India look as overwhelming favourites going into the semifinals vs New Zealand after having won all the games in the league stage of the World Cup. They are up against a side who have lost their 4 out of 5 last matches. On paper, with the quality of India, it is hard to look past them even though New Zealand will have fond memories of the 2019 semifinal. But in the home conditions, India look almost unstoppable.
Rohit Sharma, India’s captain, has been exceptional as the leader and the batter. The way Rohit has batted at the top of the order, he has been instrumental in many of the wins in the World Cup. The fact is that all of India’s top order is in prime form. There is no weakness or area of concern. It is very rare to see a side in such form, especially in a tournament like the World Cup. There is often an area of concern with a player or two on any side, let alone the top sides. However, I cannot see even one in India at the moment.
When Hardik got injured, it could have turned out to be a huge blow for the team but with him ruled out, Suryakumar Yadav and Mohammed Shami came in and rebalance the side excellently. I have said that from the start of the tournament that Shami must be in the side. He is an outstanding bowler who has added great value to the side. India, by almost a default, have got their best XI for this World Cup. That is no shame for Hardik who clearly brings a balance when he is fully fit. But now, India look in the best shape that they possibly can be.
There is always a threat of overconfidence bringing the downfall of side in great form. But in India’s case, I cannot see that.
From New Zealand’s perspective, it is going to be one hell of a task to try and overrun this juggernaut. If they want to do so, there are a couple of factors that can help New Zealand beat India. Firstly, they need to be lucky with the toss. If NZ win the toss, opt to bat first and put up a big score then they will give themselves a chance of bowling at Indian batters during a twilight period. Here, New Zealand can expose India’s top order if they have a good night with the ball. I have always felt that one area of weakness for the Indian top-order is when the ball is swinging.You can say that any side can struggle against the swing upfront. But speaking in context of India, New Zealand new-ball bowlers can achieve a lot with it.
If the ball is swinging at the twilight when the Indian chase begins, the likes of Trent Boult, who I feel is the best bowler of his generation in this format, can cause a damage. Tim Southee, at the other end, has it in him to do the same. New Zealand will need to cause as much damage as possible with the new ball if they want to increase their chances of winning.
The other area to look at while discussing how New Zealand can beat this dominant Indian side is using the left-arm spin better. India’s top-order is right-hand dominant. New Zealand can use the left-arm spin to disrupt them.
NZ have two left-arm options available in the form of the top-class Mitchell Santner and the other is Rachin Ravindra. Santner controls the middle overs brilliantly. Ravindra has emerged as an excellent batter in this World Cup but in this semi-final, he can contribute immensely to New Zealand’s cause by bowling 7 to 8 overs of influential left-arm spin. To sum up, NZ indeed have the resources to push India on back foot with the ball, only if they have a luck on their side at the toss.
If their high-class fast bowlers get a couple of wickets at the start, and then the left-arm spinners put pressure on the right-hand heavy middle-order from thereon, that is their best chance of effecting a win over India. In my opinion, that should be NZ’s gameplan number 1.
New Zealand are also helped massively by the fact that they have genuine two-to-three bowling options in the top 6. I know India too have some bowling options in the batting order and they did try them out in the game vs Netherlands. But in terms of quality, New Zealand have much better options and that does balance their side brilliantly.
India are strong favourites going into the match but if New Zealand want to pull off an upset, they should look to bat first, put on a high score and then let their high-class fast bowlers and spinners do the rest. That is my masterplan for New Zealand to beat India in the semis.