While everyone was waiting for the New Zealand squad to arrive for their scheduled practice at the Wankhede Stadium, it was interesting to see the Indian coaching staff walk out on to the field first on Monday evening.
Chief coach Rahul Dravid, bowling coach Paras Mhambrey and batting coach Vikram Rathour, wearing the India blue, walked up to the pitch where the groundstaff, including BCCI curator Taposh Chatterjee, were present. India played their last league game in Bengaluru on Sunday and landed in Mumbai only in the afternoon.
Given the cricket the home side has been playing, India are unlikely to be worried about external factors, but being a knockout game against New Zealand (on Wednesday), Dravid and his fellow coaches can’t take any chances. With the stakes sky high for the favourites, all factors come into play, be it the pitch or the toss.
The nature of the pitch could determine the combination India will play. While Mumbai has seen high totals and thrilling pace bowling so far, the pitch for the semifinal had a different look from those laid out for the league games. The good length area at both ends looked dry and bald. Dravid and Mhambrey in particular studied the pitch for a long time, speaking to the groundstaff.
Being his home ground, Mhambrey, former Mumbai skipper and pacer, knows the Wankhede pitch very well. A good reader of pitch conditions, he had predicted a square turner two days before the 2004 India- Australia Test here. The game got over inside two-and-a-half days with the hosts winning the spin-dominated game. Mhambrey held lengthy discussions with the curators and his inputs will be vital as India sit down to finalise their combination and strategy.
New Zealand have become India’s bogey team at the World Cups, both ODIs and T20s. If the pitch has pace and bounce, the NZ pace attack will be in the game more. Hence, the hosts will be wary of any extra help for them as a couple of quick wickets can prove decisive.
India won’t be as bothered about the spin factor. Kiwi left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner is in good form with backing from Rachin Ravindra and Glenn Phillips, but India have a more potent spin attack in Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav.
Pace bowlers have thrived at the Wankhede under lights, but teams have also scored big while batting first. The pitch provides value for shots with the ball coming on to the bat. Even if the grass is shaved off, it has firm roots which bind the surface.
South Africa scored 382 against Bangladesh and 399 against England here, while India scored 357/8 and bundled out Sri Lanka for 55 at the Wankhede.