In a fortuitous late twist to the cricket World Cup story, Australia lost to South Africa allowing India to top the preliminary league table. Consequently, India plays New Zealand in Tuesday’s semi-final at Old Trafford, Manchester, while England plays Australia at Edgbaston on Thursday. At this level there is no such thing as a weak team but New Zealand had been underperforming after a positive start and just about managed to stay afloat for a last four slot. Team India’s path to the final may have been eased to that extent though the team would have to look much sharper if it is to recapture the all-round brilliance to support the phenomenal form opening batsman Rohit Sharma has been with his record five centuries in one World Cup. A top heavy batting order and an underperforming middle and late order have been the concerns that could potentially unseat the hot favourite on the threshold of a third World Cup triumph.
The four most fancied teams have made it to the semis in a quirky World Cup in which changes of pace by the quicks to deny batsmen the freedom of helping deliveries of top speed along has been the effective strategic approach. The slower ball bowled as if to make it spin or assume a tennis ball like bounce when pitched short has been the staple with which chasers have been undone in a bat-first World Cup. In defying the trend, Jasprit Bumrah’s toe-crushing yorkers of pace have been outstanding. Virat Kohli’s Team India may, on the basis of a few late experiments, have zeroed in on an ideal playing XI in which Rishabh Pant, Mohammad Shami and Ravindra Jadeja may find favour. The odd glitches could always crop up in crunch games but it is fair to surmise that India has the brilliance to perform under pressure in the next two matches in cricket’s showpiece event.