After nearly 6 weeks of the Cricket World Cup, we are finally in the endgame now with India taking on New Zealand in the first of the two semifinals at Old Trafford.
While Indian captain Virat Kohli refused to name his preferred opponent ahead of the semifinal, New Zealand is widely seen as the easier draw at this stage. Since beating the West Indies in a thriller, New Zealand have lost 3 games in a row, and they have managed to edge through on the back of better Net Run Rate than Pakistan.
Kane Williamson has been expectedly among runs (an average of 96.20 in the group stage), but rest of the top order hasn’t really fired throughout the competition. Martin Guptill has been struggling for runs since the unbeaten half century in the first game against Sri Lanka and his partners, Munro and Nicholls, haven’t fired either. Ross Taylor has scored couple of valuable half centuries but an average of 37 in the competition with a strike rate of 75 shows he is yet to hit the form that made him the most prolific batsman behind Kohli since the 2015 World Cup.
All that has meant that the responsibility for run scoring has fallen on Williamson’s shoulders in every game and while he has responded well, he would appreciate a little help from senior pros like Guptill and Ross Taylor in this high stakes game. Their lower middle order of Neesham and Colin de Grandhomme have been chipping in with useful runs, and can provide a big finish to the innings if the top order provides them with a good base.
No such problem with New Zealand’s bowling though with Ferguson, Boult, Henry, Neesham all among wickets. Ferguson missed the game against England due to an injury but he is back to full fitness and his extra pace during the middle overs can trouble the Indian batsmen. On an Old Trafford surface expected to be full of runs, wickets through the middle overs can be critical to stopping India below 300 and Ferguson is the man to provide them.
India has no problems at the top of the order unlike their opponents today. Rohit Sharma has been in scintillating form hitting 5 centuries in the group stage. KL Rahul, coming in for injured Shikhar Dhawan at the top of the order, has been among runs, even if he hasn’t looked as fluent as Rohit. Virat Kohli has looked imperious as usual, hitting 5 half centuries in his 8 innings so far.
Indian problems have been in the middle order for a while now and that will be under scrutiny again today. Whether they go for Kedar Jadhav at 6 to get the cushion of an extra bowler, or stick with Dinesh Karthik who played last 2 games remains to be seen. Pant and Dhoni look pretty secure at 4 and 5 for now.
Indian bowling has been led superbly by Jasprit Bumrah but who will open the bowling with him will be interesting. Shami has picked up lots of wickets in his limited opportunities but has leaked a lot of runs at the death and Bhuvi looked a little off color against Bangladesh after his return from injury. Which one of the two will partner Bumrah or will India spring a surprise by playing all 3 and leave out an out of form Kuldeep remains to be seen.
New Zealand LLLWW
Old Trafford has been a bat first, bat big venue for the past few years with average first innings score well over 300. India scored 336 against Pakistan at the same venue earlier in the tournament and any team batting first will be looking for a score in the same region. There is a threat of rain around and DLS may favour the team chasing but on the big stage, in a World Cup semifinal, on a flat wicket, expect the captain to bat first after winning the toss.