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The Indian cricket team juggernaut rolled on amidst the festivities as the Men in Blue reigned supreme in the league stage of the 2023 ICC Cricket World Cup with nine wins in nine matches.
After surviving an early hiccup in top-order batting against Australia, India comfortably won against the Asian trio of Afghanistan, arch-rivals Pakistan, and Bangladesh. A tough test in Dharamsala awaited as a New Zealand side struggling with injuries put up a respectable total on the board but Virat Kohli’s brilliance with the bat outshone the Kiwi bowlers.
Wins over England, Sri Lanka, and South Africa put any doubts to bed as India fielded a combination of six batters, one all-rounder, and four bowlers after Hardik Pandya was ruled out of the ongoing tournament.
The fast-bowling trio of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, and Mohammed Shami paired with the left-arm spin bowling duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja had every opposition in shackles as England was bowled out for 129 runs while the Lankans and the Proteas couldn’t even touch the three-figure score getting dismissed for 55 and 83 respectively.
With first position sealed before the last league stage encounter against the Netherlands, India was expected to give a run-out to Shardul Thakur, R Ashwin, Ishan Kishan, and Prasidh Krishna but the quartet remained on the bench as Rahul Dravid entrusted his strongest playing XI to continue the winning momentum before the semi-final fixture.
Centuries from Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul helped India post the fifth-highest total in a World Cup match while Kohli, Shubhman Gill, Suryakumar Yadav, and skipper Rohit Sharma decided to bowl a few overs in case the need arises in the semi-final fixture against New Zealand.
The Battle Before the Final
The Rohit-led side will now face New Zealand at the Wankhade Stadium on 15th November as the Blackcaps will hope to inflict the pain after defeating the Men in Blue in the semi-final of the 2019 edition of the World Cup.
In the 2023 edition, the Blackcaps are missing some of the players like Matt Henry and James Neesham while the wounded Kane Williamson has stood back up multiple times after being knocked down and will lead the Kiwis out at the Wankhade Stadium.
Rachin Ravindra has shone with the bat and won the ICC Best Men’s Player Award for October. The 23-year old has been playing club cricket in Bengaluru since he was 5 years old and would be hoping to rely on his experience of playing in the Indian conditions when it matters the most.
The top four of Devon Conway, Ravindra, Williamson, and Daryl Mitchell have been in good touch so far and the quartet would be hoping to accumulate the runs on a batting-friendly pitch against India who have been good with the ball in hand so far in the tournament.
The all-round ability of Ravindra, Mitchell Santner, and Glenn Phillips has allowed the likes of Trent Boult, Lockie Ferguson, and Tim Southee to take 27 wickets in collective 19 matches. The pitch at the Wankhade Stadium usually offers a good amount of bounce which would aid Boult and Southee to swing the ball from the good-length area to trouble the Indian top order.
On the other hand, the seam trio of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, and Mohammed Shami are in top form and were breathing fire against the Lankan Lions at the Wankhade Stadium with Shami claiming a 5-fer while Siraj took three wickets.
The Wankhade Stadium is the home ground for key batters Rohit, Shreyas, and Suryakumar while Bumrah also came through the Mumbai Indians set-up which plays at the Wankhade Stadium in the IPL. The quartet would love to perform at the best of their capabilities in front of the home crowd which would be roaring at full volume on Wednesday.
Key Match-ups to Watch
Virat Kohli vs Mitchell Santner: The former Indian skipper is the current leading run-scorer of the 2023 ODI World Cup with 594 runs from 9 matches at an average of 99.
Before the Netherlands fixture, Kohli was dismissed by fast bowlers on all five occasions he gave away his wicket in the ongoing tournament but Reolof van der Merwe castled Kohli on Sunday to expose his vulnerabilities against left-arm spinners.
Santner has picked up 16 wickets in 9 matches thus far at an economy rate of 4.81 shackling the batters which often frustrates run accumulators like Kohli who end up taking an undue risk to increase the run rate in order to aid their side.
Suryakumar Yadav vs Lockie Ferguson: Suryakumar Yadav smacking Lockie Ferguson for consecutive maximums at the Wankhade Stadium is a sight still fresh in the minds of Mumbai Indians fans who witnessed the occasion live on April 16 earlier this year.
In IPL 2018, Yadav smacked three maximums against Lockie, scoring 21 runs off 9 balls and the Mumbai Indians star batter always takes the Kiwis’ most reliable death bowler off for a ride and the fans in Mumbai would be expecting the same on Wednesday.
Mohammed Siraj vs Devon Conway: Mohammed Siraj has been blowing hot and cold so far taking 12 wickets in nine fixtures at an average of more than 28 with seven of those wickets coming against the bottom three sides, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Netherlands.
Devon Conway has 359 runs in nine fixtures so far at an average of more than 44 and a strike rate of more than 100 which has enabled Rachin Ravindra and Daryl Mitchell to play their natural game from the other end.
Siraj can be ferocious with the new ball against left-handed batters if he finds the right area to pitch which has often troubled the southpaws in the recent past.
The Pressure Factor
Billions of people are regular watchers of the beautiful game and modern cricket often comes with huge bags of pressure which Rohit and company have dealt with very well so far while the Blackcaps are used to playing in hostile conditions against the home side as they did in the 2019 ODI World Cup Final almost coming out on top.
The fans are what make the sport intriguing and engaging and the crowd in Mumbai would be expecting it to be a cracker affair but we expect both sides to ensure safety first and bat first in a high-pressure game despite the dew factor expected to come into play on Wednesday evening.