The road to the semi-finals

Looking at India, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia's journey

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This World Cup started sometime during the last century, so you may have forgotten how we got here. India have - let me check my notes - not lost a game yet, and already have two titles while New Zealand lost a load and is trying to work out if they are here because it is a semi-final or because they have a chance at finally winning a World Cup.

India’s road to the semi-final (SAK)

1. Australia - India started off well with the ball, as Jasprit Bumrah snapped Mitch Marsh to get India’s campaign going. The spin trio of Jadeja, Kuldeep and Ashwin got the job done in the middle overs. They kept taking wickets and did not allow Australia to get away at any point in the first innings. Australia set India a target of exactly 200.

They lost 3 wickets for basically nothing, but a crucial partnership between Virat Kohli and KL Rahul weathered the storm. The two complemented each other brilliantly and kept rotating the strike with the odd boundary, in what would eventually be a comfortable chase for the hosts.

2. Afghanistan - Afghanistan made the most runs by any team against India in this tournament, shoutout to the true greats. India still had them 63/3, but Shahidi and Omarzai stitched together a century partnership. Bumrah had figures of 4/39, the rest of the quicks went a bit. The spinners didn’t go for too many runs but they took just the one wicket.

Rohit Sharma meant that Afghanistan were never in the game during the second innings. He scored the then-fastest hundred by an Indian batter in World Cups. He kept attacking throughout his innings, and he played Rashid Khan magnificently. Ishan Kishan and Virat Kohli also chipped in as India won the game by a humongous margin.

3. Pakistan - For all the pressure talk, Pakistan started pretty well in this game. It took an all-round bowling performance of the highest quality from India to get Pakistan all-out for 191 when they were going pretty well at 155/2 in the 30th over with Babar and Rizwan at the crease. Each of the five bowlers (except Shardul, who wasn’t used much) chipped in with 2 wickets each. Bumrah even got the ball to reverse.

Once again, Rohit Sharma went hard up top. His innings meant that the game was basically over in the powerplay itself. Shreyas got some runs too. Once again, no real challenge for them.

4. Bangladesh - This game mattered because Hardik Pandya was injured. This was our first Virat Kohli impersonation of Chris Harris. The bigger question was what it would mean for them going forward. Bumrah was brilliant once again, Siraj took a couple of wickets, and the spinners took wickets and kept it to an under-par first-innings total on a flat wicket.

Yet another regulation chase for India. Rohit did his thing in the Powerplay, and Gill got his first World Cup fifty. The game even had more than enough time for Virat to chase his hundred.

5. New Zealand - So Hardik’s injury meant that him and Shardul were replaced by Surya and Shami. And Shami had an instant impact, bagging a five-for. He took wickets in all phases, and he didn’t allow the New Zealand batters to attack him at the back end. India took a couple of early wickets too, but Rachin made the most of his dropped chance by his name twin. Daryl Mitchell was spectacular, he was the first batter who really put Kuldeep under the pump. However, the spinner did come back well in the final 4 overs of his quota.

Sorry if this sounds like a copy-paste, but Rohit was a force at the top again. Virat almost made a ton. But India did lose wickets in this game, in fact, they lost the magic number six. It is fair to say that India were probably challenged the most by any team in this game at this World Cup. But Jadeja’s form came back and got them home.

6. England - Finally, India batted first in the tournament. But it wasn’t the ideal start. Woakes got Gill with an in-swinger, Kohli holed out to Stokes at mid-off of Willey, who bowled 8 consecutive dots to him before he tried to break free. And then Woakes also got Iyer with a back of the length delivery that Iyer tried to play across the line.

Rohit Sharma - yes again - demonstrated exceptional skill, batting in a completely different manner from the rest of the tournament. One of those knocks where he brings his one pitch. His partnership with KL Rahul was pretty handy. SKY also made some runs in ODIs, and they were pretty crucial in the context of a low-scoring encounter.

