Manchester, July 8 : Considered flat track bullies, the Indians have so far been tested only once in the ongoing World Cup in England and that was during their opening warm-up game against New Zealand in London on May 25. While the group stage encounter between the two teams got washed off, they are set to clash again and this time it will be the semi-final of the 2019 edition of the showpiece event at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
Going into the tournament, the Indians were considered favourites while the Kiwis flew under the radar to start with. But as it has been the case with New Zealand when it comes to any limited-overs tournament, this time too, they have shown their mettle and walked straight into the knockouts at the fourth spot. In fact, at one stage they were leading the pack before a couple of bad games towards the end of the group stages saw them fall down the ladder slightly.
But on Tuesday, the Black Caps will have to play out of their guts to challenge the Indian team that has only lost one game so far -- against England in Birmingham as they failed to chase down 300-plus. Yet, the question is whether or not it will be a batting paradise. After all, the ICC has refrained from producing belters and like CEO Dave Richardson said during the game between India and England in the group stages, the idea is to bring in balance.
Yet, there is forecast of rain starting Tuesday. While it may be passing showers, but then, the New Zealand attack suddenly looks all the more menacing with the likes of Boult, Lockie Ferguson, Tim Souther and Colin de Grandhomme almost looking unplayable.
In fact, Ferguson's fitness will hold the key. While the Kiwis are confident that he will last the 50 overs, it will indeed be crucial to see if he remains the force to reckon with on the field of play. Skipper Kane Williamson has made no bones about the fact that he relies on Ferguson when it comes to bowling out the opposition.
For Virat Kohli, it will be about wanting to see the clear blue skies like never before. After all, New Zealand is one attack that turns a completely different picture when the conditions are overcast. Unlike the Australians and Englishmen, the Kiwis are hardcore swing bowlers.
Another area of concern for the Indian skipper will be the form of the middle-order batsmen. While the team management has shown a brave face, the fact remains that most of the runs have been scored by the top three -- Kohli, Rohit Sharma and K.L. Rahul.
With 647 runs from eight innings with five centuries Rohit heads the list and is followed by run-machine and Kohli with 442 runs with five fifties to his name. And third on the list is Rahul with 360 runs that includes a century and two fifties. Interestingly, the next man on the list is none other than 'under scanner' M.S. Dhoni with 223 runs. Clearly, the writing is on the wall and a massacre is waiting to happen, but the Indians feel otherwise.
Clearly, even as the Indian bowling attack under Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and the spinners cuts a perfect picture, the batting in the middle needs to stand tall and get counted. While the management stuck with Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja for the last game -- against Sri Lanka -- and dropped Yuzvendra Chahal, it will be interesting to see if they continue to do that or go back to having Chahal in the XI.
But a lot will definitely depend on the wicket on offer and the conditions overhead. If the cloud covers comes in, the Indians might want to play just one spinner and cement the batting further by getting someone like Mayank Agarwal into the scheme of things.
Squads: India: Rohit Sharma, K.L. Rahul, Virat Kohli, Mayank Agarwal, M.S. Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja, Dinesh Karthik, Mohammed Shami, Rishabh Pant.
New Zealand: Martin Guptill, Henry Nicholls, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Tom Latham, Colin de Grandhomme, James Neesham, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Matt Henry, Trent Boult, Colin Munro, Tom Blundell, Ish Sodhi, Lockie Ferguson.
(Baidurjo Bhose can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)