14/07/2024

Watch out India: the Kiwis are coming… AGAIN!

With nine wins from nine matches in this year’s Cricket World Cup – and coming on the back of India clinching the Asia Cup – India are odds-on to win the 2023 Cricket World Cup. Their batters are all performing superbly in this World Cup: Kohli (average 99.00), Sharma (55.88), Iyer (70.16), Rahul (69.40) and even Jadeja (55.50) have all performed magnificently with the bat, while Shubmann Gill (38.57) might have put in some fine performances, but he hasn’t matched his team-mates, in part due to some health complaints. He has been in magnificent form the past six months, however, so he could score big at any moment.  

Their bowlers have been incredible as well… with three of the top four best economy rates in this World Cup being held by Indian bowlers. That is a staggering statistic, and one which should trouble their semi-final and (possible) final opponents. The top four best bowling averages are all Indians (as well as five of the top six), and Shami has been outstanding in capturing 16 wickets at just 9.56 runs apiece. Phenomenal! And there are three Indians in the top eight list of wicket-takers.

Mind the Kiwis

I’m not saying India won’t win the Cup… far from it! At home and in the form they are in they are huge favorites as they have a staggeringly good side, but there are a few reasons we can point to that should make them wary, and at the same time fill the Kiwis with confidence.

New Zealand have made the semi-finals in eight of the 12 previous tournaments they have taken part in. They have also made it into the final in the last two tournaments, so they will be hungry to make it three in a row… with the aim of finally laying their hands on the World Cup. 

For India, being on home soil offers the team huge support, but it also brings with it the burden of responsibility for a cricket-mad nation of 1.4-billion people who don’t want their side to win the World Cup or expect it… they demand it! That brings with it a whole lot of pressure, and that should be a concern for a nation that has been knocked out in the semi-final in the last two World Cups. 

Another interesting stat: New Zealand have won five of the nine matches they have played against India in the World Cup. They are most certainly not those poor cousins from below the railway line.

Blasts from the past

In 2019 India topped the group table with seven wins from nine matches – Hurrah! – only to crash out to New Zealand in the semi-final. That year New Zealand finished in fourth place with five wins from nine. Sound familiar? This year New Zealand also finished fourth… and with five wins from nine! Chasing just 240 in the semi-final, India collapsed to 5/3, 24/4, 71/5 and 92/6. Dhoni and Jadeja added over 100 for the seventh wicket to take India close, but the damage was done… and New Zealand went through to the final at the expense of India.

In 2015, India topped Pool B with six wins from six… only to be smashed by Australia in the semi-final. In 1987 India won their Group with five wins from six, only to lose the semi-final against England with a poor batting performance. In 1996 they crashed out in the semi-final against Sri Lanka after a terrible batting chase. In 2003 they finished second in pool A with five wins from six, behind Australia who had six from six. They also finished second in the Super sixes, with four wins from five. They smashed Kenya in that 2003 semi-final… only to be hammered by Australia in the final.

Also recently, India topped Group 2 in the 2022 T20i Cricket World Cup, with four wins from five… only to lose to England in the semi-final.

I’ll say it again: this is a phenomenal Indian side… but when it comes to the knockout stages (especially at home), pressure can do funny things to sides and especially to players. 

What does the form book say

This year India won all nine of their CWC matches, and those victories were all by pretty big margins…with the exception of one match! New Zealand gave India their toughest Group match, with India only claiming the four-wicket win in the 48th over. The rest of their matches were virtual walkovers. 

India are a super strong side… but all teams ultimately lose a match at some point, especially in a long tournament.

Have a break

After such a focused and intense period of performing at their peak throughout the World Cup, India had just two rest days from their last group match (against the Netherlands) before their semi-final against New Zealand. Is that enough? New Zealand had five. If they were race horses I would bet on New Zealand to win by a few lengths, because it’s fresher (and would also have a cool name). 

The key man

Virat Kohli has been one of many sensations in this World Cup, but he is on the verge of truly stamping his authority on it and turning it into possibly his greatest triumph. He also just needs one more ton to break Tendulkar’s ODI ton record… and if he can claim a second World Cup victory it would be a most beautiful gift for his country. Bet against Kohl scoring runs at your peril… but there are two stats worth considering before you hand him the trophy. 

In this World Cup he has scored 85 and 55*… then 16… then 103* and 95… then 0… then 88, 101* and 51. Bradmanesque scoring… but did you notice that after two good scores he had a low score… then two more scores and then a low score. After that, he had three good scores! 

Of course, there’s nothing stopping him from making another good score… but there is a kind of a trend there. 

And another thing: Kohli has played in three World Cup semi-finals… won one, lost two… but something else stands out about them: King Kohli has yet to score in the double figures! Yes, sensationally, one of the world’s greatest batters and most prolific run-scorers of all time… has yet to reach 10 in a World Cup semi-final!

Under pressure

In 2011 Kohli scored nine against Pakistan as India won the semi-final and went on to win the final. In 2015 he managed just a single against Australia, and again in 2019 all he could muster was one run. Just a single. That’s 11 runs in three innings… when it counts! In the World Cup semi-final!

Kohli is now four years older and more accomplished than ever as a batter… but there are a whole lot of mind games that could pester the concentrations of the Indian players, or that could give the Kiwis verbal hand grenades to lob at the Indian side to try and put them off their game.

Possibly the biggest factor in New Zealand’s favor, however, is that they are the underdog with nothing expected of them. Nothing to lose! And the only JUST scraped into the semi-final places. No expectations on them!

India do have a near-perfect side, but New Zealand have a side of intense discipline as well as some audacious talent. India should swipe left to knock New Zealand out of their way… but if the hosts slip up in any way in this semi-final, they might feel the silver fern of resistance swiping them away to cow corner for a third lost semi-final in a row!

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