New Zealand's prospects hinge on in-form bowlers
New Zealand's hopes of upsetting India's World Cup campaign will hinge on how quickly their medium-pace attack - especially new-ball bowlers Tim Southee and Trent Boult - adjust to unfamiliar conditions at the Kinrara Oval in Kuala Lumpur. The semi-final will be New Zealand's first game at the venue, having played all their group matches in Johor and the quarter-final at the Royal Selangor Club in Kuala Lumpu
Southee is the leading contender for Man of the Tournament, with 13 wickets, while left-arm medium-pacer Boult has ten including the best figures of the competition, 7 for 20 against Malaysia. Dav Whatmore, India's coach, singled out the pace attack as New Zealand's strength. "We [India] have a sense of understanding why New Zealand have made the final four. It's because they have a strong medium-pace attack and their fielding. We've got a very good economy-rate as a group [bowling attack] but they are better than us. They consistently bowl better in terms of economy." None of New Zealand's regular bowlers have conceded more than four runs per over. Southee and Boult, who are both from Northern Districts, have gone for less than three.
However, New Zealand's games in Johor were on pitches that were damp early on and assisted the fast bowlers. Boult felt that the ball swung a lot more in the air in Malaysia while back home the assistance was primarily movement off the pitch. Southee agreed, and said that getting accustomed to the swing was the only major adjustment that the bowlers had to make.
"Obviously with the white ball and humidity here, it swings around more than it does in New Zealand," Southee told Cricinfo. "The wickets have generally been pretty good though the one yesterday [against Sri Lanka at Royal Selangor Club] was quite slow and quite low. It was quite uneven as well: I got the odd one to kick through but there were a few that kept low. I bowled the opening batter with one that crept under his bat. I think we had the better of the batting conditions yesterday and it got tougher to face the pace bowlers in the afternoon."
None of the New Zealand players, apart from Southee, have played under lights before and that could prompt them to bat first so that their batsmen don't have to face a run-chase for the first time under lights. If that is the case, Southee and Boult could avoid bowling in the searing heat and gain additional assistance with the white ball moving around in the evenings.
Dipak Patel, the New Zealand coach, said the team that handles the "mental pressures" of such a tense encounter better would emerge victors, while pointing out that for most players on both sides, the stakes have never been higher. Southee, however, has played on a larger stage - two Twenty20 internationals against England in front of packed houses in Auckland and Christchurch. He held his nerve and did well for himself - taking 1 for 38 and 2 for 22. How he, and Boult, fare against the Indian top-order could make or break it for New Zealand.
George Binoy is a staff writer at Cricinfo