Jasprit Bumrah broke it open with the two wickets of Malan and Root. But Mohammad Shami really made Ben Stokes look like a club cricketer during his short stay in the middle. He also got Bairstow, as England lost 4 in the powerplay itself. Kuldeep bowled Buttler through the game with a ball that gripped to make it 52/5 in 15 overs.

7. Sri Lanka - Rohit Sharma finally failed, stop the presses. Virat Kohli and Shubman Gill batted really well at that classic ODI tempo and looked all set to get to their hundreds, but they couldn’t. Shreyas Iyer got some much-needed runs, and Jadeja hit a few at the death once again.

The Indian pace juggernaut was impeccable, yet again. They bowled outstanding lines and made us wonder if this is India's best bowling unit in their World Cup history. Sri Lanka succumbed to a sub-50 team score for the second consecutive time in the last couple of months.

8. South Africa - The fact that India did not shelf their attacking approach against the best wicket-taking side in the Powerplay was commendable. Rohit made them pay for the bad balls. Gill got a start, but Maharaj bowled a beauty to get rid of him. It was worth noting that Virat went slower than perhaps you would expect, but scoring an above-par total against a side which is not quite known for chasing might have been the aim.

Sadly South Africa did not come out to bat in their chase. This time Jadeja took wickets.

9. Netherlands - All you need to know about this game is that Virat and Rohit took wickets.

What we have learned about India, their batting is capable of scoring fast, above-average scores. They have a week number eight, but they don’t lose enough wickets for that to be an issue yet. And their bowling is better. Their biggest chance of losing outside of a freak performance or heavily weighted toss is a team who can someone take their wickets or one of their bowlers rolling their ankle.

New Zealand’s road to the semi-final (SAK)

1. England - New Zealand went into the World Cup opener with just 3 front-line bowlers, and really two batters. and I thought that was pretty funky. New Zealand still took wickets, but England’s tail wagged and took them to a decent total. Boult bowled knuckleballs, Henry took wickets, and Santner kept things tight. But Glenn Phillips was the man with the golden arm.

Playing their first World Cup, Rachin Ravindra and Devon Conway made an absolute mockery of that target. They were absolutely incredible in all phases of the innings, as the English bowlers were massively off the mark. The fact that they chased it down at almost 8 runs per over was cray-cray.

2. Netherlands - New Zealand batted first. This time, their entire top 5 chipped in with valuable contributions. Rachin was impressive once again. Santner also scored quickly at the death, taking New Zealand to a 300+ score in the first innings.

Despite a fighting innings from Ackermann, New Zealand ensured that the Dutch were never in sync with the required run rate. Santner took a five-for.

3. Bangladesh - They started pretty well with the ball, reducing Bangladesh to 56/4 by the 13th over. But Shakib and Mushfiqur put on 96 runs, and then Mahmudullah also scored some crucial runs coming in at number 8. Lockie had a great game, a massive upgrade from how he was bowling in that cycle. Boult and Henry also took wickets, and Santner was impossible to score off in yet another game.

Chasing 246, Conway and Williamson set the tone on a slow Chepauk wicket after Rachin was dismissed early. Daryll Mitchell’s quick-fire 89 gave them a proper net run rate boost. But Williamson fractured his left thumb after Shanto attempted a runout at the bowler’s end.

4. Afghanistan - Will Young batted pretty well for his half-century, with some proper shots against spin. New Zealand were in a comfortable situation at 109/1, which became 110/4 in the next 9 balls. The onus was now on the lower-middle order to step up, and they did. Glenn Phillips and Tom Latham were brilliant - it was their first partnership of substance in ODI cricket. Mark Chapman scored some quick runs in the final overs too, giving a challenging target to Afghanistan.

Boult and Henry dismissed the openers in the first 6 overs, so Afghanistan were never able to put any pressure back in terms of the run rate. Lockie Ferguson bowled short and took middle overs wickets. Santner took wickets and went for no runs.

5. India - Despite the two early blows, Daryll Mitchell and Rachin Ravindra put together an outstanding display with the bat against a quality Indian outfit. They attacked Kuldeep Yadav, probably the first time a team was successful in doing so in the World Cup. But Shami bowled an outstanding spell in the back end of the innings, not allowing the set Mitchell to kick on, even though he played a brilliant knock.

