MUMBAI, India (AP) — After winning nine straight games to finish atop the standings, India faces fourth-place New Zealand at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium on Wednesday in the first ICC World Cup 2023 semifinal.
Based on the host team’s perfect record going into the semifinal, and the parochial home crowd, New Zealand will have to rise above expectations to advance to Sunday’s final against either Australia or South Africa.
As the historic stadium gets ready to host the match, the tournament’s promotional tag line comes in to play.
“It takes one day” — the slogan has been everywhere since the World Cup went into a marketing overdrive a few months ago — in television and digital promotions, on merchandise and memorabilia, and at the tournament venues. At the Wankhede, it is hard to miss the same banners adorned everywhere.
The context is fitting.
In pursuit of its third title, India set the benchmark — it easily beat Australia and Pakistan, then trounced England and South Africa. Perhaps its biggest challenge came from New Zealand at Dharamsala, but Virat Kohli’s 95 helped navigate past it.
India changed its combination when allrounder Hardik Pandya was ruled out with an ankle injury, and it ploughed on unbeaten. This was achieved through dominant performances with both bat and ball and playing in nine venues.
Kohli leads the run charts with 594 runs in nine games. Skipper Rohit Sharma is fourth with 503 runs — his strike-rate is the highest for any opener who has featured in all nine games. Four of India’s six primary batters have posted hundreds in the tournament.
India’s Jasprit Bumrah is fifth in tournament bowling with 17 wickets. Mohammed Shami has blitzed his way through batting lineups to pick up 16 wickets at a remarkable average of 9.56 in just five games. Ravindra Jadeja is just outside the top 10 with 15.
“We’ve maintained some really high standards in terms of our execution (and) our intensity,” India coach Rahul Dravid said. “We’ve travelled the length and breadth of this country … and I think what this team has done really well is it has really represented India fantastically. It’s played a really good brand of cricket.”
New Zealand has the onerous task of facing the rampant home team in the playoffs. The New Zealanders opened with four consecutive wins before a loss to India at altitude sparked a run of four losses. They stopped that slide to win against Sri Lanka and qualify for a fifth successive World Cup semifinal.
New Zealand will take some confidence from winning at the same stage four years ago, when it beat table-topping India across a rain-affected two days in Manchester before losing to England in the final in a contentious boundary countback.
New Zealand pace bowler Lockie Ferguson says his team must accurately assess the Wankhede Stadium pitch and look to tighten up its bowling at the traditionally high-scoring venue.
South Africa twice posted scores of 350-plus at the stadium and India made 357-8 in its clash with Sri Lanka before Glenn Maxwell hit a double-century as Australia successfully chased down 291 against Afghanistan last week.
“A lot of Indian grounds have been high-scoring,” Ferguson said. “That’s the nature of one-day cricket in this part of the world. It’s trying to understand what the pitch will be like and read what a good score on it is because those big overs, 10 runs here or there, can cost you at the back end of the innings.”
Ferguson said New Zealand will have to deal with the result of the toss.
“Whatever it might be — bat or bowl first — we’ve got plans for that,” Ferguson said. “It’s important to stick to them. Obviously, it’s nice to bowl under lights, nice to see when the ball does move around a bit and it brings us into the game. We’ll have to play it as we see it come game day.”
Former New Zealand batter Ross Taylor cautioned against the home side placing its hopes too high.
“Four years ago, India went into the semifinal as the form side. This time around, India are even bigger favorites, at home, and have played so well during the group stage,” Taylor said in his column for the ICC.
“But when we have nothing to lose, New Zealand teams can be dangerous. If there is a team that India will be nervous facing, it will be this New Zealand side.”
South Africa and Australia finished level with seven wins and two losses each in the first phase of the tournament and will meet Thursday at Eden Gardens in Kolkata in the other semifinal. The semifinal winners advance to the championship match on Sunday at Ahmedabad.