New Zealand and India are set to tussle for a spot in the 2019 Cricket World Cup final.
When the pair brushed shoulders in the warm-up game prior to the commencement of the prestigious tournament, the Kiwis emerged comfortable winners in a low-scoring affair. The group-stage game featuring the two teams was abandoned due to rain and Tuesday will mark the pair’s first meeting ever since.
The big battle on Tuesday will feature sub-sets of smaller battles that could determine the outcome of the big tie. We take you through the key-clashes.
Trent Boult v Rohit Sharma
After scalping a 4-for in the warm-up game, Boult will consider himself to be the trump card against an upbeat India in Manchester. Rohit Sharma is at the peak of his abilities, but he will be wary of what the pacer could do with his in-swingers.
In the warm-up game last month, the 32-year-old was caught on the plumb by a spectacular delivery by Boult. But both players have experienced opposing fortunes ever since.
The Indian opener has broken the reord for most centuries in a World Cup, smashing five tons en route to a tournament-leading tally of 647 runs.
On the other hand, Boult has not had the best of tournaments. The pacer’s only moment of the World Cup arrived when he claimed a hat-trick against Australia in the death, but the Kiwis went on to lose the match.
Boult has since been outshone by team-mate Lockie Ferguson.
However, both players know that form, history and numbers are immaterial when they take the pitch in the semis. It could be the case of who blinks first, with Boult holding the edge despite enduring inferior form.
Jasprit Bumrah v Kane Williamson
Kane Williamson has been leading by example and has registered the best batting average (96.2) in the group stage and will be New Zealand’s best hope at stability in the middle-order on Tuesday.
Jasprit Bumrah has been India’s best player in the bowling department and will be looking to nullify whatever the Kiwis skipper attempts to achieve.
This battle could consist of two parts, depending on how things progress. The New Zealand openers Martin Guptill and Colin Munro have had a disappointing tournament and could be dismissed early on in the innings by India’s fierce bowling attack. Bumrah will then ask Williamson all sort of questions as the latter prepares to steady the ship.
The second part of the battle will arrive in the death, should Williamson and New Zealand survive any initial scare from the Men in Blue. Bumrah has established himself as one of the best death bowlers in the world and will be tasked to restrict the Kiwis.
He will then be put to test against the in-form Williamson who will be looking to take his team to a massive total.
Ultimately, it will come down to which player responds to pressure better and the Kiwis skipper has demonstrated his prowess in this arena quite spectacularly this World Cup.
Mitchell Santner v India’s middle-order
Kiwis spinner Mitchell Santner could be the unlikely hero against a shaky Indian middle-order.
Virat Kohli’s men have appeared fragile beyond the third batsman and are yet to find the winning combination.
Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja and Rishabh Pant have all been tested, but none of the players have been able to make a strong case for themselves. MS Dhoni has anchored the ship at times, but at a concerning strike-rate.
Santner could play a key role in keeping a check on the Indian middle-order and handing the control to the Kiwis in case the former maintain the good momentum which is usually presented to them by the swashbuckling opening pair.
Sarfraz Ahmed has put the ball in the court of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) with regards to the captaincy of the Pakistan side across all formats.
The wicketkeeper batsman has been leading Pakistan across all three formats for some time now although the role is set to come under the scanner following the team’s exit in the 2019 ICC World Cup.
The Men in Green finished fifth on the points table after attaining five wins in their nine games and narrowly missed out on a spot in the semi-final due to their inferior net run-rate compared to New Zealand.
Addressing a media gathering in Lahore on the team’s return from England, Sarfraz stated that the captaincy decision solely rests on the PCB.
“It’s not that I’m saying I refuse to resign,” said the Pakistan skipper.
“All I’m saying is the decision rests with the PCB, the same way as the decision to appoint me captain was taken by them.
“I’m sure they’ll take the decision that’s best for Pakistan.”
Sarfraz lauded the displays of Babar Azam and Shaheen Afridi and expressed his satisfaction at the overall display of the squad. Babar’s reputation was further enhanced in the tournament with the right-hander’s tally of 474 runs now being the highest ever registered by any Pakistan batsman in World Cups.
Young Afridi, meanwhile, impressed one and all after picking up 16 wickets in just five matches including a memorable five-wicket haul at Lord’s against Bangladesh.
“The performances overall have been good,” Sarfraz stated.
“The most junior bowler (Shaheen Afridi) picked up 16 wickets. Babar Azam playing his first World Cup batted brilliantly and scored a century and half-centuries.
“As a team, we put up a great fight. It is unfortunate we couldn’t qualify.”
New Zealand coach Gary Stead hopes Lockie Ferguson can make the difference against India after revealing the pace bowler should be fit for their semi-final clash on Tuesday.
The Black Caps were without their leading wicket-taker in ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 for their final group-stage game – a 119-run defeat to England at Chester-le-Street.
Ferguson has been a standout performer for New Zealand in the tournament as they finished fourth in the standings, taking 17 wickets to sit joint-third in the table for the most wickets taken.
And after the 28-year-old was rested as a precaution following a hamstring strain, Stead expects him to be back fit and firing for the showdown with India at Old Trafford.
“I absolutely expect Lockie to play. If the last game was a semi-final or final, we probably would have played him, so it was more a precautionary measure not to play him,” he said.
“He definitely had some hamstring tightness and he needed 48 hours for that to settle down. He’s in good shape and barring getting through the next couple of days, then I expect him to play.
“Lockie has been enormous for us. It is his first World Cup as well and I’ve just been delighted that every time he’s come on to bowl, he’s looked like he’s going to make a difference out there.
“Whether that’s through pace, whether that’s through creating pressure for the other person at the other end – he always has been looking likely and hopefully he can do that again against India.”
Stead was also keen to stress his faith in opening batsman Martin Guptill, who has struggled for form after opening the tournament with an unbeaten knock of 73 against Sri Lanka.
“Martin’s got a lot of ODI hundreds and he has been a key player for us in the past. Our job as support staff is to get him in the right frame of mind,” said Stead.
“He’ll go out and express himself and who knows, if he makes 150 in the next game, then we probably won’t be talking about this anymore.
“People go through form slumps and heights all the time. He’s had a tough tournament but there’s nothing from my point of view that suggests that’s going to continue for a long period of time.”
Having lost their last three games of the round-robin stage, New Zealand have been described by some as the weakest of the teams to qualify for the semi-final stage.
But Stead is more than happy to let the Black Caps be considered the underdogs as they attempt to reach their second World Cup final, following their defeat to Australia in the 2015 showpiece.
“We’ve got a couple of afternoons to be ready for India now,” he said.
“I’m just excited about it as India are a quality team and there’s no doubt they’ve got match-winners throughout their line-up.
“I said from the very start, whoever we play, we’re going to have to be somewhere near our very best to beat them but that’s the excitement, that’s the challenge in front of us.
“Hopefully, you’ll see what Kiwis are made of out there and our never-say-die attitude; we will stand up when we need to. There are no second chances now, are there?
“People aren’t expecting us to win and from my point of view, I think that’s a good place to be because if that’s the case, we can go out there and play with some real freedom.”