By Denzil Fernandes
Jul 8: When cup holders Australia played South Africa in the last league match of the 2019 Cricket World Cup everyone expected Australia to steamroll past a hapless South Africa and top the 10 team group at the end of all matches. But the Proteas left the World Cup scene with a stunning 10 run shock win against the Aussies. In the process, India took the top place beating Sri Lanka in their last league match and qualified to meet 2015 finalist New Zealand in the first semi final.
India ended in the top position with 15 points from nine games with 7 wins, 1 loss and one game rained off. Australia finished with 14 points, going second were forced to face old enemy England lying in third place with 12 points including 6 wins and 3 defeats much against their will probably. But their league earlier against England should give Autralia every reason to beat the Englishmen in the second semi final. Fourth placed New Zealand had 11 points to give them fourth place in the semi final pipping Pakistan on a better net run rate.
Cool blue India who were also seen in orange colours earlier look ready and set to get past the Kiwis. Skipper Kane Williamson’s team missed the league encounter against India due to rain and shared the spoils. But Kane knows more than enough about the Indians having played in the Indian Premier League (IPL) in the not too recent past. On their day, they have the wherewithal to put up a great fight against Kohli and company. New Zealand finished their last three league matches with consecutive losses against Pakistan, Australia and England respectively and putting them in danger of missing the semi final spot. Surely, they will recover from their slump in the semi final against India.
While captain Kane has done well personally, players like Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill will have to let their bat manage the run spree. Pacers Boult, Neesham and Ferguson have to strike with the ball quickly if they have to stop the firing Indians.
India has battled injuries galore with star batsman Dhawan forced to go back home. New comer Vijay Shankar who was groomed for the future was hit with a toe injury and replaced. Their top pace merchant Bhuvanesh Kumar has struggled with hamstring problems to add to Team India’s problems. But the Indians have smartly managed these injury issues and brought in good replacements.
Dhawan’s replacement, young Rishab Pant is like a bomb with his batting and is expected to explode sooner than later. Karnataka’s Mayank Agarwal has flown in to replace unlucky Vijay Shankar. Mohammad Shami has bowled exceptionally well and also bagged a ‘hat trick’ against Afghanistan in the league phase.
India opener and ‘hit man’ Rohit Sharma has been a well of runs with a world cup record of 6 centuries from 8 matches. His new opening partner K.L.Rahul has batted briskly although getting out after being set for a big score. As usual, skipper Kohli has oozed class and character with his strokeplay along with Pandya and veteran Dhoni. Booming Bumra has been unplayable to say the least.
With an all round strength covered perfectly in most areas, the Indians will be a tough team for the Kiwis to contain. All indications point out to a facile win for Kohli and his boys. But one cannot write off an energetic and energetic New Zealand squad who are capable of springing a surprise or two in the contest.
It is important for India to be on the guard and play their free scoring game. The first semi final will be played on Tuesday at the Old Trafford Cricket Ground. The second semi final is scheduled between holders Australia and favourites England on Thursday in Edgbaston, Birmingham.
A very interesting cricket trivia is that both Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson were also captains of their country’s Under-19 team when they played in 2008 against each other in the U-19 semi final. Other players from that U-19 semi final include India’s Jadeja, Boult and Southee from New Zealand. This is the 8th appearance for New Zealand in a World Cup semi final while India are in their 7th World Cup semi final.