India has charged through the round-robin segment of the World Cup like a fire truck on its way to douse the flames.
Nine games, nine wins. Over the past five weeks the 10 teams have played 45 games and the wheat has now been separated from the chaff.
It has been exciting, there have been a number of upsets sprung by the smaller nations and the scene is now set for the semifinals.
In the first semi that has been dubbed Goliath vs. David, host nation India takes on New Zealand on Wednesday while, on the following day, a resurgent Australia faces South Africa with the winners going for all the marbles on Sunday.
Rohit Sharma’s India is the obvious favourite as all the aspects of his team’s game have clicked into place.
But there is one drawback: Sharma’s team is carrying the hopes of a cricket-obsessed nation and it’s a heavy burden to shoulder, especially in a sudden-death affair.
Also, India is up against a squad that it would have rather not faced in the semis. The Kiwis have surprised India in the past four knockouts, including the 2019 World Cup, when India fell by 18 runs.
But India turned the tables on the Kiwis in the group stage in Dharamsala and then the New Zealanders just scraped into the semis ahead of Pakistan on net run-rate. New Zealand started off on a mission with four wins before losing the next four and finally clinching a spot in the semis with a convincing win over Sri Lanka.
But they are now in the final four and it’s a whole new ball game, where they have excelled in the past and history has a way of repeating itself.
Winning the toss at Wankhede could prove useful as batting first is always a must. For India, Sharma and Shubman Gill have been brilliant so far and the skipper has set the tone by thrashing the leather off that ball. This has given the top half of India’s lineup Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul to pile on the runs.
In its previous encounter, India set a World Cup record as the top five batsmen scored half centuries. Sharma hit 61, Gill and Kohli 51 apiece, Iyer 128 not out and Rahul a blistering 102 in the 410 for four before restricting the Netherlands to 250.
The top order can expect a string of bouncers from the dangerous Trent Boult, Matt Henry, Tim Southee and Lockie Ferguson.
India counters with possibly the best attack in the competition led by the deadly Jasprit Bumrah.
The addition of Mohammad Shami has added bite to the pace attack that also includes Mohammad Siraj, who intimidate the batsmen with their consistency.
While India has Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav heading the spin department, the Kiwis will counter with Mitchell Santner and the 23-year-old new find Rachin Ravindra.
Both Santner and Jadeja have 16 wickets in the competition so far and a lot will depend on their wrists, even though Wankhede isn’t really known as a spinner’s paradise.
A number of their batsmen have been in hot form. Devon Conway has been prolific along with Williamson and then you have the ever-dangerous Daryl Mitchell and Glenn Phillips.
The one who has captured the hearts of the Indian public has been Ravindra, whose parents were born in India. The left-hander has rocketed to celebrity status with 565 total runs that have included three centuries.
AUSTRALIA AND SOUTH AFRICA SET TO THRILL
On Thursday at Kolkata’s iconic Eden Garden, one can expect a thriller between South Africa and Australia.
Both squads are loaded with prolific batting prowess and incisive fast bowlers.
Five-time World Cup holder Australia has bounced back after a slow start that saw it lose to India and South Africa. But Pat Cummins’ team rediscovered its touch and won the next seven matches on the trot.
Highlights of the comeback were two earth-shattering centuries from Glenn Maxwell and Mitchell Marsh. Suffering from cramps and pain, Maxwell blasted a spell-bounding 201 not out to stun emerging Afghanistan. His knock included 21 fours and 10 sixes in what is described as the best batting performance ever in white ball cricket.
Then it was the turn of Marsh to hammer 177 to sink Bangladesh in its final group encounter. Marsh had just joined up with the squad after a flying visit back home to bid farewell to his grandfather.
Recommended from Editorial
Sensational Aussie Glenn Maxwell puts on a Big Show for the ages at the Cricket World Cup
Australia favoured to end defending champ England’s run at Cricket World Cup
There have been memorable matches between these teams and who will ever forget the brain cramp South Africa suffered at Edgbaston in 1999, when all it needed was one run off four balls.
I was there covering this World Cup and sat in shock at the turn of events.
With skipper Temba Bavuma given the go-ahead after an injury scare, one can see him bounce back with big-time scorers Quinton de Kock, David Miller, Rassie van der Russen, Heinrich Klassen and Aiden Markham. It’s one of the most productive lineups ever assembled and the Proteas also have a powerful bowling unit with Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Gerald Coetzee, all-rounder Marco Jansen and spinner Keshav Maharaj.
Australia matches the Proteas in every facet of the game, with fast bowlers ready to deliver fast and aggressive bowling with Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Pat Hazlewood, Marsh and spinner Adam Zampa, who has already made his mark here.
The irreplaceable David Warner, Marsh, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith and Maxwell are expected to deliver the runs in this storied rivalry.
Check out our sports section for the latest news and analysis.