India will take on New Zealand in the first semi-final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 on Tuesday at Old Trafford. Till Saturday, it seemed like Virat Kohli and Co would be facing England, who gave them a thrashing in the group game earlier, but South Africa's win over Australia changed the complexion of the last-four.
India, who finished at the top of the table, have supposedly found an 'easy pass' to the final with the upcoming clash against Kiwis. And that's so because of the Black Caps' slide heading into the knockouts. After winning the first five of the six games, Kane Williamson and Co suffered three heavy defeats in their last three group games.
New Zealand also have never won the World Cup and their appearance in the 2015 summit clash was their maiden appearance in World Cup finals. India, semi-finalists in 2015, have lost just one of nine their league games. They are the world No 1 ODI side and are two-time former champions.
Odds are heavily stacked against New Zealand, but big games have very little relation with the odds. Ask Pakistan, for example. They stunned one and all by convincingly beating heavy favourites India in the 2017 Champions Trophy final.
Moreover, India's impressive bowling and top-class top-order batting have papered over the chinks in the armour which includes feeble middle-order and less than impressive spin bowling.
India are vulnerable and we know that. The group game between these two sides was washed out and in that context the upcoming match is a complete new prospect for both sides.
Just to spice up the contest, one must add that New Zealand lead the head-to-head record against India in World Cups and also had the edge over Virat Kohli's side during the warm-up game before the start of the tournament.
We take a look at five key battles that could decide the result of the first semi-final:
Rohit Sharma vs Trent Boult
India are a top-heavy team and there's no denying that. The bulk of the runs in this tournament has come from the bat of the openers and Virat Kohli, and Rohit Sharma has been the main contributor. With five centuries, it's needless to say what he means to India. On the other hand, Trent Boult has 15 wickets so far and he would be raring to go. The left-arm pacer could bring the ball back in or angle it way from the right-hander from middle and leg stump line. Two menacing prospects which can make things impossible for any batsman. In the warm-up game, Boult trapped Rohit in front. The margin of error is almost negligible. Rohit needs to be at his best to win this battle.
MS Dhoni vs Mitchell Santner
MS Dhoni has 223 runs to his name in seven innings, but don't let the stat mask the laborious effort it has taken for the veteran to score those runs in this World Cup. Dhoni has been made to work very hard for his runs with all of his innings failing to infuse confidence amongst Indian fans. His struggle against the spinners has been a painful ordeal even for the fans. His inability to rotate strike with spinners in the attack has not only hurt his strike rate but also ends up choking India's flow in the middle overs. New Zealand are certain of using Mitchell Santner whenever Dhoni comes to bat, unless it's in final overs. This is a matchup to look forward to as the veteran would look to prove his critics wrong.
Kane Williamson vs Indian spinners
Ravindra Jadeja's impressive performance against Sri Lanka could get him a place in semi-final's lineup and 'forced change' Yuzvendra Chahal could also come back. Kiwi skipper Kane Williamson is a brilliant player of spin but Jadeja and Chahal pose a serious threat with their ability to spin the ball away from right-handers. Williamson loves to build an innings by rotating the strike and taking the game deep but spinners would want to dry the runs for him and hope to induce an error from the Kiwi captain to sink New Zealand's ship. This will be an intriguing contest to look forward to.
Martin Guptill vs Mohammed Shami
Martin Guptill hasn't had the most fruitful of World Cups, but his reputation and lack of options for the opener's slot, has kept him afloat. However, he needs just one knock to turn the tide in his favour. His ability to change a game with his bat is well known and Indian pacers will look to get him out early. Mohammed Shami, who was rested during Sri Lanka game is a expected to return. Shami's brilliant seam position which allows him to move the ball in both directions can prove to be vital in this case. Guptill has a weakness against the ball nipping back in and Shami will look to target the same to give India the perfect start to their innings.
Jasprit Bumrah vs Jimmy Neesham, Colin de Grandhomme
All the matches at Manchester have been high scoring games and New Zealand will be tasked to score or chase big depending upon the result of the toss. But they will need to get past the Jasprit Bumrah challenge in death overs in order to do that. Jimmy Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme are the usual suspects to provide the late flourish to Kiwis in the finals overs but Bumrah is a major roadblock. His record in death overs is excellent. But big stages need brave performances and caution cannot be the plan. Both all-rounders will need to take their chances and we will wait to see who will come on top.