England hope in-form batsman Joe Root and ‘home’ advantage can make the difference when they take on undefeated New Zealand in the first World T20 semi-final on Wednesday.
Eoin Morgan’s team will be playing their third match in a row in New Delhi, but for the nomadic Black Caps it will be their fifth different venue in five tournament matches.
“We have become quite settled in Delhi,” Morgan said at a pre-match press conference on Tuesday. “We have got fantastic support, a fantastic following and we have grown used to the pitch a lot more than probably the first game that we were here.”
Despite having to adapt to so many different surfaces, New Zealand’s formidable spin attack has so far thrived in Indian conditions.
The Kiwis have won the toss, batted first and used their spin bowlers to great effect to defend totals in all four of their group matches.
But Root has also shown his class on different pitches in the tournament, enhancing his reputation as one of the game’s best acts. “Root is a class player and he is one of the best around in all three formats of the game at the moment,” all-rounder Ben Stokes said of his 25-year-old teammate.
Of all the players that will be in action during the semi-finals, only India’s Virat Kohli has scored more runs than Root’s 168, which included a match-winning 83 against South Africa.
His knock against the Proteas fired England to a successful record chase of 230 and got their bid for a second World T20 title back on track after an opening-match defeat to the West Indies.
The 2010 champions then squeaked past minnows Afghanistan and defending champions Sri Lanka to finish second in Group 1 on six points behind the West Indies.
England were reduced to 85-7 against Afghanistan before eventually winning by 15 runs and then Angelo Mathews’ valiant 73 saw England nearly come unstuck in a nervous 10-run triumph over Sri Lanka.
Morgan said he expected another ‘tough game of cricket’ but that the earlier matches had shown his team would not buckle under pressure. “I think it shows the amount of character that we have within the group,” he said.
Morgan said that while he felt excited, he did not feel as if he was on the verge of the final. “We are not getting too far ahead of ourselves as we have got a really tough game against a strong New Zealand side,” he said. “They’ve probably played the best cricket so far in the group stages and we’re going to have to come up with a very strong game of cricket tomorrow to beat New Zealand.”
New Zealand, who were unfancied coming into the tournament following the retirement of former captain Brendon McCullum, have yet to put a foot wrong on their travels since stunning favourites India in their first game.
Captain Kane Williamson has deployed his spinners to supreme effect as the Kiwis became the only side to progress unbeaten from the Super 10 stage, despite a schedule that took them to Nagpur, Dharamsala, Mohali and Kolkata.
“We have done a lot of travelling but the boys have been great and have embraced the schedule and the pitches,” said the 25-year-old Williamson.
Spinners Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi have shared 17 wickets as their two most experienced pacemen — Tim Southee and Trent Boult — warm the substitutes’ bench.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 30th, 2016.
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