Lockie Ferguson’s bouncer, hook-pulled-flicked, all with one hand by MS Dhoni in the 49thover, with the Indian legend trying to scamper back for two to hog the strike and being beaten by inches by a freakish direct hit with one stump to aim at from deep square-leg by Martin Guptill, with 25 needed off 10 balls for a heist, still gets Indian fans teary-eyed.That it was MSD’s last bit of action in an India shirt adds to that sadness.
India vs New Zealand World Cup semi-final: Who’s better in head-on battles?
The two sides, placed similarly on the table after the league engagements, meet again at the same stage at the Wankhede, which will be enveloped in a sea of blue on Wednesday. Hosts India, unbeaten after nine games face New Zealand, who got there after suffering a mid-tournament blip, losing four games on the bounce, and being ravaged by injuries.
It’s a contest between a team of super stars vs a side with blue-collar worth ethics that soaks up pressure and turns up in tournament-play.
While New Zealand won’t get much support from the stands, they will take solace from the fact that they were the one team that pushed India in pool play in Dharamshala.
Their data analysts and tacticians along with skipper Kane Williamson will also know they can create a flutter in the Indian camp if the bowlers can prize out skipper Rohit Sharma (503 runs, strike-rate 121.49) and Virat Kohli (594 runs strike-rate 88.52) early.
ICC World Cup 2023: Who will win the India vs New Zealand semifinal clash? Greenstone Lobo predicts
Kohli, in the three semifinals he has played (2011, 2015, 2019) has fallen for scores of 9, 1, 1. All three times to left-arm-pace. (Wahab Riaz, Mitchell Johnson, Trent Boult). Boult, off colour in initial games, found his rhythm vs Sri Lanka in Bengaluru. He swung the ball in practice on Monday evening and is expected to find movement at a humid Wankhede, especially if New Zealand get to bowl under lights. If Kohli shuffles for the flick, expect Boult to target his pads again. Tim Southee, who has dismissed Kohli six times (a record he shares with Ravi Rampaul) will also eye a crack at the Indian great.
Southee and Boult have a promising record against Rohit too, having dismissed him five and four times, respectively.
How badly India depend on their two stalwarts can be gauged by the fact that one of the two, if not both, have logged a 50-plus score in all the nine games.
The toss is usually not a factor at Wankhede, but in this event, it has been with the side batting first, batting big each time and while defending the target, triggering a collapse with seam in the first ten overs.
Batting has got easier post 8 pm with dew setting in, but teams have suffered extensive early damage to profit from that. Pacers have bagged 47 of the 58 wickets in the four games here.
India, with their in-form pace trio of Mohammed Shami, Mohmmed Siraj and Jasprit Bumrah, will look to add to that tally. They dismissed Sri Lanka for 55 here two weeks ago.
Bumrah has been both miserly and masterful. His 17 scalps have come at 15.64 with a ridiculous economy of 3.65. Of the 437 balls he has bowled 292 have been dots. In powerplay, he has bowled 175 dots. It’s been a freak show.
If the bowlers strike early like they have done, the lack of a credible sixth bowling option can be off set.
If not, India will need spinners Kuldeep Yadav (13 wickets) and Ravindra Jadeja (16 wickets) to remain in wicket-taking form in the middle overs. Barring Daryl Mitchell in Dharamshala, no one has attacked Kuldeep. Jadeja too has gone for under four an over. If the pattern continues expect India to hold sway in the middle overs.
The Kiwis have Mitchell Santner, their own middle-overs bulwark (16 wickets, economy 4.81) who has kept things in control.
With no left-hander in the Indian top six, expect Santner and Rachin Ravindra to bowl in tandem to batters who are conservative against left-arm-spin.
Four years of waiting. Four years of planning. It’s all come down to Wednesday.
A win will keep India’s dream alive. A loss will take four more years of healing.