bowlers in the last two games. Against Bangladesh, they tried four pace bowlers and one spinner, while against Sri Lanka they tried three pacers and two spinners.
Both combinations did the job, though both Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar leaked runs in their last spells. It was the control provided upfront and the irrepressible Bumrah that allowed Kohli to maintain the grip. Can he afford the risk of a similar recurrence in the semi-finals?
I believe Shami and Bhuvneshwar both have their values; both could be unplayable with the new ball. Both can provide good control at the back end with Shami probably next only to Bumrah in delivering penetrating in-swinging yorkers.
Bhuvi, additionally, brings a bit of batting strength to the lower order. The foursome, with Pandya, poses a very difficult challenge since they all are different and cover all bases against right or left-handers equally. It is extremely tempting to keep three pacers in the team. The challenge for Kohli is accommodating two spinners.
New Zealand, except for Williamson and Ross Taylor, are not known to be able to dominate spinners. Hence, it is very tempting to think of both the wrist spinners. However, that makes the last four batsmen with Shami, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal and Bumrah, practically walking wickets.
Additionally, in a crucial knock-out stage, you can expect one of your settled bowlers to have an off day. In a limited overs game, having one fewer bowler than one fewer batsman could be riskier. Even if the conditions turn typically English, the wicket isn’t likely to change due to excellent cover provided.
The Old Trafford track is not likely to change from being one of the slowest English decks, especially in the second dig. If the outfield becomes wet due to rain, the wrist spinners could have some issue gripping. To me, there are sufficient reasons to have one finger spinner with one wrist spinner.
By having Ravindra Jadeja in the team, in place of Yadav, I believe India can cover all eventualities. This will provide the team the balance they are looking for without upsetting their wicket-taking potency.
Jadeja’s spell against Sri Lanka in the last fixture was as good as you will get under the circumstances and he was the only batsman who stood up in the warm-up game against the same opposition, under challenging batting conditions. Add to that his immense value as a fielder, and his inclusion becomes a no-brainer.
My Indian team therefore, would be: Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant, MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya, Ravi Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Yuzvendra Chahal.
It has been a bat first World Cup so far. However, the conditions as they are expected, may tempt the toss-winning skipper to reconsider. The slowing nature of the wickets later in the day probably outweighs the potential of any benefit you may get in swinging conditions; unless of course your bowlers run riot through the opposition’s batting line up.
Given, perhaps, the only chance Kiwis have of winning is to keep India under 250 and chase it down, it is likely both Williamson and Kohli’s expectations may be different – but both may get what they want!
As for MS Dhoni, I suspect this week is potentially his last week in the international cricket. India will start their West Indies tour on August 3 with T20 and ODI series.
Normally, Indian selectors would have announced their team for the tour by now. However, I suspect the team announcement is held back until the end India’s campaign in this World Cup mainly to allow Mahi an opportunity to call his innings closed at a time and in a manner of his own choosing. A respect, richly deserved by one of the finest cricketers ever, that India has produced.