India’s Quest for Redemption Against New Zealand

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India will take on New Zealand in the much awaited semifinal of the ICC ODI World Cup 2023. Both teams have got all their bases covered on all fronts be it batting, bowling, or fielding. This promises to be one of the highly competitive clashes of the tournament. ‘Avenge’ is a very strong word for a cricket game. After all, it’s just a sport where one team has to eventually lose. But the scars and the agony of the 2019 semifinal is deeply rooted in the minds of the fans. It was a story of so close yet so far. This tournament is also finding a similar pattern. 

India just like the previous World Cup are on an absolute roll. They are playing flawless cricket and have got all their bases covered. Just like the previous edition, they have steamrolled each of the opposition they have faced and are deservingly the table toppers. 

New Zealand on the other hand, have a World Cup of ups and downs. After a great start in the opening few matches, they lost their way in the middle but finished strong to qualify for the semifinals. It has been the New Zealand way of playing. Scrape through the tough times, minimize the margin of the losses, and win big whenever possible. Even this time, they did not have a clear cut semifinal spot available. They had to wait for the opposition’s result to go their way to finish in the top 4. 

India will be aware of the challenges that New Zealand poses. They are a different team once they enter an ICC tournament. But the team led by Rohit Sharma has been doing well to focus on one game at a time without thinking about the outside noise. Will India be able to break the semifinals jinx? Is India well equipped the counter the Kiwi threat? Let us look at few key points to consider before this mouth watering contest.

Firing Middle Order

India have found the near perfect batting lineup. The top 3 was never an issue for the Indian team. But the way Rohit and Shubhman are giving fiery starts in the powerplay has made the other batters’ life very easy. Virat has been in a league of his own and is the leading run scorer of the tournament. But the difference between the 2023 and the 2019 teams is the middle order.

All the talk about India’s middle order has eventually died down due to the consistent performances from Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul. They have been the point of difference in this tournament. Shreyas and KL have been able to step up whenever needed and perfectly carried out their role. They have been able to build a partnership if quick wickets have fallen or carried on the big-hitting if the foundation is set. Shreyas has been excellent at attacking the spinners while KL has been doing his job brilliantly in rotating the strike in the middle overs. Shreyas is the 8th-highest run scorer of the tournament with 421 runs. KL Rahul has 371 runs at a Strike rate of 93. Shreyas has been the middle order specialist for Team India. Amidst his shortcomings against short ball, he has been able shut off his critics by consistently playing impactful knocks on tricky spinning pitches. The special thing about KL is that he can help the team play a situation like that against Australia coming in at 2-3 and also play an innings like that against Netherlands with a thunderous 62-ball ODI ton.  

Even if the top 3 fails, India this time have solid number 4 and 5 to carry them to a big total. India is more than capable of overcoming ’45 minutes of bad cricket‘ this time. India were exposed on that front when they met in the semifinals last time. In case, the firing top order fails against the New Zealand quicks, Shreyas and KL can steady the ship this time. 

Indian fast bowlers in Indian conditions

In Siraj, Shami, and Bumrah, India have found the deadliest fast bowling combination. Under lights or in the heat, conditions do not matter to them. They are wicket takers in each and every condition. All three bowlers are wicket taking as well as economical. Shami’s inclusion in the playing XI has done wonders for the team. He has picked 16 wickets in 5 matches at an astonishing average of 9.56. Bumrah has been on a different level. He has been the fourth highest wicket taker in the tournament an economy of 3.65. He has bowled more than 80% of dot balls in the powerplay. In Siraj, India have found a wicket taking machine. Whenever Rohit needs a wicket, he turns to Siraj and he delivers. While most batters try to survive Bumrah, they often tend to attack Siraj which perfectly suits Siraj in taking wickets. He has taken the most wickets in the powerplay for India this year. While he had some off games early on in the tournament, he is now looking threatening again.

The impressive part of this trio is that all can take the new ball. If any bowler is having an off day or going for runs, India have the option to turn to the other bowler to take wickets. In the last semifinal, once the powerplay was done, New Zealand could captialise on Hardik Pandya where easy runs started to come by. Indian bowlers are far ahead in terms of bowling in Indian conditions compared to any of their foreign counterparts. If Trent Boult, Southee and Ferguson do not get wickets in the powerplay they often tend to go for runs which is not the case with the Indian fast bowlers. If India negotiate the powerplay well, New Zealand may find it difficult to take wickets. New Zealand will prefer to bowl under lights and get help the early swing on offer. If they get swing and Trent Boult finds his length, it will be tricky times for India. 

Indian spinners against Kiwi middle order

Kuldeep and Jadeja are absolute cheat codes in these conditions. In Kuldeep and Jadeja, India have not only wicket taking spinners but also miserly economomical spinners. Jadeja has the second best economy rate in the tournament (bowlers who have played more than one match) of 3.97 with 16 wickets. Kuldeep has taken 14 wickets in 9 matches with an economy of 4.15. 

In the group stages, India were taken by surprise when the New Zealand middle order batsmen attacked the spinners. Mitchell, Rachin Ravindra, Kane Williamson and Tom Latham are excellent players of spin. Kuldeep loses his rhythm when attacked early in the spell. He tends to go on the defensive when taken to cleaners. This was also seen in the last game when both teams met. With the ball turning in to the 3 left handers on a flat Wankhede pitch, New Zealand could attack Jadeja. India needs to be vary of this challenge ahead of the crucial encounter. This is where the lack of sixth bowler could hurt India. But Jadeja is a crafty bowler and would be ready for this challenge. This is where Kuldeep needs to put pressure on the Kiwi batters and scalp some crucial wickets. 

India is better placed in Indian conditions compared to New Zealand. But the Kiwis have always found their way against all odds. Their methodical approach to the game makes them one of the most successful teams in cricket. Players like Santner, and Philips often go under the radar with their timely contributions. The Kiwis know their role and silently do their jobs without any fuss. India has been so exceptional until now, that they are due a failure. The home game adds more pressure plus the added history between the two sides. They just need to handle the pressure better. Treat it like just another match and control the controllable. After all, it’s just a cricket game…

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