The ICC World Cup has entered its business end much after it commenced on May 30. Including the inaugural game that featured host England and South Africa at the Oval in London, 41 matches were played, while four contests became victims of the fickle English weather. In the lead-up to cricket’s premier championship, India, England and Australia were the favourites and the expectation was that one among New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka, would be the fourth contender. As the dust settles on the league phase, India, Australia, England and New Zealand qualified for the semifinals . Virat Kohli’s men topped the table with consistent performances. The solitary loss against England was more of a wake-up call than a serious setback to the path to the knockout phase. This Tuesday, India will take on New Zealand at Manchester’s Old Trafford and the second semifinal pits old foes Australia and England at Birmingham’s Edgbaston on Thursday. The Men in Blue have an edge but it would be prudent to remember that in the warm-up fixture at the Oval on May 25, New Zealand won by six wickets. Since then Kohli’s men have gained strength. India’s arsenal rides on the top-order, which has Rohit Sharma top-lining it with 647 runs and a mind-boggling five centuries, besides K.L. Rahul and skipper Kohli. The middle order, though, is under-cooked. Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant had their moments while M.S. Dhoni punctuated a series of dots with a hit to the fence.
The bowling, though, has its fangs thanks to a fast unit helmed by the incisive Jasprit Bumrah. That India masked its weaknesses and overcame the loss of players like Shikhar Dhawan and Vijay Shankar to injuries is evidence that the outfit has resilience. New Zealand, meanwhile, has always been an opponent where the sum is bigger than the parts. In Kane Williamson it has a supreme batsman and an astute leader, but the Black Caps tailed off with three losses and the slide has to be reversed if India is to be challenged. As for Australia, the defending champion leans on the opening combine of captain Aaron Finch and David Warner, Steve Smith, and the left-arm menace of speedster Mitchell Starc, who leads the attack with 26 scalps, while maverick Glenn Maxwell lends the X-factor. Finally, England gets a chance to show that it can excel in limited overs cricket; it is banking on the belligerence of men like Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy and Ben Stokes. It is an interesting mix at the last-four stage, and all that the eventual champion will need are two days of excellence. Anything could happen, as South Africa showed by defeating Australia in the last league encounter. But the force is with India and a final at Lord’s on July 14 beckons.