India captain Rohit Sharma (L) and his New Zealand counterpart Kane Williamson (ANI Photos)
INDIA may be the outstanding team at the Cricket World Cup but New Zealand fast bowler Lockie Ferguson has insisted both sides will “start from zero again” when they meet in Wednesday’s (15) semi-final in Mumbai.
Tournament hosts India head into the knockout match having won all nine of their group game, with star man Virat Kohli the event’s leading batsman with 594 runs and captain Rohit Sharma not far behind on 503.
Meanwhile, India boast a formidable fast-bowling line-up in Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj and Mohammed Shami.
If successful teams are fortunate as well as good, then India certainly had a lucky break when an injury to all-rounder Hardik Pandya paved the way for Shami’s return, with the experienced seamer having since taken 16 wickets in five matches at a stunningly low average of under 10.
In addition spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav are also capable of taking wickets without being flogged for runs.
And yet the fact remains India have been waiting since a 2011 triumph over Sri Lanka in Mumbai to win a third World Cup title, while their last major piece of silverware was the 2013 Champions Trophy.
New Zealand, losing finalists at the last two 50-over World Cups, won their opening four games of this edition only to lose their next four.
But fast bowler Ferguson told reporters ahead of a training session in Mumbai on Monday: “We kind of all start from zero again. So come Wednesday, it’ll be a good challenge.”
Four years ago, New Zealand defeated India by just 18 runs in a rain-affected World Cup semi-final in Manchester that spanned two days.
“That was obviously very pleasing for us at the time but four years have gone past, we’ve played a lot of cricket in between,” said Ferguson.
Five of the India side who featured in the 2019 semi-final — Rohit, Kohli, Rahul, Bumrah and Jadeja — are set to be involved again on Wednesday.
“You’re at a pointy end in a tournament now,” admitted India coach Rahul Dravid.
“There is going to be a certain amount of pressure but I think the way we have responded to the pressure so far gives us a lot of belief.”
Dravid’s argument is supported by the manner of India’s four-wicket win against New Zealand in the group stage at Dharamsala last month.
Despite Daryl Mitchell’s 130, India held New Zealand to 273, with Shami taking 5-54 before Kohli made 95 and Jadeja, demonstrating his big-match temperament, a valuable 39 not out.
– ‘Awesome’ Ravindra –
Wednesday’s match takes place at Rohit’s Wankhede Stadium home ground, where India bowled out Sri Lanka for just 55 to win by 302 runs in the group stage, with the aggressive 36-year-old opener leading from the front at what could be his last World Cup.
“Rohit has certainly been a leader, without a doubt,” said India batting great Dravid. “He’s cracked open games for us.”
New Zealand, however, have a proven world-class batsman of their own in captain Kane Williamson who, following an injury-plagued tournament, returned to form with 95 on his comeback against Pakistan.
Trent Boult and Tim Southee lead an experienced pace attack featuring the lively Ferguson, with miserly left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner (16 wickets at under 25) an often under-rated threat.
New Zealand also boast a break-out star in left-handed batsman Rachin Ravindra, with the 23-year-old son of Indian-born parents having already scored 565 runs, including three hundreds, in his debut World Cup.
“You dream of playing against India and a full crowd at the Wankhede, a ground with so much history,” said Ravindra.
Meanwhile, an admiring Ferguson said of his team-mate: “I’ve seen Rachin progress from the domestic stage and played some New Zealand A games with him.
“He’s got an exceptional attitude… He’s a huge fan of cricket, but also works hard extremely on his batting and bowling.”
Ferguson added: “It’s been awesome to see him develop through this World Cup.”