India battle butterflies, Kiwis and a familiar stumbling block | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

India battle butterflies, Kiwis and a familiar stumbling block

ByAshish Magotra
Nov 15, 2023 05:44 AM IST

India and New Zealand are set to face off in the first semi-final of the 2023 ICC ODI World Cup. The high-stakes match will determine who advances to the finals. Both teams are aware of the pressure and are preparing for the challenge. India's dominant performance in the tournament so far will not guarantee success in this knockout game. New Zealand, despite recent losses, believe they have a chance if they can dismiss key players Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli early. The match is expected to be intense and closely contested.

The day leading up to a big game is filled with inanity. The players say all the right things — we’re treating it like any other game, staying focused on the task, sticking to what works. There is a gentle nets session, some laughs, some posing for pictures, multiple requests for passes. But the mundane is just a cover for the frenetic blend of energy and anxiety bubbling up inside. The players are on edge. They can’t wait for the match to begin.

The match will held at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Wednesday. (REUTERS)
The match will held at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Wednesday. (REUTERS)

The first semi-final of the 2023 ICC ODI World Cup, India vs New Zealand at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, is a big match, if ever there was one. It’s a knockout — there is no coming back from this one. You lose and the tournament is over. You win and a world of possibility awaits. It’s a cauldron of expectations, a pressure-cooker waiting to pop.

So, when India skipper Rohit Sharma entered the stadium on Tuesday, he made a beeline for the wicket. He wasn’t all smiles as usual; instead, he had his game face on. He spoke to the curator, took a close look at the pitch, and then shadow batted for a bit. This is a ground he grew up on, but another look never hurt.

Everything this pulsating, gyrating, all-conquering Indian team have done up to this point at the World Cup — the winning streak of nine matches, the 300-plus totals in the last three league games, the attack that has taken 86 of the 90 wickets on offer, Rohit Sharma’s record six-hitting, Virat Kohli’s steady brilliance (he is averaging 99.00), Ravindra Jadeja’s all-round excellence, and Jasprit Bumrah’s fearsome genius — will cease to matter when the match begins.

They will have to take fresh guard, hope for a bit of luck, and for their nerves to not be frayed. Everything goes up a few notches in a knockout match. And for Team India, the unstoppable force of this tournament that runs into a seemingly moveable object that is New Zealand, it will be about putting everything on the line.

“It would be inauthentic to say it’s just another game,” coach Rahul Dravid admitted. “We recognise that it’s an important game; it’s a knockout game. We have to accept that there is a certain amount of pressure.”

New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson did not need to be told about the challenge at hand either. “India have been playing extremely well,” he acknowledged. “But we also know that come finals time, everything sort of starts again and it’s all about the day.”

From New Zealand’s perspective, that is a good thing given that they have lost four of their last five games.

The challenge of facing India, in their current run of form, is an enormous one. The last time they were in Mumbai, they bowled Sri Lanka out for 55. Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav have been in irrepressible form regardless of the nature of the pitch. And the batting, with contributions also coming from Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul, now has depth.

But such has been the contribution of Rohit and Kohli that New Zealand will believe they have a chance if they manage to dismiss the dynamic duo early. In every game, one or both have come good. Send them back early, and India will be in uncharted waters. Left-arm pacer Trent Boult hasn’t had the best of tournaments (6 wickets at 32.15) but one good burst from him could shake up the home team and the 33,000-strong crowd at the Wankhede.

On the batting front, New Zealand have relied on Rachin Ravindra (565 runs) and Daryl Mitchell (418 runs), who have both played spin very well. With Williamson back from injury, New Zealand become a gritty and disciplined unit that won’t go down without a fight.

India know this well — defeats to New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup semi-final and the 2021 World Test Championship final still hurt.

A touch of anxiety before a big match is normal — but too much drags you down, too little makes you complacent. Sachin Tendulkar would not sleep before big games. Steve Smith would shadow bat all morning. Matthew Hayden would visualise everything, good and bad, in the middle of the pitch. Before the 2003 Adelaide Test, Dravid and Virender Sehwag missed practice and went for a film instead. Everyone has their own method of finding the right balance.

For the night before the big game is about balance, about preparing for the moment; about forgetting and remembering. The inconsequential, inane things are out of the way, and soon it will be time to step into the cauldron, deal with the pressure. It’s game day. And a match that must be won.

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