India vs New Zealand, ICC Cricket World Cup 2019: Batting holds key as Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson gear up for their tryst with destiny

Kane Williamson's boys need to derive inspiration from Brendon McCullum's army of 2015 to spark resurgence and not get entangled into the same semi-final loop again. India, on the other hand, will be looking to bury the ghosts of MCG and flip the emotions from four years ago.

Jigar Mehta, Jul 09, 2019 09:13:53 IST

Four years ago, contrasting emotions had gripped India and New Zealand Down Under. Grant Elliott's last over 'one to remember' six off Dale Steyn had sent the Kiwis into an emotional roller-coaster of joy, relief, and tears at Eden Park. While at the other end of the spectrum, an unbeaten India were left disappointed after being brushed aside by Australia's might in Sydney.

The Kiwis eventually suffered a heartbreak five days later after being rolled over by Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the final.

India vs New Zealand, ICC Cricket World Cup 2019: Batting holds key as Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson gear up for their tryst with destiny

File picture of Indian team. Reuters

Fast-forward to 2019. The two teams are set to undergo contrasting emotions again as their paths cross in the semis at Manchester.

Their journey's to the semis, in a way, have been somewhat contrasting as well. India were the best team in the group stage and apart from the one blip against England at Edgbaston, they have won everything. The Kiwis have somehow dragged themselves into the knockouts on Net Run Rate after losing their way following a strong start.

It's because of this late Kiwi slide that most Indian fans were glued to the last group stage match between South Africa and Australia hoping for a Proteas win which would book India's travel ticket to Manchester against the fourth-placed and 'relatively weaker' Kiwis.

The general consensus floating around was that India would be happy to avoid resurgent England and take on a relatively weaker semi-finalist in New Zealand.

Sanjay Manjrekar tweeted, "India have won 7 matches so far in this WC. But their best result is SA beating Aus."

Yes, India have been the better of the two teams but the group stages are done and dusted. It's a new day, a knockout match with a different degree of pressure. It will be a mistake to undermine the plucky Kiwis. And the fact that the group game between the two was washed out maintains a bit of unpredictability factor.

The Kiwis' struggles have been underlined by their batting failures, especially at the top. Their openers have been brittle than South African nerves at World Cups. Their opening partnership has averaged just 31.42, with just one hundred-run stand and no fifty-plus stands. Quite surprising, given how openers have been dominating this tournament.

Martin Guptill has been a shadow of himself with an average of 23.71 (Highest run-getter in 2015 WC with an average of 68.37). Colin Munro averaged just 25 in his first six matches and was replaced by Henry Nicholls who ended with just eight runs from two matches.

The Indian pacers would look to step on this Achilles heel at Old Trafford. India have been one of the most disciplined sides in the Powerplay. They have the best economy rate — 4.06 and second-best average — 36.11 in the first ten overs.

Jasprit Bumrah has been operating on an altogether different plane while Mohammed Shami has been breathing fire with early movement. He will, in all probability, get back into the side after being rested for the Sri Lanka game.

It's the Williamson-Ross Taylor pivot around which this Kiwi batting revolves. Dependence is fine but overdependence is not. Overall, the New Zealand batting has blown hot and cold, mainly cold in the latter half and has averaged 31.19, 17 runs behind India who are at the top with 48.41. Williamson has averaged 96.20 but apart from James Neesham (40.20), no Kiwi batsman has averaged more than 40. The batting support system needs to fire. Adaptability will be the key which they haven't managed on changing surfaces.

New Zealand, on the other hand, would look to exploit the tentativeness around India's middle order. Rishabh Pant has shown spark at No 4 since his arrival but not set the stage on fire. MS Dhoni's intent (or lack of it) has come under the scanner, Dinesh Karthik didn't fire in the only game he played. The middle-order didn't get tested in the Sri Lanka game.

To get to that middle order though, the Kiwis need to get through the rock-solid top-order and a rampaging Rohit Sharma. The Indian top order (1-3) has scored the most runs (1537), has the best average (69.86), has scored most centuries (7) and possesses second-best strike-rate (92.87). Add to it, Kohli is due for a century.

New Zealand's bowling has been their biggest strength this World Cup with the best average — 28.16, best economy rate — 4.98 and second-best strike-rate 33.8.

With predictions of overcast conditions and light showers, the New Zealand pacers can play a crucial role. They have had the better of Indian top order in the last three matches they have played against India and reduced them to 18/4 (252 all out), 55/8 (92 all out) in ODIs and 39/4 (179 all out) in the World Cup practice game.

Trent Boult, who is the highest wicket-taker in ODI World Cups for New Zealand and highest wicket-taker against India in ODIs since the 2015 World Cup, will be the biggest threat and he could look to exploit Rohit's susceptibility against full inswingers. No left-arm pacer has dismissed Rohit Sharma more than Boult in ODIs — four times.

However, the New Zealand bowlers will need to maintain sustained intensity throughout, something which they haven't done in previous instances. Kiwi coach Gary Stead revealed that Lockie Ferguson should be fir for the game. He may replace Tim Southee in the line-up. The return of their highest wicket-taker in this campaign will be a huge shot in the arm. Apart from that, it’s unlikely the Kiwis will make any panic changes.

India will, in all probability, bring back Shami. It was the ground dimensions that influenced the selection of Bhuvneshwar Kumar against England but at Manchester, they might not go with the idea of three pacers. Jadeja impressed on his World Cup debut and showed that he brings in an extra dimension. His inclusion strengthens the batting too, which might also be an antidote to the cautious middle-order approach. He can play as the second spinner with Yuzvendra Chahal (11 wickets, avg 34.45, SR 34.9)  who might make way for Kuldeep (6 wickets, avg 56.16, SR 67 ). If India look for sixth bowling option, they might bring back Kedar Jadhav in place of Dinesh Karthik.

All the games in Manchester have been won by teams batting first. It’s been a general trend though in the latter half of this tournament with the pitches slowing down. A fresh pitch will be used for the semis, so it’s hard to determine how much it will slow down. The average first innings score at Old Trafford in this WC is 323. Expect a batting-friendly wicket. The toss could play a crucial role.

New Zealand have a slight upper hand in head-to-head at the World Cup with four wins compared to India's three.

Over the years, New Zealand’s biggest challenge was crossing that semi-final barrier. After six attempts (most semis lost by any team), they finally managed to break through in 2015. They need to derive the same inspiration from Brendon McCullum's men to spark resurgence and not get entangled into the same semi-final loop again. India, on the other hand, will be looking to bury the ghosts of MCG and flip the emotions from four years ago.

Historically, semi-finals have mostly been one-sided, but of the eight that have turned out to be exciting, five have involved New Zealand.

Don't be surprised if you end up experiencing a cracker (instead of the one-sided match some/most of you were expecting).

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Updated Date: Jul 09, 2019 09:13:53 IST

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 3631 113
2 New Zealand 2547 111
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3778 105
5 Australia 2640 98
6 Sri Lanka 3462 94
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6745 125
2 India 7071 122
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 Australia 5543 111
5 South Africa 5193 110
6 Pakistan 4756 97
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 India 8099 261
5 Australia 5471 261
6 New Zealand 4056 254