Knockout blows: On the cricket World Cup entering its business end 

India has so far played its part as the favourite in the cricket World Cup 

Updated - November 14, 2023 11:07 am IST

Published - November 14, 2023 12:15 am IST

The cricket World Cup finally enters its business end, having criss-crossed India since the first match involving England and New Zealand at Ahmedabad on October 5. In their backyard, Rohit Sharma’s men have exuded a dominant aura, brushing aside opposition units, be it the fancied ones or the emerging outfits. Nine wins on the trot is a remarkable achievement. The Men in Blue have batted with elan, and bowled with zest; they rode smooth in all their contests to top the league phase with 18 points. Having won the World Cup in 1983 and 2011, India is eyeing a third tryst with glory. New Zealand is the hurdle in the semifinal at Mumbai on Wednesday. During the 2019 edition in England, India wilted against New Zealand in the semifinal. However, this time around, having defeated their doughty rivals at Dharamshala in the league stage, Indian cricketers believe that they can get past Kane Williamson’s men. New Zealand qualified from a mid-table clutter involving Pakistan and Afghanistan, and has a new-generation star in prolific batter Rachin Ravindra. Always a team in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, New Zealand can be a tricky opposition and India, despite its current form, is aware of the knockout stage pitfalls. In the 2015 edition too, India lost in the semifinal.

Currently, Rohit’s men are in such ominous form that even the absence of injured all-rounder Hardik Pandya has not affected their plans. Rohit, Virat Kohli, Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer and K.L. Rahul have prospered, while the bowling, helmed by Jasprit Bumrah, has run through startled opposition ranks. India, though, is yet to win an ICC title since the last triumph at the Champions Trophy in 2013. A 10-year drought needs to be addressed and there could be a shot at redemption when the dust settles at Ahmedabad’s Narendra Modi Stadium after the final on November 19. South Africa and Australia, the other semifinalists, at different points have displayed form and fragility. Powered by Glenn Maxwell’s unbeaten 201 against Afghanistan, Australia has the x-factor while South Africa has depth even if skipper Temba Bavuma’s runs have dried up. That defending champion England and past powerhouses like Pakistan and Sri Lanka have crashed, is a pointer to the flux within cricket. Even as the host flourished, the most heartening story of this World Cup is the growth revealed by a pugnacious Afghanistan and to some extent, the Netherlands. To widen its footprints, the willow game needs these teams to evolve.

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