A few hours prior to India’s semi-final match against New Zealand, in Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, several plots have started to thicken. The most prominent of them – one which supersedes everything else – is the chance to confirm a place in the 2023 ICC World Cup final.
Barring that, a major fan-constructed subplot will be India’s mission to avenge the defeat from 2019.
But on purely cricketing terms, the influential subplots will involve the intricate player battles – or ‘matchups’, as they are commonly referred to – which could decide the fate of both teams, and ultimately, the match’s outcome.
Let us have a look at five of such player battles you should keep an eye on:
1. Rohit Sharma vs Trent Boult
Rohit Sharma’s troubles against left-arm seamers, especially those having the knack for nipping the ball into right-handers, have been extensively documented. Among those left-armers who have caused the Indian skipper a few problems in the past, Trent Boult is a notable figure.
The pacer caused Rohit’s downfall on eight occasions in international cricket, four of them being in ODIs. Whilst usually associated with taking the attack to the bowlers bowling with the new ball, Rohit adopts a more conservative approach, as testified by the statistics.
His ODI strike rate against Boult is only 68.6 – a farcry from his career strike rate of 91.6. Considering the form Rohit has been in – being the only batter in this competition to cross the 400-run mark whilst maintaining a strike rate north of 120 – it will be imperative for Boult to get him out for the fifth occasion in ODIs, should New Zealand aspire to cripple India’s batting unit.
2. Virat Kohli vs Mitchell Santner
There will be a narrative constructed around Virat Kohli’s apparent troubles against Tim Southee. Indeed, the veteran pacer – who is having to slot in for an injured Matt Henry – has dismissed Kohli on six occasions in ODIs.
Yet, upon closer inspection, one would find that five of these dismissals came more than six years ago. The one New Zealand bowler Kohli has struggled against, in recent years, happens to be a rather unassuming Mitchell Santner.
The left-arm orthodox spinner has scalped the former Indian captain’s wicket on three occasions, of which two were only a few months ago. Moreover, Kohli’s strike rate against Santner in ODIs 68.9.
Having fallen prey to left-arm orthodox spinners on nine occasions in ODIs since last year, and on five occasions just this year alone, Kohli will have to tread with utmost caution against Santner, in his bid to transcend Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 49 ODI centuries at his home ground.
3. Shreyas Iyer vs Tim Southee
Shreyas Iyer’s battles against Tim Southee have been interesting – in more ways than one. Southee happens to be the only Kiwi bowler to have dismissed Iyer on more than one occasion in ODIs, yet the Indian middle-order batter prefers unleashing his aggressive best against the pacer.
Iyer has scored 59 runs in only 44 deliveries against Southee, with a strike rate of 134.1 – significantly higher than his career ODI strike rate of 99.4.
Having rediscovered form at the best plausible stage, scoring 287 runs in the last three matches, Iyer would look to be the catalyst in India’s operation of posting a big score against the Kiwis.
4. Kuldeep Yadav vs Kane Williamson
Irrespective of the format, New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson – who usually has the look of a player who has everything figured out to the most minute of details – invariably struggles against left-arm wrist spinners.
Against Kuldeep Yadav, he has fallen prey on two occasions, in just 25 deliveries. With Rohit Sharma using his trump card against Williamson being a certainty, it is up to the man from Tauranga to tackle the threat tomorrow.
5. Mohammed Siraj vs Devon Conway
Mohammed Siraj is currently placed first on ICC’s ODI bowlers’ rankings, and on his shoulders will be the responsibility of dismissing the batter who will face the first ball for New Zealand – Devon Conway.
The speedster had a rewarding time against the Kiwi southpaw earlier this year, when the pair squared off during the three-match ODI series between India and New Zealand.
Having faced 21 deliveries off Siraj’s bowling, Conway could accumulate all but 11 runs, whilst losing his wicket on two occasions.