India won all nine group games at this year’s Cricket World Cup with Virat Kohli in stunning form – but will side’s struggles in knockout matches return in semi-final vs New Zealand? – watch live on Sky Sports Cricket from 8am on Wednesday (8.30am first ball)
Image: India won all nine of their group games at the Cricket World Cup to top the table
Host nation India entered the Cricket World Cup as firm favourites and remain that way after a flawless group stage that yielded nine wins from nine games.
They were tested at times – reduced to 2-3 by Australia in a chase of 200, seeing Bangladesh reach 93-0 against them batting first, limited to 229-9 by England – but came through on each occasion.
Their impeccable round-robin campaign included skittling Sri Lanka for just 55 and shredding South Africa for 83. Only Afghanistan and Bangladesh avoided being bowled out by Rohit Sharma’s team.
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India’s five main bowlers – seamers Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj and spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja – have 75 wickets combined.
India beat New Zealand by four wickets when the sides met in the Cricket World Cup group stage
Batting-wise, India piled on 410 against Netherlands, 357 versus Sri Lanka and 326 against South Africa.
Each man in their top five has passed fifty at least twice. Virat Kohli has done it seven times, with two hundreds and five half-centuries taking him to a tournament-leading 594 runs.
Kohli’s century against South Africa saw him match countryman Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 49 in one-day international cricket.
One more ton and Virat will stand alone. Two more wins and India will stand with a third Cricket World Cup title. Both achievements look probable, perhaps even inevitable.
But India are now entering the domain that has been their nemesis: knockout cricket. It’s all well and good wiping the floor with opposition when there is a second chance but doing it when defeat ends your tournament is a different proposition.
That’s the real quiz, as David Brent once said.
Since beating England to win the Champions Trophy in 2013, India have won only two knockout matches across 50-over Worlds Cups, T20 World Cups and Champions Trophies, losing their other six.
One of those losses came against New Zealand in the 2019 50-over World Cup in England, with India stuttering to 221 all out in pursuit of 240 at Emirates Old Trafford in Manchester.
Image: Virat Kohli was dismissed for one when India lost to New Zealand in the 2019 Cricket World Cup semi-final in Manchester
The chase started dismally with KL Rahul, Rohit and Kohli each out for one as India plummeted to 5-3 in 3.1 overs. Half-centuries from MS Dhoni and Jadeja kept their team afloat but when both fell within the space of five balls, the game was up.
As the two sides prepare to meet in the last four again – this time at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium from 0830 BST on Wednesday – that loss four years ago, as well as other knockout exits, may be in India’s mind. Perhaps not at the front of it but lurking somewhere.
This is a chance to make things right.
Sky Sports’ Nasser Hussain, speaking before the World Cup, said: “India will have to overcome the pressure. You could argue an Indian cricketer is always under pressure but where they have fallen short is in the knockout stage.
“In Adelaide last year [in the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup] they plodded along to a below-par score and England knocked them off. In the 2019 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand they plodded along. They have to go above par and play fearless cricket.”
Kohli was bowled by Netherlands spinner Roelof van der Merwe in Bangalore
India firing ahead of semi-final vs New Zealand
India feeling the pressure may be New Zealand’s best hope of pulling off a result because the Black Caps are running into a cricketing machine. One that is firing on all cylinders.
As disappointed as the India fans would have been to see Kohli dismissed for 51 against Netherlands and his wait for a historic 50th ODI ton go on, it did at least give Rahul time in the middle at No 5.
The latter strode out in the 29th over, scored a 62-ball hundred – a record for India in World Cups – and was eventually dismissed for 102 from the penultimate ball of the innings.
With Shreyas Iyer (128no) also scoring a ton after fifties for openers Rohit and Shubman Gill and No 3 Kohli, it is only really No 6 Suryakumar Yadav who may be entering the semi-final a little cold.
Image: India's Mohammed Shami has hoovered up wickets at the Cricket World Cup
The bowlers, meanwhile, will come into the game in red-hot form, particularly Shami, who pocketed 16 wickets in just four games ahead of Sunday’s barren outing against Netherlands.
So where – bar another timid performance in a knockout game – could India come unstuck?
Well, they have been down to five frontline bowlers since all-rounder Hardik Pandya’s tournament-ending ankle injury so if New Zealand can collar one of the main quintet, it could give Rohit headaches.
While the skipper himself and Kohli bowled – and picked up wickets – against Netherlands, the Black Caps batters’ eyes will probably light up if they are thrust into the attack in Mumbai.
Kohli dismissed Netherlands skipper Scott Edwards during India’s 160-run win in Bangalore on Sunday
India’s tail has also become a lengthy one since Shami came into the side for Shardul Thakur at No 8, so if New Zealand can rip through the top order – easier said than done, of course – then it could cause the home side to become more circumspect with the bat.
India have been unbeatable so far. We are about to find out if they are unstoppable.
Watch India take on New Zealand in the first Cricket World Cup semi-final, in Mumbai, live on Sky Sports Cricket and Sky Sports Main Event from 8am on Wednesday (8.30am first ball).
Enjoy Hindi coverage from Wankhede Stadium live on Sky Sports Arena from 8.20am.
You can also stream without a contract through NOW.
Follow text commentary and in-play video clips of India vs New Zealand via a live blog on skysports.com and the Sky Sports App