India v New Zealand: Toss likely to be key factor in World Cup semi-final

Rohit Sharma's unbeaten team face familiar foes in a knockout match

New Zealand fast-bowler Trent Boult, right, poses the biggest threat to India in the World Cup semi-final in Mumbai on Wednesday. AFP
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One team has won all nine matches at the 2023 World Cup, the other squeezed into the semi-finals despite losing four matches in a row. But when India and New Zealand face off in Mumbai on Wednesday for a spot in the final, the hosts will be the side under most pressure.

There will be the pressure of expectations, the pressure of maintaining their perfect record in the tournament, the pressure to claim glory for the golden generation of Indian cricket who are possibly playing their last ODI World Cup. And pressure of facing New Zealand in a knockout match.

The Kiwis seem to have some sort of hold over the Indian team in ICC events. At the 2019 World Cup in England, the two teams met in the semi-final in Manchester.

India saw their dreams crushed over a two-day rain interrupted match where MS Dhoni was run out within touching distance of the target as the Kiwis won by 18 runs and went on to lose against the hosts in the greatest ever World Cup final.

The Black Caps once again got the better of India two years later in the 2021 World Test Championship final.

No wonder the Indians are wary of the Kiwis, especially since the venue of the semi-final – the Wankhede Stadium – suits their opponents more than any venue in the country due to the help it offers to fast bowlers.

However, Rohit Sharma's team have been in exceptional form this campaign. Virat Kohli is on the verge of 50 ODI hundreds, captain Rohit Sharma has emerged as the most destructive batsman in the opening powerplay, while the middle of Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul and Ravindra Jadeja has delivered when required.

Their bowling, however, has set them apart. Following the injury to Hardik Pandya, India have gone in with five specialist bowlers. The return of pacer Mohammad Shami has transformed India into the most lethal bowling attack in the competition. Jasprit Bumrah has been incisive and frugal, while spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Jadeja have given almost nothing away.

The Kiwis, on the other hand, too have a bowler who can turn the match on its head – left-arm seamer Trent Boult. The opening bowler has troubled India regularly and could be a nightmare under lights. How the Indians handle him will go a long way in deciding the outcome of the match.

Among batsmen, Rachin Ravindra has been the star performer in his debut World Cup, taking to Indian conditions like duck to water. The calming presence of captain Kane Williamson and Daryl Mitchell in the middle will also fill the Kiwis with confidence.

The biggest factor on Wednesday, however, could well be the toss as the ball has swung prodigiously under lights in the western Indian metropolis. India bundled out Sri Lanka for 55 there in the second innings while Afghanistan had the Aussies reeling at 91-7, before Glenn Maxwell played the innings of his life to rescue his team.

The team batting first would, therefore, expect to defend whatever total the batsmen manage.

However, captain Sharma insisted his side's record of big game defeats by New Zealand was "all in the past".

"That's the beauty of this team," he told a pre-match press conference on Tuesday.

"None of the guys were born when we won our first World Cup and then, when we won our second World Cup in 2011, half of the guys were not even playing the game."

He added: "This current crop of players is very much into what is happening today, what can happen tomorrow. The focus is on how they can get better as a player, what they can bring to the team and the things they can improve."

Updated: November 14, 2023, 2:37 PM