A two-day gap is all India have before the semi-final of the ODI World Cup against New Zealand at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Wednesday. They have been flawless in the preliminary phase with just a game against bottom-placed Netherlands here on Sunday remaining, but capping off this remarkable run with the grand prize on November 19 will come down to India’s nous and nerve in the knockouts.
Since winning the Champions Trophy in 2013 — India’s last International Cricket Council (ICC) title — their record in knockout fixtures stands at three wins and six losses in nine matches. It has given the unflattering impression that they haven’t quite raised their level in the big games, one that can be disregarded only when they go all the way and end their decade-long drought.
At no time in recent tournaments have India seemed better placed than now to correct that fallow record. Led by the redoubtable pace spearhead, Jasprit Bumrah, their bowling unit hasn’t let any team breach 300 yet. And there’s been a sureness to the batting that’s allowed them to gun down whatever target has been set. When they batted first against South Africa on a turning track at Eden Gardens in their last match, they racked up an imposing 326/5.
It points to the ruthless mindset behind their eight-game winning run, but knockouts tend to be a different ball game. All it may take, after all, is one misstep to spark dire consequences.
Is a mindset shift required for the knockouts?
“Not really,” India head coach Rahul Dravid told reporters on Saturday. “You still have to play good cricket, whether you’re playing in a league game, as we’ve done, or whether you’ve got to play a semi-final. I mean, you’ve just got certain skills you’ve got to execute, and execute really well and execute better than the opposition. You have just got to focus on that, focus on what you can control, which is your skills, your ability. Prepare yourself both mentally and physically as best as you can for the game. And then just play that game and try and do your best in that particular game.”
With New Zealand awaiting in the semi-final, they are bound to be asked in the build-up about the events at Old Trafford in Manchester in the 2019 World Cup. India went into it as favourties, as they will do now, but were undone by a poor display of batting in the first 10 overs of their run chase. In pursuit of 240 in a rain-affected clash that required India to bat on the reserve day, they were reduced to 5/3 and 24/4 early on, with Ravindra Jadeja and MS Dhoni’s half-centuries not being enough to script a turnaround.
It may have been a cruel ending to an otherwise solid run in the tournament, but that’s the brutal reality of knockout ties. They will hope to emerge unscathed this time around.