After a total of 45 round-robin matches, the business end of the 2019 ICC World Cup has finally arrived with India and New Zealand set to lock horns in the first semi-final at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
The momentum definitely rests with India for the clash with the Men in Blue arriving in the last four on the back of a table-topping display which has seen them lose just one game so far.
The Black Caps, on the other hand, have stuttered and stumbled after a strong start and come into Tuesday’s semi-final after tasting three losses on the bounce.
India ponder bowling combinations
While India’s bowling unit has been the most economical so far in the World Cup, there are some selection headaches in the department for Virat Kohli.
Jasprit Bumrah will definitely spearhead the pace attack but who partners him with the new ball remains to be seen. Both Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are in contention for the role with the former having picked up 14 wickets so far compared to the seven for the latter.
Shami, however, has been expensive at the death in his last two outings although his overall average of 13.78 remains an excellent one.
India also have a dilemma in the spin department with three options available in the form of Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja. Old Trafford has not exactly been conducive to spin so far in the tournament and India could be tempted to play just the one specialist spinner for the clash.
India’s middle-order hole
India’s top-order comprising of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Kohli has been a formidable one throughout the course of the World Cup but the middle-order issues still remain unaddressed ahead of the semi-final.
Kedar Jadhav has struggled for runs while MS Dhoni’s growing inability to up the ante at the death has not helped matters either. Time and again, India have let the momentum generated by the top-order slip in the death overs and they cannot afford to make the same mistake in a knock-out clash.
Who bats at No4 will once again be interesting to see although India have persisted with Rishabh Pant in the slot in their three most recent outings with the left-hander putting in a highest score of 48 against Bangladesh.
Young Pant could get the nod once again on Tuesday but both he and veteran Dhoni will be under pressure to deliver on the big stage.
Kiwis bank on pace to rattle India
The game plan for the Black Caps on Tuesday will be fairly straightforward with their impressive pace arsenal set to be unleashed on India’s top-order.
Skipper Kane Williamson will want to put India’s middle-order to the test but they will first need to get past an in-form Rohit Sharma and Kohli.
The Kiwis will take confidence from their warm-up triumph over the Indians where they managed to bowl out India for just 179 runs in a comprehensive victory.
It was Trent Boult who did the damage then and the left-arm seamer will be eager to repeat his exploits. Boult has been backed excellently by Lockie Ferguson, James Neesham and Matt Henry with the four pacers picking up 53 wickets between themselves so far.
If the New Zealand pacers can make early inroads on Tuesday, it will be a whole different ball game.
India: KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli (c), Rishabh Pant, MS Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal.
New Zealand: Colin Munro, Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Tom Latham (wk), Colin de Grandhomme, James Neesham, Mitchell Santner, Trent Boult, Matt Henry, Lockie Ferguson.
Virat Kohli leads India into the 2019 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand.
Tuesday’s fixture is not the first time Kohli and New Zealand captain Kane Williamson have gone head-to-head in a World Cup semi-final, having faced off for their countries at Under-19 level in February 2008.
On that occasion, India triumphed – and Kohli even bagged the crucial wicket of Williamson.
However, Kohli said with a smile: “I got Kane’s wicket? Did I? I don’t know if that can happen again.
“I’m sure he remembers and when we meet tomorrow, I’m going to remind him.”
More than 11 years ago since they led their respective teams in the semi-final of the 2008 U19 World Cup at Kuala Lumpur, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson will lock horns again as skippers in a game of an entirely different magnitude.
Old Trafford will be the theatre this time around with India and New Zealand set to go head-to-head in the first semi-final of the 2019 ICC World Cup on Tuesday.
On that particular occasion in 2008, it was Kohli and India who had triumphed by three wickets in a hard-fought encounter with the team ultimately going on to lift the trophy.
What’s more, Kohli had even managed to pick up the wicket of Williamson in the match and it is a fact he is keen to remind his New Zealand counterpart about when they take the field on Tuesday.
“I got Kane’s wicket? Did I? I don’t know if that can happen again. I’m sure he remembers and when we meet tomorrow, I’m going to remind him,” the India skipper stated on Monday.
Now more than a decade later, the two players have established themselves as ‘once in a generation’ talents for their respective countries and make up one-half of the ‘Fab Four’ that also includes Steve Smith and Joe Root.
11 years ago, #ViratKohli and #KaneWilliamson faced off in the ICC U19 World Cup semi-final in Malaysia.— Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) July 7, 2019
On Tuesday, they will lead India and New Zealand in the #CWC19 semi-final at Old Trafford!
Full circle 🙌 #TeamIndia | #BackTheBlackCaps pic.twitter.com/FakooHmfUY
The two skippers have more than played their parts in their respective side’s march to the semi-final with both of them shining with the bat in hand.
It is Williamson who is slightly ahead of Kohli at this stage with the Kiwi stalwart amassing 481 runs so far compared to the 442 runs registered by his India counterpart.
The New Zealand skipper is averaging more than 96 with the bat in the tournament and has time and time again dug his team out of several holes. Kiwi openers Martin Guptill and Colin Munro have been woefully out of form in the tournament which has meant that Williamson has had to arrive at the crease much earlier than expected.
Yet, the 28-year-old has been the ever-reliable hand that he is always has and has constantly doused out the fires with minimal fuss. Accounting for nearly 30 per cent of the team’s total runs in the tournament, Williamson has more than led from the front to drag an inconsistent side all the way to the semi-final.
The right-hander has already struck two tons in the competition and gave a masterclass in anchoring a difficult chase with his unbeaten 106 against South Africa.
Kohli, on the other hand, has not yet managed to breach three figures so far in the tournament but the India skipper has still managed to constantly churn up the runs at a handsome rate.
It speaks more about the 29-year-old’s genius with the bat that a run of five fifties on the trot is being seen as an underachievement but such are the lofty standards that the cricket world has become accustomed to expect from Kohli.
He has lived in the shadows of Rohit Sharma mostly with the opener creating history by registering five tons in a single World Cup edition. Not that the India superstar is complaining with the team now just two steps away from lifting a third world title.
Yet, Williamson of all people will know that Kohli’s is the prize wicket for his team on Tuesday. The sentiment will be very much the same on the Indian side with the Kiwi skipper’s wicket set to be the most crucial one.
The two gifted batsmen are very much the faces of their respective national teams which have been carved in their identity.
Two champion cricketers at the top of their games are set to lead out their respective sides in a game of immense magnitude at Manchester. For cricket neutrals from all over the world, it simply does not get better than this.