At approximately 6 pm local time on Tuesday evening, the sun finally managed to poke its way through the clouds and shine on the hovercraft cover laid across the Old Trafford pitch. The momentary rays of sunshine led to the ground staff running on the ground, whipping off the covers and drying the ground with the super soaker. A pitch inspection was announced and it seemed like India’s path to World Cup final would be dictated by a T20 match scenario.
Had played resumed last night, India would have been chasing 148 in 20 overs. It would have been a slight injustice to have their fate decided by a truncated match, especially one that they had dominated for 46.1 overs. But just when the Duckworth Lewis target was about to be displayed on the giant screen, the rain returned, causing the match to resume on Wednesday.
So who holds the advantage? India will be irate by the fact that their momentum was halted and they need to start fresh again. New Zealand will be annoyed about the fact that Ross Taylor, unbeaten on 67, will have no time to acclimatise and get his eye in. Furthermore, Taylor and Co will need to confront a well-rested Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. It might only be 23 balls, but the break in proceedings is bound to hamper the flow to the Kiwis innings.
The pitch was covered for close to four hours on Tuesday afternoon and there will be a touch of moisture or sweating under the covers on Wednesday. However, the barren nature of the surface means it will play in a similar manner as Tuesday.
New Zealand have the benefit of knowing what lengths to bowl, what fields to set and what tactics to employ on the surface. They will be hoping the overnight moisture will cause the ball to swing, especially for Trent Boult. The Kiwis coaching staff along with the bowlers will have extra time to rejig their strategies by gathering various inputs from their batsmen that had been exposed to the Old Trafford surface. Plans that were derived pre-game could vary. The slowness of the pitch means fast bowlers will bowl a lot of cutters and slower balls. The Black Caps are the underdogs and they will know that the extra night is bound to add further pressure on the Indian batting unit.
India will know they are only one solid batting performance away from reaching the final on Sunday. They would have the benefit of knowing the target is likely to be around 230-240. After watching for the majority of the day, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli will know exactly what shots to execute on the surface that is on the slower side.
The pitch is not expected to change drastically and while it might slow down even further, the modest total is unlikely to cause any headaches for Indian batting unit. After all, India are a better unit than New Zealand in the 50-over format and the Men in Blue would have breathed a sigh of relief knowing the game would not be compressed into a T20 format.
There are some showers forecast in the early morning which could lead to the outfield still being slightly wet. If the Kiwis have to bowl with a wet ball anytime during the game on Wednesday, it only adds to the advantage India have at the moment.
Importantly, the likes of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and Dinesh Karthik are experienced campaigners. They have played the longer format of the game for over a decade and are aware of the mindset required to replicate a performance on consecutive days.
India can afford to be patient. Neither the pitch, nor the New Zealand’s total is going to give them nightmares. The surface will continue to turn, but at no stage will be spitting cobra or a seamer. Add to that, the Blacks Caps only have one frontline spinner at their disposal.
India are in a prime spot to reach the final. They have the upper hand and will be benefited from the overnight rest. New Zealand have the luxury of having runs on the board. They might have been outplayed on Tuesday, but they will get another shot at redemption. They have nothing to lose, and will be hoping all the nervous energy along with gloomy skies can lead the Indian batsmen into mistakes.
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