#INDvNZ : New Zealand underdogs primed to exploit conditions and bite India’s long tail

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New Zealand’s cricketers have been underdogs from the moment Australia’s first looked down on them in the 19th century and sneezed, but seldom has any canine been so far under a top dog as New Zealand in their World Cup semi-final against India.

India have it all: more money than all the other cricket boards put together, hundreds of millions of adult males to choose from, and cricket is the only sport in towns, cities, slums and fields. In this World Cup they topped the qualifying group and lost once. New Zealand have lost their last three games, and their assets add up to not a great deal more than Kane Williamson, good governance, and the few males who don’t play rugby.

“India are a very successful side and very popular side with a large population and a lot of [television] cameras, which is great,” Williamson said deferentially on the eve. “They bring so much to the sport that we are fortunate to be a part of.”

Next the steely bit. “But it is a cricket match. You do try and simplify things as best you can, as a team, and it does come back to the cricket that we want to play,” added Williamson. No mention of course that he has scored a third of his team’s runs, a higher proportion than anybody else for any country in this World Cup, and would have been averaging well over 100 but for the hand of God, or the fingertips of Mark Wood, that ran him out in their last qualifying game against England.

And conditions in Manchester might well assist New Zealand more than India. Showers are forecast for the morning, and the pitch will not be a used one that suits India’s spinners. In the first of the semi-finals – and so much the better – winning the toss and batting will not equate to winning the game, as it almost invariably did in the second half of the qualifying round.

No cricket-playing country can claim to make more of its resources than New Zealand. This is the 12th World Cup, and this is their eighth semi-final. Nobody has reached more, and only Australia as many. Only once though have New Zealand gone on to reach a final, the last one in Melbourne. This is where they have hit the ceiling: seven or eight top players but never a full XI.

Still, Williamson has an excellent hand of bowlers, if not batsmen, who could exploit the conditions to dismiss India whether they bat first or second. “Our attack’s performed really well on a real variety of surfaces where taking pace off has been really important, so they have adapted superbly. What we didn’t quite expect coming into the tournament was the large variety of conditions that we faced. That definitely made perhaps batting with any rhythm a real challenge for everybody. A lot of surfaces were 230, 240.”

The wash-out of their qualifying match favours New Zealand by making them more unknown. India are queasy enough at the prospect of Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson to have changed their original XI at the start of this World Cup: no longer can they afford a tail of four specialist bowlers who might not score 10 runs between them.

India are expected to play Ravi Jadeja or Bhuvneshwar Kumar as much for their runs as their wickets. This would be defensive and lend a helping hand, or paw, to cricket’s perennial underdogs.

What is it?

The first of two Cricket World Cup semi-finals, with India taking on New Zealand at Old Trafford in Manchester. The match should feel like a home fixture for India, with Indian fans expected to pack into the stadium to cheer on their team.

The winner will face either England or Australia, who play their semi-final at Edgbaston on Thursday. India would have been playing England on Tuesday had Australia not been beaten by South Africa on Saturday, meaning they slipped into second place in the group stage standings.

When is it?

Tuesday 9 July.

What time does it start?

The game will start at 2.30 pm.

What TV channel is it on?

Ten Sports and PTV Sports

What is the team news?

India lost Vijay Shankar to a broken toe and Shikhar Dhawan to a fractured thumb earlier in the tournament, but otherwise have a clean bill of health. The biggest news is Jasprit Bumrah, perhaps the tournament’s most impressive death bowler, recovering from an injury scare against Afghanistan to be fit for the crucial knockouts.

New Zealand were missing Lockie Ferguson, their leading wicket-taker and one of the tournament’s top bowlers, for the hammering by England, and his loss was felt keenly. He’s expected to be back to face India, however.

What are they saying?

India captain Virat Kohli:

We wanted to play good cricket but we didn’t expect to have such a good record going into the semis. It’s an honour for all of us to play together for India. We don’t want to be one-dimensional in the knockout stages, and we will try to find the right balance depending on the conditions and pitches.

“The opposition has never mattered to us – we focus on what we can bring to the table. Regardless of who we play in the semi-finals, we just want to play a good game and get the result.”

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson:

“So much to learn from, and the most important thing is to look at where we need to be as a group, and look at how we can add value on whatever surface it is. There’s a lot of learning curves and we need to adapt to a lot of different surfaces.

“In some ways it starts again with the semi-final. We know we haven’t played our best cricket and hopefully we’ll get that opportunity. Ferguson’s injury was precautionary and I’m very confident he’ll be fit in a few days’ time.”

What are the odds?

  • India to win 4/11
  • New Zealand to win 5/2

What’s our prediction?

While New Zealand started the World Cup off strongly, they’ve struggled when faced with sterner opposition. They’ve lost their last three, including a 119-run crushing by England last time out, and look to be the weak link in this final four.

India, meanwhile, have barely faltered, a defeat to England at Edgbaston the only blip on their record. The likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma should have too much firepower for Kane Williamson and co. to be able to keep up. India win.

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