The ICC World Cup has reached the business end with the semi-finals set to begin on Tuesday when India take on New Zealand at Old Trafford.
There is very little surprise in the make-up of the final four, with Australia taking on England on Thursday, but the Black Caps have limped into the knockout stages and might just be thankful that their group game against Tuesday’s opponents was a washout, otherwise they may have been usurped by Pakistan.
Kane Williamson‘s men had been in decent form up to that point, winning all three matches, and there was no guarantee they would lose – but it is worth pointing out that those victories were against Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Of course, India trounced Sri Lanka by seven wickets to go through to the knockout stages as group winners, with Australia then surprisingly losing to South Africa, and on recent evidence it is difficult to see them as anything other than strong favourites.
However, the odds do not offer much value and there is a case to be made for the Black Caps to make it to their second successive World Cup final and end their tag of ‘nearly men’.
That case does largely depend on Trent Boult but given the expected windy conditions with a bit of rain in the air, the left-arm quick can enjoy one of those days.
Although their group-stage game was a washout, these two sides did square off in a warm-up match just prior to the tournament, with the Black Caps running out comfortable six-wicket winners.
Boult is particularly adept with the new ball and given favoured conditions he could turn the match in New Zealand’s favour.
The 29-year-old took 4-33 in the warm-up at the Oval and although he is behind Lockie Ferguson in the Black Caps’ overall wicket-taking standings, he also claimed a four-wicket haul against Australia in the tournament proper and is very much a man for the big occasion.
Rohit Sharma appears to be the key wicket for India – perhaps more so than Virat Kohli – as he has already notched a record five centuries in this World Cup and leads the overall run-scoring charts, while he has also given India the perfect platform to build on.
Boult got Sharma in that warm-up, along with KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan and Kuldeep Yadav, and he can do damage with the new ball to give New Zealand their best chance of progression.
The Black Caps’ greater problem appears to lie with the bat as only Williamson has shown any kind of consistent form.
The skipper has amassed 481 runs in this tournament but the worry is that he is a massive 220 runs ahead of his nearest team-mate, Ross Taylor with 261.
If the Black Caps are going to win this game and make it through to the final, someone else needs to stand up – particularly given the quality of the attack of India, led by the brilliant Jasprit Bumrah.