World Cup 2019 semifinal: Confident India comes up against underdog New Zealand

A drizzle has been forecast, perhaps the rain gods are being naughty after having draped a wet curtain on the World Cup 2019 league fixture between the rivals at Nottingham’s Trent Bridge on June 13.

The toss will be interesting but Kohli's men would like to believe that they are fully prepared.    -  getty images

Blue skies turned dull, cottony tufts of clouds sauntered in but the sun was out too at Old Trafford which geared up for Tuesday’s World Cup semifinal pitting India against New Zealand.

A drizzle has been forecast, perhaps the rain gods are being naughty after having draped a wet curtain on the league fixture between the rivals at Nottingham’s Trent Bridge on June 13.

The weather isn’t exactly a cause for alarm plus there is a reserve day too though rains are predicted for Wednesday. Monday, not the manic one usually seen at Wimbledon, essentially was about the two teams putting a lid on big-game angst. India had optional training and the work-outs were more about relaxing the limbs than exerting them.

READ| Whoever handles pressure will come out on top, says Kohli

Mohammed Shami tried placing an energy drink bottle on Patrick Farhat’s bald head and the physio squirmed. M.S. Dhoni, padded up for a batting stint, couldn’t resist a kick when he sighted a football. Fun was the underlying theme but fielding coach R. Sridhar meant business as he made Kuldeep Yadav and Rishabh Pant run towards each other while taking high catches. The plan was to fine-tune the “it’s mine” calls in the deep as in the last game involving Sri Lanka, Yadav and Hardik Pandya nearly collided. 

Punching above weight

New Zealand turned up later in the afternoon and the happy bunch at full strength bantered away besides practising. Again the focus was to keep the mind and body fresh ahead of a knockout clash. India is the tournament’s form-team and New Zealand remains the underdog that has always punched above its weight. We are talking about a unit that stays deceptive and lasts the course like it did in the 2015 edition where it finished runner-up.

The Black Caps will lean on its batting duo of skipper Kane Williamson (481 runs so far) and Ross Taylor besides all-rounder James Neesham. Its seam attack that includes Trent Boult, Lockie Ferguson, Neesham and Matt Henry can be a handful especially if the atmosphere turns moist. Left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner may not have got too many wickets but has kept it tight. New Zealand lost its last three contests but the squad cannot be taken for granted.

READ| Light showers forecast for Old Trafford on Ind vs NZ match day

Riding the momentum

Virat Kohli will remember that his opponent had prevailed by six wickets in the warm-up joust at the Oval on May 25. Since then India gained heft, defeated Bangladesh in a practice skirmish and enjoyed a red-hot streak barring a loss to England. Momentum, that magical thing that skippers talk about, vests with the Men in Blue.  

Rohit Sharma’s mountain of runs (647) inclusive of five centuries and the staggering support he found in K.L. Rahul and Kohli have helped India cope with a middle-order that hasn’t exactly lit up the charts. Pandya, Pant and Dhoni had their moments and the first-named has become the prime distributor of sixes while Dinesh Karthik is still feeling his way.       

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Primarily what helps Kohli is the knowledge that he has excellent speedsters with Jasprit Bumrah and Shami leading the way while Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s expensive phase against Sri Lanka may be deemed an aberration. It remains to be seen if Kohli will retain Ravindra Jadeja and perhaps bring in one among the wrist spinners – Yuzvendra Chahal and Yadav.

The last five outings on the surface here favoured the team taking the first strike including India which defeated Pakistan and the West Indies. The pitches have slowed down over the last fortnight and scoreboard-pressure becomes a raging beast at the last-four stage. The toss will be interesting but Kohli's men would like to believe that they are fully prepared.

The teams (from)

India: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, M.S. Dhoni, K.L. Rahul, Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Rishabh Pant and Mayank Agarwal.

New Zealand: Kane Williamson (captain), Ross Taylor, Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Lockie Ferguson, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Colin Munro, Jimmy Neesham, Henry Nicholls, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi and Tim Southee.

Umpires: Richard Illingworth and Richard Kettleborough; Third umpire: Rod Tucker; Match referee: David Boon.

Match starts at 3 p.m. IST.