Good morning. The Cricket World Cup is the tournament that always leaves the audience wanting less. The group stages are a tough mudder for supporters – a draining test of endurance, nerve, commitment, caffeine levels and ability to understand how net run-rate works. They must be quite hard to play in as well.
The group stages were good to middling, saved by Sri Lanka’s win over England. But now, after 40 days and 41 matches, we’ve reached the really good bit: the knockout stages. India play New Zealand in the first semi-final at Old Trafford today. Then, on Thursday at Edgbaston, Australia and England will compare testosterone levels. The draw for the final will take place on Friday, with the two teams meeting at Lord’s on Sunday.
We will either have a familiar winner of the tournament (Australia for the sixth time, India for the third) or a new one. New Zealand and England have never won the World Cup, as you may have have heard one of two million times in the last six weeks.
New Zealand are at least the world champions of consistency. They are the only team to reach the semi-finals at the last four World Cups, and if they win today they will reach their second final in a row. We’re all friends, so let’s speak frankly: nobody really gives New Zealand a prayer today. That, I suspect, is more down to form than the predilection to underestimate a team who have spent decades showing the folly of underestimating them.
New Zealand lost their last three games in the league stage, and a number of their players have had poor tournament. Their hope comes in the form of Kane Williamson, Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson, all potential matchwinners, and the fact they hammered India in a warm-up match at the end of May. The league match between the two sides was rained off, so there are no clues there.
India managed to finish top of the league without being quite at their best. Jasprit Bumrah and Rohit Sharma were immense, but Virat Kohli didn’t score a century (he’s still averaging 63 in the tournament) and they have yet to settle on their preferred XI.
Maybe they never will. Time is running out, but in a good way. India – and the other three semi-finalists – are only two games away from winning the World Cup.
Today’s match starts at 10.30am local time, 3pm in Mumbai, 9.30pm in Wellington.