Formalities are yet to be completed and it won’t be until Saturday evening that it would be set in stone that India will face New Zealand in the first semi-final at the Wankhede Stadium. An unbeaten team so far, placed on top of the table, home advantage by their side…all of it would make India the undisputed favourites. But despite barely making it to the semi-final, New Zealand don’t resemble a side that has too many concerns bothering them.
As has been the case in World Cups, New Zealand seem to be peaking again at the right time as the tournament enters the home run. This is a team that thrives on big stages and has a knack of seizing control of crucial moments, making a mockery of the term pressure. Despite three successive losses, they bounced back with roaring form with the bat, posting 400 against Pakistan. And on Thursday, bolstered by the return of Lockie Ferguson – who added the X-factor in the middle-overs – they rolled over Sri Lanka. Even Trent Boult, who had been struggling of late, got back amongst wickets. With the bat Devon Conway, who appeared to be drifting away after that unbeaten 152 against England in the opening fixture, showed all the positive signs of rediscovering the fluency, which has been missing since Ahmedabad.
From Rachin Ravindra at the top to Tim Southee at No 10, New Zealand have the sort of batting depth that can be counted upon at the conditions in Wankhede. “Hard to comment on what the conditions will be at Wankhede, but you know, history suggests it’s a good wicket and, yeah, nice to have come up against them in Dharamsala. Totally different ground and different facilities. But we’ll turn our focus to that challenge. Very, very good players, but pressure does things to the best of players at any time. So just look forward to taking that on,” Boult said about the prospect of facing India.
At Dharamsala, when these two teams faced off, it was billed as the precursor to the knockouts. But at no point did New Zealand pose a serious challenge to India. However, at the Wankhede the challenge will be manifold for Rohit Sharma & Co, who have repeatedly struggled to raise their game in the semi-finals. Given their in-form batting line-up, and factoring in the conditions on offer, New Zealand will be tempted to look at Kyle Jamieson, the tall, well-built all-rounder who could use the bounce to good effect and also hit a few big blows with the bat.
But for New Zealand as it was in the case in Dharamsala, for them to stop a red-hot India this time, they need their bowling unit to have another field day. As Rohit Sharma counterattacked at the top, sans swing on offer, their new ball bowlers struggled to make early inroads. From there on, they were always playing catch up. At the Wankhede, where the seamers have found some help, especially with the new ball, New Zealand will be a tricky opponent. If they are defending under lights, Boult and Southee would be relishing the conditions.
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“They’re playing a positive style of cricket. I suppose playing shots does present chances – but we’re going to be very clear with how we’re going to tackle that that game if it happens still has to be ticked off but I think there’ll be a lot of excitement and the prospect of that challenge, and like I said it doesn’t get any bigger than taking on India in front of 1.5 billion people. Yeah, it’s very exciting,” Boult said.
So far at this World Cup, New Zealand have shown they can rise from the dead. They are known to play to their strengths, where each player is given a clarity of clarity, which they perform to the T. They have always thrived when the spotlight is aimed elsewhere and at Wankhede, they would feel at home in that sense.
“I think our brand of ODI cricket has put us in good stead to be honest. We’re a team that doesn’t get too far ahead of ourselves. We quickly reflect, review the games, and move on and try to challenge ourselves as best as possible. And I think in World Cup cricket, when it comes down to must-win games, we’ve got a lot of experience in the squad and I thought we used that nicely over the last few games,” Boult added.