Breaking the hoodoo: Marauding India well-placed to end World Cup jinx against 'bogey team' in now-or-never classic
India vs New Zealand World Cup: This is Team India's best chance to end years of misery against a team that has constantly troubled them at ICC tournaments.
The last time India entered the final of an ICC tournament was in 2017, when they lost to Pakistan at the Champions Trophy. One has to go all the way back to 2014, when they lost to Sri Lanka in the final of the T20 World Cup, for India’s last win in the semifinal of any World Cup. It’s a record that might not hugely occupy the mind space of the Indian think-tank, but it’s a record that will nevertheless hang around their necks like a millstone they do make a final.
Wednesday at the Wankhede will accord India an immediate opportunity to correct that anomaly. Up against them in the last four is one of the most consistent sides, led admirably by one of the nicest men. Kane Williamson is the perfect ambassador for not just New Zealand cricket but cricket as such, the counter to the cliché that nice men don’t finish first. An outstanding leader and a fabulous batter capable of batting at multiple gears, Williamson showcased his famed patience at Tuesday’s pre-match conference when the audio system failed at the very start and he had to wait for ten minutes for it to be set right.
Williamson is a very popular figure in India, and that won’t change even if the Kiwis shatter a billion hearts in the first semifinal. But that’s exactly what India will want to guard against. Rohit Sharma’s side has ridden a dominant, overpowering ride to the semifinals, but this is when the real deal kicks off.
India’s run of semifinal defeats in World Cups began in Sydney in 2015, when they lost to Australia by 95 runs. The following year, at the T20 World Cup, eventual champions West Indies laid them low at the Wankhede by seven wickets. In 2019 in Manchester, New Zealand completed an 18-run win in a knockout game that spilled over to the reserve day and last year in Adelaide, England hammered them by ten wickets in the T20 World Cup. Each was a chastening blow; India weren’t in the game at all for three of the four defeats, and if the margin was only 18 runs in Manchester against the Kiwis – coincidentally, India had topped the league table then too and like now, New Zealand had come in fourth – it was only because of Ravindra Jadeja’s blazing 77 after India were reduced to 92 for six chasing 240.
So, why should there be room for optimism this time around? Why should the belief abound that the end of the semifinal hoodoo is imminent?
For numerous reasons, actually. For starters, India’s brand of cricket has been exhilaratingly positive. Their batting has been carefree without even bordering on the careless, their bowling little short of sensational. Contributions have poured in from various quarters – four of the top five have lashed centuries, each of the five specialist bowlers has taken at least a dozen wickets. No situation has fazed the team, no challenge has been insurmountable.
India won the first five games chasing and lorded the last four while defending a target. They topped 300 in their last three outings and warmed up for the semis with a monumental 410 for four against Netherlands on Sunday. The last of the five wins batting second was against New Zealand in Dharamsala when the last recognised pair of Virat Kohli and Jadeja calmly transformed a tricky chase into a straightforward one.
The hosts have found ways and means of overcoming the potentially crippling loss of Hardik Pandya by placing their eggs in the specialists’ basket. They haven’t yet felt the pinch of the lack of a sixth bowling option, though New Zealand briefly exposed that chink when Daryl Mitchell went after Kuldeep Yadav. The remarkable swiftness with which India recovered from that unexpected assault reiterated their adaptability and bouncebackability. That’s not to say that victory on Wednesday is a given against an excellent New Zealand side, but it won’t be lost on either unit that if they both bring their ‘A’ games to the table, India will be well-nigh unstoppable.
Then, of course, there is the crowd. More than 33,000 fans will turn the Wankhede into a pulsating, heaving cauldron of blue, unabashedly cheering for India. It’s not that they dislike New Zealand; it’s just that they love India much more than more. This is the last time the Mumbai crowd will be seeing Rohit and Virat Kohli, Jadeja and Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, in action at the Wankhede in a home World Cup. Rest assured, they won’t leave their voices behind in their homes.
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