The duo of Boult and Henry failed to take early wickets, as the Indian openers attacked their bowlers and disrupted their line and lengths. Santner bowled pretty well in those middle overs to the middle order. The pacers took wickets in the middle, but they went for plenty in a par chase. They posed a proper challenge because of the wickets as India only batted till 7, but it wasn’t enough to get them across the line.

6. Australia - This game had the worst possible start they could have imagined. Travis Head (in his first game of the tournament) and David Warner came out all guns blazing. Guess who broke their opening stand of 175 runs? Glenn fucken Phillips, inevitable. But jokes aside, he was actually their best bowler in this match. He went at 3.7 runs per over in his full quota in a 380-par game, and also took three wickets including Head, Warner, and Smith.

Rachin Ravindra was the big story here, as he scored a 130 SR hundred to make the Kiwis believe. Conway came out with intent, Mitchell and Young probably went a bit too slow there. Neesham was also splendid, but even his 39-ball 58 was not enough to get across the line in this riveting, high-scoring encounter.

7. South Africa - This was probably the only game in the tournament where they were properly outplayed. Boult got Bavuma in the Powerplay, probably the only positive for them in this game for a long time. QDK and Rassie notched up hundreds for fun, and Miller scored a quick-fire 50 in the death overs. New Zealand just didn’t seem like a threat with the ball, either defensively or while searching for wickets.

Marco Jansen got Conway and Rachin at the top, so they were never really able to recover from it. Rabada and Coetzee took wickets in the middle, and Maharaj cleaned up the tail. All the South African bowlers did their jobs perfectly. Glenn Phillips scored a nice 50-ball 60 though.

They had three losses from three good teams. But the issue was they were in the India and Australia game, they were not against South Africa.

8. Pakistan -  Just a crazy arse game this. Rachin Ravindra scored his third hundred. Kane Williamson just missed out on one in his comeback, playing a much more attacking knock than he normally does. Mitchell, Chapman, Phillips, and Santner all played quick cameos in the final 15 over, ensuring that they crossed 400.

Pakistan won the game without even having to score 400, thank you rain. Of course, it took an all-time great innings in their World Cup history from Fakhar Zaman to keep them alive with the DLS equation. Southee was probably the only bowler who was a bit economical in this innings and he also took Abdullah’s wicket, but Fakhar went hard at the rest. Now, without rain, the predictors gave Pakistan an 18% chance, which is fair considering it is not that easy to sustain that level of hitting over a full game (even if it was just the Chinnaswamy).

New Zealand probably win this in a full game. Instead, they lost four on the trot, and their hold on the semi-spot slipped.

9. Sri Lanka - This was the sort of win you’d expect from New Zealand. Boult took early wickets even though Perera took Southee to the cleaners. Santner and Ferguson handled the middle overs, and Rachin also grabbed a couple. The batters finished easily.  But Sri Lanka’s best chance was always dependent on rain.

So what of New Zealand? If India and Australia are the best teams, didn’t New Zealand push them both a lot? But haven’t they also just beaten all the bad teams and lost to all the good ones (and Pakistan)?

What is New Zealand better at than India? Maybe the number eight position? India have more front-line bowling options, better seam, and way better spin. Better batting, more explosive and consistent. Clearly, New Zealand played well against India though. So it’s not like an upset couldn’t happen.

But, hell, it would be unlikely.

In semi-final number two we have South Africa chasing the title for the first time, and Australia with more titles in their bag than in-form players.

Let us check how they got here.

South Africa’s road to the semi-final (JK)

1. Sri Lanka - South Africa won the toss and batted first against Sri Lanka in the first game; Quinton de Kock made a hundred from 84 balls, and Rassie van der Dussen 108 from 110. Then Aiden Markram only went and broke the World Cup record. They made 428, and although their bowling did not start well, Gerald Coetzee took three wickets and they won by 102 runs even after some tail scoring.

