After all the ups and downs and twists and turns, it’s time for the knockouts. Most bookies, punters and pundits would have gotten the semifinalists right, more so after the halfway stage.
No more comebacks. Only the performance of the day matters now. The round-robin stage counts for little, except for the good psychological feeling that it’ll give before the match. India have the best record, losing only one match and that too against England. It is a different matter that they came close to losing against Afghanistan of all things.
Australia were the first to enter semis, long before they lost their last game to South Africa. Significantly, that match produced 640 runs; a mere 10 separating the two. That result did more harm to the Australians, bringing them down to second in the table. They also lost a key batsman in Usman Khawaja.If the top four had panned out as expected, India would have played England in Birmingham, as good as a home venue for the Men in Blue. All India fans now have to rush to Manchester.
India will remember Old Trafford fondly. They beat Pakistan in a high-scoring match and also trounced West Indies there. New Zealand had a scare in Manchester, when they just about managed to win against West Indies by five runs. These stats will only give an idea how good the pitch at Manchester is for batting. Rashid Khan would not like to remember his game against England, when he was hit for 110 in his 10 overs.
Right through the preliminary phase, the point of discussion had been about India’s middle-order and their overdependence on their top three. Luckily for India, the middle-order was not put under pressure that much, though MS Dhoni was questioned for his tactics from outside than within the team.
Just as they got to the business end, India could not decide whether to play all three fast bowlers, or stick to two spinners and two seamers. When Bhuvneshwar Kumar injured his hamstring, Mohammed Shami filled the void in style. What should be India’s playing XI for Tuesday? Virat Kohli is not one to go by sentiments or performances in a match or two. For him, the balance of the team and comfort against oppositions matter.
He now has a problem that he’ll love, that of every player pushing him for selection. India have played 16 of their 17 players. When Shikhar Dhawan broke his thumb even and went out, KL Rahul put on three century partnerships with Rohit Sharma.
India also lost the much-talked-about Vijay Shankar, and the management asked for an opener in Mayank Agarwal to fill the spot instead of Ambati Rayudu, the designated stand-by.
Now that the openers can’t be disturbed, the No 4 slot will have to be filled by Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya or Kedar Jadhav, who might be in contention if India decide to play three seamers and one spinner.
Which spinner, but? Kohli might love to play Yuzvendra Chahal, but he might even go for Ravindra Jadeja for his fielding and to shorten the tail. Knowing New Zealanders’ liking for fast bowling, he might be tempted to play two spinners. In that case, it would be tough for him to choose between Shami and Bhuvneshwar. You can trust Kohli to pull out the right card.
Looking at the New Zealand line-up, they have three fast bowlers, one all-rounder in Jimmy Neesham, and a spinner in Jadeja’s mould: Mitchell Santner. Then they also have a bits-and-pieces player in Colin de Grandhomme in the middle-order. Kane Williamson can call upon six bowlers plus he himself can turn his arm over. In fact, this is the line-up they played at Old Trafford against West Indies.Going by current form, you can imagine which team should win.
(The writer is a veteran commentator and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)