After 38 days and 45 league matches, the four semifinalists along expected lines are upon us.
Everyone's favourites India, Australia, hosts England, and New Zealand have entered the final week of the 12th ICC Cricket World Cup with everything to play for. Going by the performances in the last five-and-a-half weeks, Virat Kohli's Team India look the best bet to lift the Cup for the third time, having all the bases covered and putting up one dominating performance after another.
For starters, at the end of the league phase, India topped the points table with 15 points ahead of Australia (14), England (12) and New Zealand (11) following Saturday's last match in which Australia lost by 10 runs to South Africa.
Along with Kohli's consistency with the bat and his fine captaincy skills, his deputy Rohit Sharma has also been leading India from the front and setting new World Cup records. With a never-done-before five World Cup centuries in a single edition including three on the trot, the 32-year-old Sharma is 27 runs short of surpassing his Mumbai city-mate and the legendary Tendulkar's 16-year record for most runs in a single edition – 673 runs.
Sharma, going by the form, should be able to set a new record on Tuesday inside the first Power Play when the first of the semifinals will be held at Old Trafford, Manchester, against Kane Williamson's New Zealand.
India will be playing at their favourite venue in England, Manchester, for a place in the final. While they have a 5-win-5-loss record in 10 ODIs at Old Trafford, their World Cup record there is enviable. They have won each of their last five World Cup matches at this venue dating back to 1983 after losing a game each in the 1975 and 1979 editions.
It was also at this venue in the 1983 World Cup that they defeated England in the semifinals en route to the historic, path-breaking final against the all-conquering West Indies at Lord's. India have already played two matches at this venue in this edition, having won against Pakistan by 89 runs (DLS method) and the West Indies by 125 runs. India could not have asked for a better opponent than the Kiwis. While the New Zealanders have entered the semi-final for the eighth time, their recent form goes against them, giving Kohli & Co the advantage.
While they won their first five matches of the World Cup, their last three straight defeats against stronger opponents England, Australia and Pakistan, as also the over reliance on their skipper Williamson to put up runs on the board, do not work in their favour. New Zealand were the only opponent India did not face in the league stage as the match at Trent Bridge, Nottingham was washed out without a ball being bowled on June 13. However, they did get a taste of the New Zealanders in the warm-up match prior to the tournament and lost at The Oval, London, in seaming conditions.
Indians, however, are aware of what the Kiwis bring to the table as they beat them in their own backyard at the start of the year, 4-1 in a bilateral ODI series. It is more or less the same set of players that will do battle on Tuesday.
India get to complete a full circle by playing the only team they have not faced so far in the tournament proper. Also, while all the top nations (England, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and Bangladesh) have played a game at the home of cricket, Lord's, in the league stage, India, along with Sri Lanka, West Indies and Afghanistan, did not get a league game at this hallowed venue.
India will look to book its date with Lord's by winning the semifinal and earn their right to play the final on July 14.
Kapil's Devils took the Manchester route to lifting the World Cup at Lord's 36 English summers ago. It would only be apt for Kohli to follow suit, taking the same route and emulate his legendary predecessor.
July 9: India vs New Zealand, Old Trafford (Manchester)
July 11: Australia vs England, Edgbaston (Birmingham)