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ICC World Cup 1st semi today

Rampaging India vs faltering Kiwis in winner take all

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There was tremendous interest in the Australia - South Africa game among Indians, for understandable reasons. The traveling Indian media contingent in England were worried about travel plans - it wasn't clear until the very end whether they'd travel to Manchester or Birmingham. Most fans wanted South Africa to win as they were desperate to avoid England - the only side that defeated India in the league stage - in the semifinal. The first semi-final between India and New Zealand will be held today at Old Trafford in Manchester. The match kicks-off  at 3.30 PM (Bangladesh Standard Time).
There was a sense of relief when Nathan Lyon slogged Andile Phehlukwayo to Aiden Markram at deep mid-wicket to complete the 10-run win for Proteas.
Sanjay Manjrekar, hosting the post-match presentation in the India-Sri Lanka game earlier in the day, even went on to tell Virat Kohli "I would want India to play New Zealand more than England". He then tweeted that South Africa beating Australia was India's best result despite them winning seven of their eight completed games this World Cup.
Some fans even interpreted an injured Usman Khawaja returning to bat for Australia as a sign that they were desperate to play New Zealand.
The predominant sentiment that New Zealand are the weakest of the four semifinalists isn't without reason. Kane Williamson's men have lost their last three matches. They lost to England and Australia in the league stage. Their game against India was washed out. They beat Bangladesh narrowly, and beat West Indies even more narrowly. Some even consider them lucky to be in the top four ahead of a resurgent Pakistan.
But underestimating New Zealand would not be a smart thing to do. The Indian team will most definitely not do that. If there's a side that has consistently exposed India's core problems in recent times, it's New Zealand.
India have topped the group and gone into the semifinal with a commanding win, but they still have issues in the middle order to fix. It was one of the boxes they wanted to tick in the match against Sri Lanka, but centuries from KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma meant the middle order wasn't needed.
Rain played spoilsport in India's league game against New Zealand, but the two are familiar opponents. India toured New Zealand earlier this year for a five-match ODI series, which they won 4-1.
But New Zealand have exposed India's middle-order woes in the last three one-dayers the teams have faced each other. At Hamilton, New Zealand had India all out for just 92. In the next match at Wellington, they had India reeling at 18 for 4. The two batsmen who bailed them out from that situation - Ambati Rayudu and Vijay Shankar - aren't here. One has even retired!
The two teams clashed in the World Cup warm-up match at The Oval too, and New Zealand had India 39 for 4 before bowling them out for just 179.
"It's not too long ago that we played a full series against them. We played in New Zealand, played five games against them. So we exactly know what they are capable of and what are their strengths. So we'll be keeping an eye on that," India's batting coach Sanjay Bangar said about the prospect of facing New Zealand in the semifinal.
By strengths, he might well mean Trent Boult and his ability to swing the new ball. Boult's figures in the three matches against India say a story: 5/21, 3/39 and 4/33.
Match it up against India's strength, the top order. Rohit's struggles against left-arm pace in the past is well documented. He has been dismissed 23 times in 202 ODI innings by left-arm pacers, three of those for ducks. As many as 16 of those have come for scores between 0 and 20. To his credit, Rohit has survived the likes of Mitchell Starc, Mohammad Amir and Mustafizur Rahman in this World Cup. If he crosses Boult too, half the job could be done.
Kohli, meanwhile, has been dismissed 26 times in 227 ODI innings by left-arm pacers.
Over the last two years, India have collapsed against swing quite a few times: Pakistan bowled them out for 158 in the Champions Trophy final at The Oval, Sri Lanka skittled them out for 112 in Dharamsala, Australia had them 4 for 3 in Sydney, while New Zealand made them dance around in Hamilton, Wellington and London. The star performers in each of those collapses barring the Sri Lanka one were left-arm pacers.

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