Venue: Old Trafford, Manchester
Date: July 9th, 2019
On Saturday night, in the last cricket match of the group stages, South Africa won only their third match of the World Cup. Faf Du Plessis’ men had already been eliminated long back. It might sound like an insignificant victory. But the Proteas had shown fans just what they were capable of in a better year. They defeated Australia, handing them their second defeat in 9 games, a result that took India to the first position in the table. As a result, the India-England and Australia-New Zealand semifinal became India-NZ and Australia-England in just a few hours.
Maybe it’s only appropriate that India has to face New Zealand in the last four – their contest in the group stages was rained out.
The two teams have faced each other 7 times in the World Cup competition. NZ has won 4 and India 3. Two of India’s wins came in the 1987 World Cup, while the third came in 2003 – which was the last time these two locked horns in this tournament. NZ famously won in 1999, to add to their 1975, 1979 and 1992 wins. This is the first time India will face NZ in a semifinal. This is India’s seventh World Cup semifinal and New Zealand’s eighth. NZ has won only 1 of their 7 semifinals, though – 2015 was the only time they reached the final.
India is the favorites by a long margin. They won 7 of their 9 group stage games, losing only to England on the way to the final 4. NZ won 5 of their first 6 matches but lost their last three against Pakistan, England, and Australia. This Kiwi team is not a patch on Brendon McCullum’s lions that reached the 2015 final. Kane Williamson’s men have struggled and barely made the semis on net run-rate after finishing on the same point-tally as Pakistan. They have been disappointing in the last two weeks, with much of their problems stemming from their over-reliance on Williamson and the failure of their openers.
Captain: Virat Kohli
India topped the group stages, piping Australia to the position on the last day when they defeated Sri Lanka while Australia went down to South Africa. But that isn’t to say they have been the best team. They’ve had their middle-order issues, but it has been Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah who have papered over the cracks. But fans can’t complain now that there’s Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya in the middle order with Dinesh Karthik, to make up for MS Dhoni’s struggles. Kedar Jadhav and Vijay Shankar, the weak links, have lost their spots, while Ravindra Jadeja has replaced one of the two wrist-spinners. This is the best possible team; there are no excuses left. India will start as favorites, but they will hope that the top 3 come good again irrespective of the toss. Kohli is yet to make his presence felt, mostly because Rohit has hogged the limelight. Kohli is the only big batsman to have not scored a century in this World Cup so far. The big stage is his. He is waiting to explode.
X-factor: Jasprit Bumrah
Captain: Kane Williamson
New Zealand is one of the most consistent underdogs in World Cup history. Again, they proved to be the best of the rest ahead of Pakistan, South Africa, and Sri Lanka. Finishing fourth is what they might have hoped for. Their reward is a match against India – a team more clinical but not as explosive as Australia or England. The team has issues: Martin Guptill and Colin Munro have been awful at the top, Ross Taylor is yet to fire, Tom Latham is only just showing signs of life, while Lockie Ferguson is in a battle to get fit. The stars are Williamson and Trent Boult, as well as Jimmy Neesham. Their best chance is for Boult to go on a hot streak and dismiss the Indian top order – which has batsmen who are vulnerable to the moving ball. NZ will hope to bat first, though.
X-factor: Trent Boult
Stat: India and New Zealand are the only two teams with bowlers who have taken hat-tricks in this World Cup. Mohammad Shami (against Afghanistan) and Trent Boult (against Australia) are the names.