India has had a smooth progress to the semi-final of the 2019 World Cup, winning eight out of their nine group matches. They now take on New Zealand in what will be their seventh appearance in a semi-final.
It has been an all-round performance by India, who have always found ways of getting the job done, but there are some issues they will have to address as the tournament heads into the do or die stage.
Rohit Sharma has been India’s star, with five centuries – the most by any player in a single edition of the tournament. He has had some luck in each of those centuries, with four catches and one clear run out opportunity missed off him. On four of those occasions he was dropped while he was still in single digits, and those let offs resulted in three of his centuries, and a fifty.
The drops signal a vulnerability early in his innings; the fact that he converted those lives into match winning centuries speaks to his strength of mind.
Coming into the tournament, one of the major questions was who will occupy the coveted No. 4 spot. The designated number four, Vijay Shankar, was benched and KL Rahul was given a go; when Rahul moved into the opening slot following Dhawan’s injury, Shankar was tried and found wanting; a fortuitous “toe niggle” has opened the door for Rishabh Pant to step in. The net result of all this experimentation is that India’s No. 4 averages amongst the lowest in the World Cup.
Pant, who has scored 84 in three innings, will most likely stay in the slot for the semis; India also has the option of sending out Hardik Pandya if the top three have taken the game deep and a rapid fire finish is needed.
Meanwhile, the top three have carried the load of the entire batting order, contributing the most runs, and recording the highest average, among all teams in the tournament.
The problem for India is that if it loses a couple of quick wickets, enormous responsibility will shift to the middle order, which hasn’t as yet shown the capability of making up for top order failures.
Hardik Pandya and MS Dhoni have scored at a brisk pace when needed at the end of the innings, their jobs have been made easier thanks to the top-order, who have more often than not given them an excellent platform to build on.
India’s bowling, especially the fast bowlers, have been excellent in this competition. Overall, India have picked up the most number of wickets – 67 – despite having played a game lesser than Australia and England. They pick up a wicket every 33.3 deliveries, which is the best among all teams.
The fast bowlers have been the catalyst behind this exceptional show. They may not have picked up the most wickets, but when it comes to the strike-rate and average, they are right on top.
What has lent teeth to their bowling is the fielding, where India has excelled – particularly when it comes to taking their catches. They have dropped the least number of catches among all teams; however, when it comes to saving runs, they are amongst the worst, which puts a question mark next to their ground fielding and indicates an area where they will have to improve in the coming do or die game.
*Net Runs Saved = Runs Saved - Runs Missed
India have most of their boxes ticked going into the semis. Despite a comprehensive loss to England, who could well be their potential opponents in the final, they remain hot favourites to go all the way. Their collective form is good; it will now come down to a question of whether they can hold their nerve at the business end of the tournament.