2. Australia -  Next game Quinton de Kock added another hundred. But after him, South Africa didn’t really kick on the way they are designed, and in truth, ended up with 311, but could have made a lot more. None of this mattered at all as Australia fell to 70/6 on the back of all the bowlers, but especially Rabada. The tail did fight back a little, but they still won by over 100 runs.  They were two from two and flying. They looked like they could make a lot of runs and take wickets.

3. Netherlands -  And the next game, the same thing kept happening. They had the Dutch 50/4, and then 140/7. Most win predictors would have had around 90% chance to win from here, and most fans, maybe higher. But the Netherlands lower order kicked back, and they ended up with 245 from their 43 overs due to the rain. It should not have been a tough chase. It was a very tough chase. South Africa lost wickets all the way through, their biggest partnership 45, and the only reason it looked like a closish game was because Keshav Maharaj and Lungi Ndgidi put on 41 for the last wicket, but South Africa were gone by then.

At this point, we had seen South Africa bat first and look like golden gods floating on a cloud of their own awesomeness. And we had seen them bat second look like they didn’t realise cricket could be this hard.

4. England - In the England game they were batting first, and they destroyed England in the death. Just awesome play from Klaasen, but also Marco Jansen, who was a potential weakness coming in. Then he took the new ball and added a couple more wickets as England barely put up a fight. But again the tail got the best of them.

5. Bangladesh -  Quinton de Kock destroyed Bangladesh with some handy cameos as well, and then Jansen took early wickets to secure that one.

6. Pakistan -  It is important to remember that this is a win because it is about to not sound like one. Pakistan’s top torrid was hit by Jansen, and then Tabraiz Shamsi, who had been used less than people thought coming into the tournament, took four to ensure that there was no 300 chase needed. But all the Pakistani batters got starts, and really, they should have batted their overs out and made 300 at least.

Now South Africa was chasing against the least effective new ball team, and they were 34 without loss after three and a half overs. But all those hundreds, all that form, seemed to disappear from here. Outside of Aiden Markram, the team chased like actually getting to the total would poison them. Yet they were still 200/4 with Miller and Markram set, only 70 runs needed and 17 overs left. Somehow they would win the game none wickets down with a last wicket stand of more than ten. The Netherlands’ loss was not a blip.

7. New Zealand - Up next was New Zealand, who had been flying. Quinton de Kock made another hundred, Rassie followed up, and they ended with 357. Those two batting displays back to back could not be more stark, even if Matt Henry’s injury assisted it. New Zealand never got started as Jansen, again, belied his pre-tournament form to take early wickets. This was not even a game.

8. India -  Having safely moved past one challenge, they had another against India. But South Africa had to bowl first, India made a composed 326, almost batting like a side that just needed enough and not to push it. Hansen not taking early wickets really mattered here, and he would go at 9.7 runs an over. But Maharaj was outstanding, going for 30 runs in his ten. None of that mattered because South Africa couldn’t make it to a hundred. This was different to the Netherlands and Pakistan chases though. At least in part because South Africa did not actually try to chase from what I can tell.

9. Afghanistan -  Buckle up, Afghanistan batted first against them. They only had Omarzai who could pass 30, but he managed to get them to a total of 244. Again, not finishing off the tail was an issue. It was nowhere near par, but a score that needed to be chased.

South Africa scored virtually a quarter of the runs needed without losing a wicket inside ten overs. They then lost five wickets and needed their number seven sub, Andile Phehukwayo, to play a fantast innings with Rassie providing the anchor to win it. For many teams, a sixth-wicket partnership of 65 to win a game with two overs and change would be good news. But it was not a good chase, even if it ended with a decent partnership.

They are the Jekyll and Hyde of World Cups. bat first, and try and catch. Bat second, and watch them step on rakes. They struggle with the tail, and teams will still want to see Jansen in under pressure. Plus their captain is out of form and injured.

