By Sudipto Ganguly
MUMBAI (Reuters) – India’s semi-final calculations were put out of kilter by South Africa’s upset win over Australia in the last round robin match on Saturday but they will not be too unhappy to meet New Zealand in the World Cup for the first time since 2003 on Tuesday.
Last month’s fixture at Trent Bridge between India and New Zealand was abandoned without a ball being bowled and it had looked like the only chance for the two sides to meet in the tournament would be in the July 14 final at Lord’s.
But South Africa’s thrilling 10-run win in a high-scoring match at Manchester, after India’s earlier victory over Sri Lanka, took Virat Kohli’s men to the top of the standings and set up a clash against the fourth-placed Black caps.
While Kane Williamson’s side will probably be relieved at having avoided pre-tournament favourites and hosts England, the 2015 finalists face a no less formidable opponent in India.
The twice champions won their last World Cup meeting against New Zealand at Centurion in 2003 but more pertinently are the only side to have been defeated only once in nine matches at the quadrennial showpiece this year.
New Zealand also lost an ODI series 4-1 against the Indians at home earlier this year despite the tourists resting fast bowling ace Jasprit Bumrah for the entire tour and captain Kohli for the last two matches.
The Black Caps were unbeaten in their first six matches at the World Cup but after finishing the group stage with losses to Pakistan, Australia and England, it was only their net run rate that earned them a place in the semi-finals.
They will need to make a fresh start in their eighth semi-final if they are to have another shot at a maiden World Cup crown.
Williamson will be their main man with the bat but the bowling will need significant improvement to rein in the Indian batting line-up with opener Rohit Sharma having become the first player to smash five centuries at a single World Cup.
New Zealand will hope Lockie Ferguson is back from a hamstring niggle to provide the fireworks with the ball and be their answer to the threat posed by Bumrah, the world’s top-ranked bowler in the format.
They would also need seamer Trent Boult to swing it up front at Old Trafford and New Zealand will need to strike early to prevent Rohit from adding to his tournament-leading tally of 647 runs.
The bookmakers clearly believe they will not and have India 5/2-on to win in Manchester on Tuesday and 7/4 favourites to raise the trophy.
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Nick Mulvenney)