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Rampaging India bid for final berth against volatile New Zealand
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Rampaging India bid for final berth against volatile New Zealand

Weeks of non-stop cricket action have prepared fans for the final few contests among the top-drawer teams to decide the ultimate world champions.

The first of these highly anticipated knockout games takes place at Old Trafford on Tuesday where a vibrant Virat Kohli-led Indian side take on a shaky New Zealand line-up captained by the ice-cool Kane Williamson.

Already haunted by the curse of semi-final losses in ICC tournaments, the Black Caps' chances of progressing into the grand finale of the World Cup have diminished even more on paper in light of their three straight defeats towards the end of the league phase.

New Zealand have inadvertently picked the worst possible moment to lose their momentum heading into the crucial game against a dominant India, against whom one could argue they had a lucky escape earlier in the tournament as the game between the two sides was washed out.

But that apparently is the New Zealand way - quietly showcasing consistency amidst tags of underdogs and thus acquiring the status of a giant slayer.

Recently, a heated debate has emerged surrounding the legitimacy of the net run-rate as a metric of comparing teams on equal points following New Zealand barely edging out Pakistan to make their space in the final four.

However, skipper Kane Williamson is unperturbed by these sentiments and emphasized his team deserved a place in the semi-finals.

"We definitely deserve to be here, that was reflected in the standings. Whether we're underdogs or not, it doesn't really matter.

"No side has gone through the competition unbeaten. Although we've qualified fourth we've got as equal an opportunity as anybody else," he said on the eve of the clash.

The Indian team enter the contest with all the burden of expectations attached to them, thereby creating pressure for the table-toppers to extend their imperious form against a presumably weak opponent.

Batting and bowling have all clicked at the right moments for India in this tournament with the ever-fluent Rohit Sharma storming to a record-breaking five centuries in the World Cup while Jasprit Bumrah has been on song in every situation he's been entrusted with the ball.

But one costly slip-up against England provides New Zealand evidence of India's lingering weakness in their spin department under unhelpful conditions and an unsettled middle order still in transition.

Lockie Ferguson back in the limelight

New Zealand have banked on their pace strength, spearheaded by right-arm quick Lockie Ferguson, for success throughout the tournament.

Ferguson was unfortunate to miss out on the Kiwis' previous game against England, where New Zealand were clearly on the back foot early on as they lacked the oomph factor provided by their star quick's intimidating bowling.

Even though the Indian top order prides itself for tackling short-pitched deliveries with utmost perfection, well-directed bouncers bowled in the range of 150 kph tend to send jittery nerves down the spine of any batsman.

Jadeja in place of one of the wrist-spinners?

India's bench-warmers have all risen to the occasion during the World Cup indicating an encouraging headache for the selectors ahead of the important semi-final clash.

All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja was thrust into the playing XI against Sri Lanka in India's final game of the group stage, and he instantly impressed with his wicket-to-wicket lines returning economical figures of 1-40 from his quota of 10 overs.

Since Jadeja provides the team with another batting option, it looks increasingly likely that the Indian team management will persist with the left-arm spinner.

Out of the wrist-spin duo, Kuldeep Yadav might possibly get the boot as Yuzvendra Chahal, despite being a touch expensive, has been the strike bowler for his captain in this World Cup.

Squads

India: Virat Kohli (c), Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal, MS Dhoni (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul, Mohammed Shami, Mayank Agarwal, Rohit Sharma, Kuldeep Yadav

New Zealand: Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Tom Latham (wk), Tom Blundell (wk), Mitchell Santner, Colin de Grandhomme, Lockie Ferguson, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Colin Munro, Ish Sodhi, Henry Nicholls, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Jimmy Neesham