Australia’s road to the semi-final (JK)

1. India -  It is weird to think that Australia might have been able to steal the first game against India, despite not making any runs. But at worst, they actually gave India a decent shake. That said, it was with no runs so Australia can’t take many positives out of this.

2. South Africa - Australia start by dropping Alex Carey, which is a bold weird choice. This was a weird one, because South Africa made 300, but Australia fought back pretty well to restrict them. But the top order did not work, and the middle was worse. Marnus made a slow 46 as Australia lost by over 100 runs. Despite the fact Australia had played two good teams, and shown glimpses of good cricket, it looked like they were going to do what England did.

3. Sri Lanka - At 125 in the 22nd over without losing a wicket, Australia were basically packing for the trip home. I mean not really, cause they had one million games left. But you get the point. At this point, they had two bowlers doing ok, no batting, and were playing terrible defensive cricket. Somehow from there, it all comes together. Cummins and Starc take wickets, Zampa takes more, and Sri Lanka only make 209 runs. In the chase, they lose early ones, but Inglis, Labuschagne, Maxwell and  Stoinis get it done.

4. Pakistan - The Pakistan match could have been tricky, but Warner and Marsh made an awful amount of funs up top, and even though Australia only had two players make more than 21, they still scored 367 runs. But it felt a bit odd. Australia would end up winning easily, but again it felt a little odd. Stoinis had to dismiss the openers, and Zampa picked up four more wickets to keep Pakistan’s middle order from any big partnerships.

5. Netherlands - The Netherlands game was a weird innings, until Maxwell came in to make 106 from 44 balls and get them up to 399. Zamap continued to take wickets as the Dutch fell apart in the chase.

6. New Zealand -  Travis Head comes back for the New Zealand match and smashes a hundred. Again Australia make most of their runs at the top, and get a bit lost in the middle. But Maxwell, Inglis and Cummins get them to 388 with good scoring at the end. Another big score, but the more you start to look at how they score, the weirder they are as a team. The seamers get hammered, and so does Zampa, but he takes wickets. And it is them taking wickets that eventually gets them just over the line. At this point, Australia’s best bowlers are Zampa, Maxwell and Hazlewood, maybe in that order. And they make runs from their openers.

7. England - Australia bat first against England in what is the battle of the two teams who are battling for the fourth spot in the semis. Australia’s innings is a mess, with no runs from the top. Labuschagne does well, but it is Green and Stoinis who look like hitting England out of the game, and when they fall, it is Adam Zampa who actually carries them to the last over and ends with 29 from 19 balls. It shouldn’t have been enough, but when Cummins gets Malan things change. Worth saying by this stage Austral had started to really lean on the short ball, basically because Cummins and Starc couldn’t do anything else, plus Maxwell was out due to falling off a golf cart, so Stoinis was bowling short a lot. But they were still being carried by Adam Zampa’s crazy arse wicket-taking, and in this match, he takes 3/21 from ten as England fall apart.

8. Afghanistan - The final two games look easy on the schedule, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. But Ibrahim Zadram carries his team on his own, until some Rashid hitting, and they end with 291. Which is a little under par, but a decent total. The idea is that they will choke Australia with spin. Instead, they got smashed by the quicks, and then the spinners had fun too, so Australia were 91/7, and then the whole Maxwell thing. Again, Australia win, but it’s still messy.

9. Bangladesh - After slipping up against Afghanistan, Bangladesh makes over 300 as well. Now, Australia were not at full strength with their bowling. And by that, I mean Maxwell was not playing. But also Starc. Now Mitch Marsh played so well that it didn’t matter. Yet here we are again.

Australia have won seven in a row, but at no stage have they put in a full game or looked like they have more than five players in form simultaneously.

Neither of these teams look whole. Both have moments of rare awesome, but if you look at them too long you can see the masking tape holding them together.

I would not feel comfortable with either of these teams chasing. I think South Africa is batting first, but Australia can chase better. But one team is looking for number six, and the other for number one. Australia has dual World Cup winners in this team, South Africa have the magnificent Marco at number seven.

Pick your fighter.