July 19th, 2024

Unbeaten New Zealand and India meet at scenic Dharamsala in Cricket World Cup on Sunday

By Chetan Narula, The Associated Press on October 21, 2023.

Over the past week, the Indian city of Dharamsala received the season’s first snowfall. As television cameras pan out behind the stadium, the Himalayan mountaintops are noticeable in their pristine white glory.

Temperatures are set to rise on Sunday, though, when the only two unbeaten teams at the Cricket World Cup meet. New Zealand and hosts India are 4-0 in the tournament, although the 2019 runners-up New Zealander lead on net run rate.

New Zealand began its tournament by beating defending champions England by nine wickets, and then made easy work of the Netherlands (by 99 runs), Bangladesh (by eight wickets) and Afghanistan (by 149 runs).

Those last three wins have come at a canter for the Black Caps, and were never in doubt. The tougher part of their league campaign begins on Sunday, against two-time champions India, followed by Australia, South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

“We don’t want to read too much into it (the tougher schedule ahead). Every team in this tournament can win on its day and we have seen that already,” said New Zealand left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner after the win against Afghanistan.

“India will be a massive challenge in its home conditions. At the moment, they are looking pretty tough to beat.”

Indeed, India has been steamrolling its opponents. It beat Australia by six wickets, brushed aside Afghanistan by eight wickets, beat archrivals Pakistan by seven wickets and defeated Bangladesh by seven wickets.

Despite the difference in their styles of play, the winning records leave New Zealand and India separated only on that net run-rate – New Zealand’s +1.923 ahead of India’s +1.659.

There is one common denominator – the use of fast bowlers in the middle overs. New Zealand has used Matt Henry (nine wickets at an average of 18) and Lockie Ferguson (six wickets at 16.66) to good effect. Wrist spinner Ish Sodhi has been unable to get a game.

For India, it is much the same. Fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah leads the way and has picked 10 wickets in four games at an average of 13.40.

“Picking up wickets in the middle overs helps us control the run rates. We have managed to do that in all our games,” said India wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav after the win against Bangladesh. “We have started well in the powerplays too, except against Bangladesh. It allows us spinners to control (proceedings) as well.”

Star all-rounder Hardik Pandya has been ruled out of the game. He twisted his left ankle while bowling in Pune and has been sent to Bengaluru for rehabilitation. India hopes he will be available for its next game against England on Oct. 29.

Pandya has far better bowling returns (five wickets at 22.6) than Siraj (five wickets at 42.4). But his absence will be a bigger blow because he provides valuable balance to the side with both bat and ball.

Suryakumar Yadav is expected to get a game on Sunday and bat at No. 6. But India’s worry will be balancing out the bowling attack, as none of the top-order batsmen can reliably bowl.

Whether picking bowling all-rounder Shardul Thakur or pacer Mohammed Shami, India will only have five bowlers to choose from. It is likely to be inclined towards Shami to have the best chance to bowl 50 overs against an in-form New Zealand batting lineup.

“Hardik is an important player for us, but these things happen in cricket. That is why we have a squad, and we will work with the other 14 players for this game,” India coach Rahul Dravid said Saturday.

“We can opt for two or three different combinations, including going in with three pacers or three spinners,” he added. “Inside the dressing room, we have a fair idea of the playing eleven for tomorrow’s game.”

The Black Caps continue to be without skipper Kane Williamson, and Tom Latham will once again be in charge. He has proven to be as inspirational as Williamson at the helm.

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AP cricket: https://apnews.com/hub/cricket

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