Can Black Caps derail the Indian juggernaut?
As a perfect India team appear in the first semifinal of the 2023 World Cup against New Zealand at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai today, a pertinent question would be if the Black Caps have any magic left in their tank to stop the rampant hosts from taking a bold step closer to winning the coveted trophy for a third time.
India have been so dominant in the group stage that they hardly broke a sweat to win all nine games, which included a comprehensive four-wicket win against New Zealand.
Grabbing the thunder from the lacklustre champions England, India have so far shown little to no weakness in both batting and bowling departments, notwithstanding the fact that their fielding has been equally impressive.
With right-arm pacer Jasprit Bumrah at his best in this tournament and Mohammad Sami enjoying every bit of his replacement role after injury cut short all-rounder Hardik Pandya's World Cup, India won six of their games they chased with the opponents bowled out well below the 300-run mark.
When it was their turn to bat first, runs flew like a cascade from the vaunted top order, consisting of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Shubman Gill and KL Rahul.
Kohli, who is out to make the tournament his own, has already struck two centuries to equal Sachin Tendulkar's record of 49 ODI hundreds along with five half-centuries at a staggering average of 99.
And with three versatile spinners – Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravichandran Ashwin – in their ranks, India look invincible on home soil.
Still, complacency could be an unlikely enemy for India at a stage where a defeat could be the end of a billion dreams. The other aspect is that like the other teams, India have not been tested to the limit and their underbelly has not been exposed so far.
With Pandya not around, someone who has provided the solidity in the lower middle-order like MS Dhoni did in the past, India would be really tested in the event of a top-order hiccup.
There was an uneasy situation against Australia when they were reduced to 3-2 chasing 199 before a Kohli masterclass bailed them out. However, the Aussies would never know what could have happened had Kohli not been dropped when he was on 12.
India were also in a similar situation against their semifinal opponents, also in the semifinals four years ago in England. They were reduced to 3-5 from where they had not recovered and made their exit from the World Cup.
India were chasing a not-so-daunting 239 in that game. Still, with Rohit and Kohli out cheaply, they were eventually bundled out for 221.
For a team that have lost four of their seven World Cup semifinals, India will certainly look not to budge this time around with all the confidence behind them for a final push to glory.
The Black Caps, on the other hand, will bank on their experienced captain Kane Williamson and a star in the making, Rachin Ravindra, to upset the Indian applecart.