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India is set to face New Zealand in the World Cup with the hopes and support of a billion hearts.

There was something reassuring about the impromptu, entirely affectionate flashmob that greeted New Zealand’s players as they arrived back at the Taj Mahal Tower on the Mumbai dock-front on Tuesday night after a final pre-match training session at the Wankhede stadium.

The hotel where the team is staying is located near the Gateway of India monument. When an ICC-branded bus arrived, it seemed to motivate a large group of people to reconsider their plans for the day and join in on the excitement. Hundreds of people rushed towards the fences, crossed the busy four-lane road, and gathered to cheer on the team. The appearance of Trent Boult even caused some fans to scream with excitement, reminiscent of Beatlemania. The crowd was kept under control by two patient policemen armed with sticks.

This provided confirmation that New Zealand is present in the country and their elite national team is ready to compete in their third consecutive World Cup semi-final. They are not just a necessary element for the event, but a vital part of India’s dominance in this particular World Cup.

Have there ever been hosts with such a strong advantage in advancing to the final stages of an International Cricket Council event? Or have they ever been faced with such intense pressure (answer: no)? This is when things become intriguing.

The headline in the Times of India on Tuesday reads “India Aims for a Flawless 11”. With nine victories already secured at this World Cup, it’s no surprise. However, it should be noted that they have yet to reach 10 wins.

In the preview of the semi-final teams, India’s weaknesses were listed as non-existent. Despite being a rational captain and familiar with the strengths of the Black Caps, Rohit Sharma made a small mistake in his press conference by stating that he would only focus on his team’s accomplishments “after November 19th”, which is the next obstacle after the current one.

New Zealand's Kane Williamson bats during a nets session.

There is a lot of strategic reasoning involved in preserving high levels of confidence. India has clearly been the top-performing team at this World Cup, with such commanding wins that the competition for India’s own fielder-of-the-match award has become a topic of national fascination.

This is a list of highly skilled cricket players, each with their specific roles and a bowling attack that is incredibly strong with no noticeable weaknesses. The Wankhede stadium is predicted to favor seamers on Wednesday. India has Mohammed Shami (16 wickets at an average of 9.56) and Jasprit Bumrah (17 wickets at an average of 15.64) as their fast bowlers, who have been performing exceptionally well with their combined 20 overs resulting in an average of 84 runs for the opposition team in this tournament.

In the last four one-day international matches, India has emerged as the victor against New Zealand. Two years ago, New Zealand was unable to score more than 62 runs in a Test match at the Wankhede stadium, thanks to India’s skilled spinners. While this may seem like a logical outcome in sports, it’s important to not overlook other factors.

How can one react to a situation filled with intense anticipation, such as the one where the team’s sponsors, Indusind Bank, wrote an open good-luck poem to the men “fighting in the sacred blue” on behalf of “1.43 billion hearts” this week, with the closing message: “Your biggest fans, All of India.” So, there’s no pressure at all.

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This, pressure, sums up India’s World Cup journey from this point on, as it was the focal point of Sharma’s pre-match interview at Wankhede. “There is always pressure. As an Indian cricketer, there is always pressure,” he nonchalantly replied to the expected inquiries. “When you step onto the field, you know there will be pressure – pressure to perform, pressure to win.”

New Zealand’s strongest advantage is their team’s unique approach, which seems to defy gravity. Just two hours before, Kane Williamson’s remarks exuded a sense of innocent enthusiasm, almost as if it were a calculated attack.

Was this considered the ultimate showdown after an intense group-stage match in Dharamsala? “Yeah, it was a fantastic game.” What are your thoughts on the impact of this World Cup? Could it revive the entire format? “Has the response been positive or negative? I’m not entirely sure.”

The strengths of New Zealand are unique to them. Both runs and wickets have been evenly distributed among the team. Despite suffering an injury, Williamson has seamlessly returned to the game without any setbacks. It is widely believed that winning the toss could be crucial, as there is speculation of a “golden hour” when the lights turn on at the beginning of the second innings.

Sharma downplayed the situation, as expected since he will be the one flipping the coin. However, Boult has a knack for swiftly moving the white ball, aiming for the stumps and players’ equipment in the dim lighting.

India’s middle-lower order, built to attack, might be a tender spot if the top can be lopped off. Beyond that, and given their power as a unit, there is a sense even at this stage that India are basically playing India here, for the benefit of India, and under the eyes of India.

Source: theguardian.com