England face battle of wits against smart New Zealand
March 30, 2016
Start time 1900 local (1330 GMT)
Where other teams have looked upon surfaces and made vague guesses at how they might play, New Zealand have read pitches like a soothsayer would tea leaves. Empowered by this clairvoyance they have picked boldly: three spinners to embarrass the hosts in turning Nagpur, Mitchell McClenaghan to rattle Australia in Dharamsala, Adam Milne proving handy in relatively quicker Mohali, before the trio of spinners were reunited for slow-and-low Kolkata.
New Zealand had not played in Asia since late 2014, but they are here at the semi-finals now; the only undefeated side. They have not just been clever with the ball. Batting first in each group match, competitive scores have been worked out and achieved. Kane Williamson has been described by team-mates as a "great captain". Behind the scenes, Mike Hesson's wit has sharpened New Zealand.
England, meanwhile, have been tempered in three scrapes, since losing their first match to West Indies. The chase of 230 against South Africa was a triumph of the batsmen's making. Then the bowlers held their nerve as Afghanistan made a late charge at England's low total at the Feroz Shah Kotla. Finally, just as Sri Lanka appeared to be stealing away the must-win match, Joe Root completed an outstanding take at mid-off to turn the match his team's way. England haven't been pretty or dominant, but they have found ways to win. There is a spine to this campaign that hasn't always been the case with England's limited-overs teams.
They have also played two matches at the Kotla already, and have a batting order that goes deeper than a Barry White "oh yeah". England only lost four wickets in the victory against Sri Lanka, but the men at the top of the order appear to be more likely to take risks while so many hitters sit in the dugout. Their bowling appears to be the weaker discipline. But then, New Zealand don't have daunting batting form coming into this game either - Martin Guptill has struck their only fifty in the tournament - and they have not yet been tested chasing.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand WWWWW
In the spotlight
With New Zealand sure to shake up their XI, and their strategy to suit the tournament, Eoin Morgan has the job of driving his side to adapt to the opposition's adaptations. What if New Zealand have decided 140 is a good total and are pushing the singles to get themselves there? Does Morgan bring in the field, and hope to force a mistake? And does he shake up his own top order to spoil New Zealand's bowling plans? Also, as the most experienced man in that middle order, Morgan must also assess the pitch himself if England are batting first. His form has been moderate through the tournament, having produced two duds, as well as two decent finishes.
Mitchell Santner has a front arm like a T-Rex when he bowls, but in this tournament he has also been taking tyrannosaurus-sized bites out of the opposition top order with his left-arm spin. Of players who have only bowled in the Super 10s, he has the equal highest-wickets (nine), as well as an economy rate of 5.73. He might have floated into the tournament a little incognito, but he can be assured now that England will have spent time analysing videos of his bowling and working out a plan to him. Will he be able to adapt to England adapting to his own excellent adaptations to Indian surfaces?
England may think about switching one of their spinners for a seamer, but will likely abandon the thought. The XI that defeated Sri Lanka is likely to take the field again.
England (probable) 1 Jason Roy, 2 Alex Hales, 3 Joe Root, 4 Jos Buttler (wk), 5 Eoin Morgan (capt), 6 Ben Stokes, 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Adil Rashid, 9 Chris Jordan, 10 David Willey, 11 Liam Plunkett.
Almost no one would have expected New Zealand to leave both Trent Boult and Tim Southee out for the entire group stage, yet it has seemed, at times, that the only way they would get a game is if the Delhi matches were moved to Wellington or Christchurch. Hesson and Williamson were seen taking a close look at the Kotla surface on the eve of the match, and as the pitch has not been particularly conducive to seam bowling, they may be out of the XI again.
New Zealand (probable) 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Kane Williamson (capt), 3 Colin Munro, 4 Corey Anderson, 5 Ross Taylor, 6 Grant Elliott, 7 Luke Ronchi (wk), 8 Mitchell Santner, 9 Adam Milne, 10 Ish Sodhi, 11 Mitchell McClenaghan
Pitch and conditions
The pitch prepared for this match appears to have a little grass, but given the venue's history that does not mean it will be quick, nor does it suggest the ball will seam around. The two previous games on this square have been played on slowish surfaces, but these have not offered much turn. The weather is not expected to impede play. Temperatures are forecast to hover around the 30 degrees Celsius mark.
Stats and trivia
- New Zealand have won 10 of their 13 T20 matches in the past year.
- England had beaten New Zealand in six consecutive T20Is between February 2008 and February 2013.
- Root is the second-highest run-scorer of batsmen who have only played the Super 10s stage of the tournament, with 168 runs at a strike rate of 150.
- New Zealand and England have each been to the World T20 semi-finals on one previous occasion - New Zealand in 2007, and England in 2010. England went on to win the 2010 tournament, while New Zealand were defeated by Pakistan in their semi-final.
"I can't quite believe how far we've come overall in our white-ball cricket. The guys that we've selected have done outstandingly well and shown a great amount of attitude in learning. It's not always easy to come up against very strong sides who knock you back on a day-to-day basis, but every question that's been asked of us we've come back with either a counter-answer or a more aggressive option."
England captain Eoin Morgan is in mild disbelief as to how well his team has clambered over tournament obstacles
"In terms of Mike Hesson's and my perspective, we will pick horses for courses against the opposition. That philosophy won't change."
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson prepares to gaze into the tea leaves again
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando