• Monday, December 04, 2023

India juggernaut faces familiar New Zealand hurdle in semis

Rohit Sharma’s side have been in incredible form so far, winning all nine of their group matches

By: Chandrashekar Bhat

A SEEMINGLY unstoppable India stand on the verge of their first World Cup final since the triumphant 2011 campaign on home soil but must face their bogey team in major events to get there, as they take on New Zealand in Wednesday’s (15) semi-final in Mumbai.

Rohit Sharma’s side have been in incredible form so far, winning all nine of their group matches including a four-wicket victory over the Black Caps in Dharamsala.

However, India were also heavily fancied to beat New Zealand at the same stage of the 2019 edition, only to lose by 18 runs at Old Trafford, while Kane Williamson’s team also came out on top in the inaugural World Test Championship final two years ago.

Head coach Rahul Dravid said his team would be under pressure in their fourth consecutive World Cup semi-final.

“It’s a knockout game. We have to accept the fact that there’s going to be a certain amount of pressure,” Dravid said after India thumped the Netherlands by 160 runs on Sunday (12) to maintain their 100 per cent record.

“But the way we’ve responded to pressure so far gives us a lot of belief, a lot of confidence. I don’t think we’ll change anything in the way we prepare or plan for the semi-finals.”

Dravid said there were “no guarantees” in cricket.

“What you can do is prepare well, plan well and do the best you possibly can,” he added.

New Zealand, runners-up in 2015 and 2019, had won four straight games and were top of the table when the teams met last month. But injuries took their toll and they only reached the semis after snapping a four-game losing run with a victory over Sri Lanka, a result which all but ended Pakistan’s chances.

Williamson, who returned from knee surgery in time for the World Cup, and also recovered from a fractured finger during it, has a fully fit squad to choose from in their fifth straight World Cup semi-final.

“I think our brand of one-day international cricket has put us in good stead,” said seamer Trent Boult, who took three wickets in the win over Sri Lanka last week.

“I think in World Cup cricket, when it comes down to must-win games, we’ve got a lot of experience in the squad.”

Boult said he was relishing the contest with India.

“To play a World Cup in India and come up against the hosts, a team that’s red hot, playing good cricket at a great ground – you couldn’t script it any better.”

Hoping to bat himself into the record books on what could well be another good batting track at the Wankhede Stadium is Virat Kohli, who is on 49 ODI centuries and requires one more to eclipse the mark of India great Sachin Tendulkar.

“There have been a host of talented individuals on show but to top them all, you can’t look past Kohli,” West Indies maestro Viv Richards wrote in his International Cricket Council column after tournament top-scorer Kohli’s ton against South Africa.

“I’m a huge fan, I’ve been for a long time and he continues to show why he has to go down as one of the all-time greats, up there with the likes of the great Sachin.”

Should the India juggernaut roll on, the two-times world champions will face Australia or South Africa in the November 19 final in Ahmedabad.


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