After the four semi-finalists were confirmed and it looked like a rematch between the world’s best sides at Edgbaston was on the cards, India had the surprise of finding out that they topped the league stage of the 2019 ICC World Cup on Saturday as they defeated Sri Lanka while South Africa got the better of Australia.
Plans had to be changed with Virat Kohli and Co now travelling to Old Trafford to face a team that just stumbled across the finish line, with three defeats on the trot. But New Zealand, as any fan of the game would know, are never a team to be taken lightly.
So, for the first semi-final of this World Cup, there are still questions facing the Indian management: what is the perfect XI? The Indian captain said after the match that, in his mind, the team is almost sorted but the choice to play Ravindra Jadeja while resting Mohammed Shami and Yuzvendra Chahal clearly showed the team was still trying to figure out the correct combinations.
First, let’s list out the names of the players who, fitness permitting, are a 100% certainty in the playing XI: KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya, and Jasprti Bumrah.
There are five spots remaining in the XI... and here are the questions that Kohli must consider when making the call the night before the match.
Pant continues at No. 4?
Even in a win as convincing as the one against Sri Lanka in Leeds, Pant gave us the option of keeping the No 4 debate alive. Walking in with less than 20 runs to get, and a chance to remain unbeaten while taking India across the line, Pant was out playing a slog sweep off a fast bowler, completely deceived by the change of pace. But, all things said and done, the dashing batsman should have done enough in his previous two innings to retain his place in the XI... whether at No 4 or not, will largely depend on the conditions.
Our verdict: Pant plays.
Kedar Jadhav or Dinesh Karthik?
Neither player has done enough to make this choice straightforward. While Jadhav’s effort against Afghanistan was impressive, his knack to accelerate the scoring rate at the end overs is, on paper, not as strong as Karthik’s. The question will again come down to whether Kohli wants the security of the fifth bowling option. As was written on these pages, Hardik Pandya’s form with the ball has meant that the Indian captain has the confidence to go with just five bowlers. Having played in the last two matches of the league stages, it is likely Kohli would want to continue with DK as a finisher.
Our verdict: Karthik plays.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Mohammed Shami?
Or, perhaps, both? It will largely depend on the conditions in Manchester on the day. Rain has been forecast for Tuesday and should it be overcast, with a tinge of green, Kohli could be tempted to play both. But seeing as that happened only once in the tournament, against West Indies, the chances are Kohli will continue with two frontline seamers. In that case, Bhuvi might have just bowled himself out of the XI with his performance against Sri Lanka. When the Islanders just about crossed 260, Bhuvi conceded more than 70 runs. While Shami’s death bowling is a concern despite his wicket-taking skills, Bhuvi has not exactly sealed his spot after returning from the injury. This is still a tough call to make, but...
Our verdict: Shami returns to the XI in place of Bhuvneshwar.
The spin combination
This is perhaps the trickiest question that Kohli has to find the answer for. As said above, it would be safe to assume that two of the three spinners are likely to feature unless it is a green pitch and the conditions are overcast. In that case, the front-runner remains Yuzvendra Chahal who, despite the hammering he took against England (0/88), has been the go-to wicket-taking spin option for Kohli throughout the tournament. Despite all the backing Kuldeep Yadav has received in media interactions, his form (while not as bad as it was during the IPL), has not exactly screamed ‘pick me!’ Six wickets in seven outings can be overlooked if he was bowling with confidence and looked threatening: the fact is, he has not. Even on a spin-friendly wicket against Sri Lanka, Jadeja looked a much more threatening option.
Which brings us to the man from Saurashtra. Having seen him so much on the field during this World Cup, it is scarcely believable that he has actually played just one game. But if Shami comes back, and Kuldeep not looking good, Jadeja offers the most balance to this team: he extends the batting lineup, he offers much more on the field. And if your spinner is constantly going for more than 5-an-over and picking one wicket per match, Kohli might as well go with the all-round skills of Jadeja.
Our verdict: Chahal and Jadeja play.
The Field’s XI for India vs New Zealand: Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant, MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya, Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah