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The Black Caps are playing with a fearless attitude, making India cautious of their capabilities. This observation comes from Mark Ramprakash.


Each team had their eyes set on making it to the semi-finals. However, none of them wanted to be the one facing New Zealand in the upcoming match against India in Mumbai on Wednesday. It was the game that no one wanted to play – taking on India at home, with all their batters in top form and an exceptional bowling lineup with no weak spots. But if one had to choose a team to tackle this daunting challenge, New Zealand could be a potential contender.

During my games against them, I often admired their perspective: despite being viewed as underdogs, they utilized their resources to the fullest and played with a fearless attitude, as if they had nothing to lose and everything to gain. On the other hand, England was always predicted to emerge victorious, adding pressure to our representation of the country and the high expectations placed on us as individuals and as a team, which could be overwhelming at times.

In 1988, I participated in the NatWest Trophy final for Middlesex against Worcestershire. At the time, I was 18 years old and it was my first time playing in this competition. Mike Gatting informed me that I would be on the team just 10 minutes before the toss, and I had a sense of blissful innocence. I was not fully aware of what was to come and did not grasp the significance of the event – I was a young player among experienced professionals who were expected to carry the weight of the game. I simply thought to myself: “I will give it my best shot” – and ended up scoring a half-century as we emerged victorious. In the following years, I often wished I could replicate that carefree attitude, which I occasionally see among the New Zealand team.

In 2015 and 2019, they came in second place at the World Cup. They have a strong understanding of the significance of this event. However, New Zealand is known for excelling when they play for a larger purpose. I have read Legacy, a book about the All Blacks rugby team, and they discuss the idea of being temporary caretakers of their team shirt. This mindset relieves the pressure on the individual player.

In the book The Confidence Gap, the author emphasizes the significance of clearly defining your values. This understanding not only guides your actions but also boosts your confidence as an individual. I believe that the New Zealand team excels in this aspect. While their players possess exceptional skills, as any successful team should, their approach is also admirable. As the saying goes, a pessimist sees challenges in every opportunity while an optimist sees opportunities in every challenge – this perfectly describes the mentality of the New Zealand team.

However, there is also a persistent belief that being a nice person does not always lead to success. This may explain why they have come close to winning twice before but have not been able to cross the finish line. On Wednesday, their strategies will face their toughest challenge yet at the Wankhede, which is known for its intense atmosphere. Eden Gardens in Kolkata, where Australia will face South Africa on Thursday, is a large and impressive stadium, with stands that gently slope upwards. In contrast, the stands at the Wankhede seem to shoot straight up into the air. It reminds me of Upton Park, the former home of West Ham United, where the fans feel very close to the players and the noise echoes throughout the stadium. While New Zealand has a seasoned team, it can be incredibly difficult to stay focused when the game seems to be slipping away and the deafening noise of the crowd surrounds you.

The memories of 2019 will be cherished, just like this year, when India topped the group and New Zealand came in fourth. However, the semi-final victory at Old Trafford will give them confidence as they face a one-off game. Despite India’s nine wins in the tournament, they will view them as irrelevant now. It is worth noting that in this tournament, the team batting first has emerged victorious in all matches except for one. This exception was when Australia, chasing 292 against Afghanistan, were struggling at 91 for seven before being saved by Glenn Maxwell’s remarkable double century. Therefore, winning the toss will be crucial at the Wankhede Stadium.

New Zealand’s Matt Henry celebrates a wicket during their semi-final win over India in 2019.

I believe that in order for New Zealand to win, they must win the coin toss, score a competitive amount of runs, and take early wickets during the powerplay with the help of players like Trent Boult and Tim Southee. Boult has experience playing for Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League, giving him knowledge of the conditions. Taking early wickets will be crucial in quieting the crowd and putting pressure on India, something they have not faced in this tournament.

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In previous tournaments, Australia was usually considered the clear favorite to advance to the semi-final. However, I believe that South Africa has a strong team that has the potential to achieve something exceptional in this tournament. They have a well-balanced combination of traditional stroke players, powerful hitters like Heinrich Klaasen and David Miller, pace bowlers, and two skilled spinners in Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi. If they are bold enough to include both spinners in their lineup, it could give them an advantage on the typically slow wickets. In their earlier match against Australia in the group stage, they dominated with a textbook one-day international performance, scoring a big total and putting pressure on with their bowling. Although Australia has improved since then, this will likely be the strategy they aim to replicate.

One strategy could be utilizing Australia’s fifth bowler. Adam Zampa, the current leading wicket-taker at the World Cup, is well-known for his skills along with the highly regarded trio of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, and Josh Hazlewood. However, the team must also rely on 10 overs from players like Mitchell Marsh, Marcus Stoinis, and Glenn Maxwell. South Africa must not underestimate this aspect. In particular, Maxwell has a strong track record against Quinton de Kock, having bowled 100 balls to him in international cricket, conceding only 63 runs and dismissing him five times. While I typically don’t focus on individual matchups, this history is hard to ignore.

The semi-finals can be a wake-up call for certain teams, as they may realize that despite their previous success, one mistake on this day could end it all. It can be difficult to bounce back from this thought process. The true talent in knockout sports is being able to remind yourself that the past is irrelevant and there is a chance to seize the opportunity. Ultimately, it is all about the mindset.

Source: theguardian.com