Tactics board: where the first semi-final between India and New Zealand, in Mumbai, could be won and lost
Sidharth Monga13-Nov-2023 • 37 mins ago
India have lost their last four knockout matches against New Zealand across formats. New Zealand have been knocked out by (one of) the hosts in the last three ODI World Cups. One of these streaks will be broken at the Wankhede on Wednesday. Here’s how.
Don’t lose the match in the first 15 overs
Ideally just win the toss.
Even before the Wankhede Stadium revealed its true colours, a Mumbai semi-final against a big-hitting team was the one conceivable banana peel for the dominant Indian side. A six-hitting contest is not what India wants to get into. They haven’t drawn a big-hitting side for the semi-final, but the conditions here have emerged as a challenge of another kind for the side that loses the toss.
The average score batting first at the Wankhede this World Cup has been 357 for 6 and 188 for 9 when chasing. Those chasing numbers have been bolstered by the once-in-a-lifetime double-century on one leg by Glenn Maxwell. The reason is that the new ball has been swinging and seaming more under the lights, and for longer. The average powerplay score goes from 52 for 1 in the first innings to 42 for 4 in the second. From there on, it has generally kept getting better for the batters in the first innings while only Maxwell has found a way back in the second.
Now, miraculous, Maxwell-like freakishness can’t be the strategy going into the match. You have to find a way to limit the target if you lose the toss, and then almost bat like it’s Test cricket for the first 15 overs. What we have seen is that it gets easier to bat in the night but you have to make sure you don’t lose more than two wickets by the time it is night.
HawkEye data suggests the swing stops being uncomfortable after about ten overs, but problems with seam movement persist until the 15th over. After about 20 overs, though, batting tends to get easier than in the afternoon.
So, if India lose the toss, for example, don’t expect Rohit Sharma to play the way he has been playing this World Cup. Expect the same care from the New Zealand top order if they happen to be chasing.
Put pressure on Jadeja
New Zealand did knock India out of the 2019 World Cup, but they are up against a superior side in superior form this time. India’s bowling attack, now that Mohammed Shami is in it, is drawing comparisons with the best ODI attacks of all time. That, though, is if you are comparing five frontline bowlers with five frontline bowlers.
Therein lies New Zealand’s opportunity. To find a way past this formidable attack, they have to take down one bowler. And the only match that Ravindra Jadeja has bowled ten overs in and not taken a wicket this World Cup was against New Zealand. There are three left-hand batters in their top six followed by Mitchell Santner. They will want to do better against Jadeja than the last time when he conceded only 48.
India will try to get past the two opening left-hand batters even before Jadeja is introduced. In another time, if Hardik Pandya had been available, they might even have thought of going out of the box and playing R Ashwin, but that seems out of the question now.
Don’t let Ravindra bowl
New Zealand have more bowling options than India but only four specialist ones. A big part of New Zealand’s success has been the success of their part-time spinners Glenn Phillips and Rachin Ravindra in an era when part-time bowlers are going extinct because of one extra fielder inside the circle and two new balls. It is unbelievable that neither of these part-time spinners has gone at even a run a ball.
New Zealand will likely try Ravindra more than Phillips because there is no left-hand batter in the top six for India, but expect India to go after them in an attempt to force New Zealand to go back to their main bowlers sooner than they would like . This lack of a fifth specialist bowler will also allow India to sit in on the seamers if they lose the toss.
Give Santner the respect he deserves
Santner in the last World Cup semi-final vs India: 10-2-34-2.
In the league match vs India in this World Cup: 10-0-37-1.
He is a high-quality left-arm spinner, who happens to enjoy a good match-up against India: 15 of his 16 victims in this World Cup have been right-hand batters. He has also conceded 1.25 per over more when bowling to left-hand batters. India don’t have any left-hand batter before No. 7. However, if they can get the better of the fifth bowler, they needn’t try anything extraordinary against Santner. Just avoid giving him wickets.
The Rohit threat
Rohit’s explosive starts have started a chain reaction where Virat Kohli is not even put under any pressure. Not that he can’t bat quickly, but if he is not required to, it is very difficult to get Kohli out in the conditions we get in ODIs.
Of course, New Zealand would love to bowl in the night and test both of them with the moving ball, but they have to prepare for the afternoon. And if India are batting first, the best way to put Kohli under pressure is to get Rohit out early. Rohit in this form, though, has been butchering the new ball and killing contests in the powerplay itself.
If you look at how New Zealand bowled against Rohit in Dharamsala, you will see not a single bouncer tried. If Rohit is batting in T20 mode, it might perhaps not be that bad a shout to bowl in T20 mode.
The last time T20 got serious for a considerable period of time was when the two World Cups were played in 2021 and 2022. In that period, the theory going around the world was to bowl short to Rohit – he averaged under 14.75 then against the short ball in all T20 cricket, and 14.33 in T20Is. Rohit loves the pull and the hook, and takes quick runs with it, but it also tends to bring about dismissals.
If New Zealand do get Rohit early, they can hope to control the middle overs with left-arm spin against right-hand batters and hard lengths from the quicks.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo