India's batting vs NZ's bowling to be the battle to watch out for in semis, says Grant Elliot

by IANS |

Mumbai, Nov 14 (IANS) Grant Elliott knows a thing or two about how it feels to step up in a pressure situation of a semi-final. The former New Zealand all-rounder is best remembered for the six he hit off Dale Steyn at Eden Park, Auckland, to get a win for the Blackcaps in a thrilling semi-final and enter the 2015 World Cup final.

Ahead of New Zealand set to play against hosts India in the 2023 World Cup semi-final at the Wankhede Stadium on Wednesday, Elliot believes the match-up between the hosts’ batting line-up and visitors’ bowling attack will be a battle to watch out for.

“I think this game is about the batting of India vs the bowling of New Zealand. Can the New Zealand bowlers find a way to get the right combinations and put India under pressure by taking early wickets?” said Elliot in an exclusive interview with IANS.

Indian batters have been in glorious touch with the bat, starting from captain Rohit Sharma’s quick start in the first ten overs, followed by Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul making big runs whenever the opportunity came.

On the other hand, despite multiple injuries and form concerns, New Zealand’s bowlers always carry a threat of delivering when it matters the most. It has been an interesting tournament for New Zealand, who won their first four matches, before losing next four games on the bounce and sealed their qualification with a five-wicket win over Sri Lanka in Bengaluru.

“New Zealand have played some amazing cricket. Taking away the South African and Pakistan fixtures, the games they have lost have been close contests. Almost chasing down 388 against Australia and having India 6 down and losing in the 48th over have been promising results,” adds Elliot.

Against Sri Lanka, Lockie Ferguson, Trent Boult and Devon Conway showed signs of coming back to their best self. But Elliot thinks the form shown in league matches will have little impact on Wednesday's highly-anticipated clash.

“I don’t think it matters in knockout games. Form means very little. It is however up to the senior players to lead from the front and that’s exactly what’s happened. New Zealand can take a lot of confidence out of their batting. There are so many match winners and all players look in decent form.”

“There will be moments in the game, 50/50 chances that go missing or get taken. Knockout cricket is a time for brilliance and calmness under pressure. The team that absorbs the pressure and expresses themselves will come out on top.”

In the recent history of World Cups, New Zealand have consistently made it to the knockouts and even entered title clashes. Whenever the big stage comes, they always punch above their weight and emerge as contenders to win the coveted trophy, though the ODI World Cup is yet to come in their hands.

“I truly believe that New Zealand are one unit. Everyone leaves their ego at the door and plays for the team not for personal glory. It’s this team ethos and expectation that helps New Zealand drive high performance and cope in big games,” says Elliot on the secret behind Blackcaps being a force to reckon with in knockouts.

For New Zealand, Rachin Ravindra has been one of the breakout stars in the competition. As a left-handed top-order batter, he has amassed 565 runs in nine matches, averaging 70.62 at a strike-rate of 108.44, including hitting three centuries and two fifties. He has also picked five wickets with his handy left-arm spin-bowling.

Elliot conceded there were no expectations for Ravindra to be in New Zealand’s starting eleven for this World Cup and on seeing his outstanding performances, has predicted him to become Player of the Match in the semifinal against India.

“He’s the most talented NZ batter I have seen in the past 10 years outside the squad of Blackcaps. Great to see him express himself and show his class. This will give him confidence to achieve some great things for New Zealand and himself. (Him being) Man of the match in the semifinals against India - doesn’t get much better than that!”

Left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner has been at his exceptional best in keeping the batters in check and has picked 16 wickets in nine games. When India and New Zealand faced off in the 2019 World Cup semi-final, Santner took 2-34 in ten overs and in the league match at Dharamsala, he had figures of 1-37 from his quota of overs.

Elliot believes the accuracy while operating and prior knowledge of Indian conditions is helping Santner excel in the World Cup. “He is just so accurate. The glue that pulls this bowling attack together. Variety, cricket smarts and experience in India just proving difficult to get away. Very miserly and difficult to take chances to, with his subtle changes in flight and pace.”

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