Who is your favourite today -- New Zealand or England? The question would be greeted largely with indifference by the typical Indian cricket fan. Both teams are too distant and neither evokes passionate reaction as, say, a Pakistan or even the West Indies do. Neither team has heroes the Indian crowd can build an emotional connect with -- Brendon McCullum of New Zealand has hung his boots and Kevin Pietersen, the only cricketer who added a dash of colour to the traditionally boring England side in recent times, is long gone from the scene.
The Indian audience would normally have stayed mentally detached from the New Zealand-England match. But don’t expect that to be the case tonight. The winner here is likely to face India in the World T20 final (provided the hosts keep up their side of the bargain by beating the West Indies). They cannot pray for the stronger team to win today who may pose a threat to the underperforming Indian side. Don’t be surprised if Indian secretly root for England while enjoying the thrills and frills offered by the Black Caps tonight.
Of course, with Joe Root in sublime touch and the likes of Jason Roy and Jos Buttler good enough to bring up explosive cameos the match won’t be a walk in the park for the so far flawless New Zealand. England have made great efforts at transitioning from dull, methodical cricket to be counted as a force in the new format over the last couple of years. They still do not evoke awe among fans as a cricketing super power, but their progress in ICC World T20 suggests they have covered massive ground silently. If they beat New Zealand today, it won’t be an accidental success but a well-deserved one.
The Black Caps, on the other hand, have been machine-like in their efficiency so far with all parts performing at the optimum. Martin Guptill has had a wonderful tournament so far. The others in the batting unit from Kane Williamson to Luke Ronchi to Corey Anderson may not have delivered up to potential but they still remain dangerous players. The all-rounders -- Anderson, Grant Elliot and Mitchell Santner – are more than an even match to England’s Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes and Chris Jordan.
While on paper it’s a match of equals, Indian fans would love to see England going ahead in the tournament. This is for selfish reasons. India, despite their victories, have not quite lived up to their top billing as favourites. But for the splendid Virat Kohli, the hosts' campaign has missed the zing thanks to a mediocre top and middle order. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have been lacklustre while Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina have been pale shadows of themselves. Skipper MS Dhoni has been scoring those winning runs but he no more looks to be the man with the Midas touch.
The team has hobbled along so far, not the way fans would like it to proceed. If Virat fails, then what? Many would dread the question. The answer perhaps lies with the opponents we would be up against. England appear more vulnerable than New Zealand. The course both have taken so far does not reveal specifically why. Maybe it's that psychological thing. New Zealand look a more complete side while England a bit less so. And we don't take England as heavy-weight contenders in big ticket events.
So decide quickly who would you like to win. For now, fingers crossed.