Mike Hesson: The crowd can fuel New Zealand rather than hurt them

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Mike Hesson says India has been through the tournament unbeaten and is in fine form -- so many match-winners against a team, who just keeps fronting up

Mike Hesson is undoubtedly knowledgeable about India and Indian cricket and In his opinion, the World Cup semifinal between India and New Zealand on Wednesday would be a match between David and Goliath, but the Kiwis would have chosen to play their mighty opponent at the Wankhede in Mumbai.

Mike Hesson is undoubtedly knowledgeable about India and Indian cricket. He is also, understandably, a specialist on the New Zealand squad, having a thorough awareness of both teams. 

In his opinion, the World Cup semifinal between India and New Zealand on Wednesday would be a match between David and Goliath, but the Kiwis would have chosen to play their mighty opponent at the Wankhede in Mumbai.

“I guess it’s a little bit of the David and Goliath scenario. Isn’t it? India has been through the tournament unbeaten and is in fine form — so many match-winners against a team, who just keeps fronting up,”

Hesson, who has experience coaching IPL teams for five years, thinks.

“The Wankhede is a good ground for New Zealand. If you’re going to play India at any ground, Mumbai is not a bad one. I think our bowling attack will get some bounce there. So therefore if we get a bounce, we’ve got to take early wickets.

“New Zealand’s had some success there (at the Wankhede). I remember an ODI not so long ago chasing after being in trouble there (in 2017, they beat India by six wickets chasing 281). I think Tom Latham got 100 (103 not out), so he’ll have fond memories of the venue and he’s probably one of that top order who probably hasn’t been in vintage touch. The rest of the top four have been flying. Glenn Phillips has done pretty well and I think if Latham can tackle the spin at the Wankhede, which he’s done in the past, that’ll be hugely influential.”

Additionally, Hesson believes that Mumbai is one of the few places where toss will not have a significant impact, which may benefit the New Zealanders. 

“I don’t think the toss is as important as potentially some other grounds, which is great. Heading into a semifinal, you don’t want the toss to have such a big say in the outcome. I don’t think New Zealand will have any issues batting first if they had to, whereas in some other grounds where it just gets so wet and the dew comes in, it can be too challenging. New Zealand will also swing the ball under lights if they bowl second, you know. I think it’s an even battle regardless of the toss, which is a good thing.”

Hesson admits the Kiwis are underdogs but won’t be pushovers.

“To make five semifinals in a row for a country of the size of New Zealand in some foreign countries is a phenomenal achievement. So they are no doubt the underdogs, but they have enough talent in that squad to certainly challenge India, that’s for sure.”

Hesson worked with many Indian players while managing the Punjab Kings and Royal Challengers Bangalore IPL teams. He believes that India’s new ball attack will be crucial to the game’s result. 

“The new ball or the seam attack of India has been exceptional in this World Cup. I mean, obviously Mohamed Shami has been added to that and he’s provided that extra dimension in the power play. But Jasprit Bumrah is back to his best.

“Mohammed Siraj has had an amazing 18 months. So I think the new ball attack against New Zealand’s top order will set the tone. And if New Zealand can blunt that and score, they’re probably our best players to spin as well.

“You add Latham to that. I think the way New Zealand can tackle India’s spin through the middle, it’s a lot easier if they can do that. That is if they can blunt that new ball attack. If they don’t, the middle order gets exposed to the likes of Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav and you know that’ll be a tough ask.”

He shares his thoughts regarding the bowling of New Zealand as well, but he also acknowledges that Rohit Sharma has been outstanding at the top of the order. 

“I think that’s an interesting challenge from a bowling point of view. We all know bowling against Rohit is going to be an interesting challenge. Rohit’s experience in big games is important. If Trent’s Boult can make some inroads, then it will be great. It will be interesting. Virat Kohli has been in incredible form and Mitchell Santner against Virat will be an interesting match-up too.”

Hesson says that although India defeated New Zealand in their league match in Dharamsala (by four wickets with 12 balls left and chasing 273), the result will not significantly affect the game on Wednesday. 

“Look, I think New Zealand always felt they were probably one wicket away from running through India. It was relatively close, albeit India was always ahead in the game, but they never really ran away with it. I think they’re probably one wicket away from New Zealand being able to open an end. I guess the one thing with India is from eight down, they’re relatively brittle. It’s just the top seven that are incredibly good. That’s why the importance of taking top-order wickets is crucial. And if you can do that, then you can potentially create a little bit of indecision when you’re trying to protect that lower order.”

However, Hesson acknowledges that India is the favorite even if New Zealand has a strong record against India in World Cups—the most recent instance being the semifinal in Manchester in 2019. 

“Look, I don’t think there’s any doubt that India deservedly is the red-hot favorites, but I don’t think they’ll want to play New Zealand based on the record at previous big events. The reality is you’ve got to beat everybody. But New Zealand certainly has performed very well against India in recent World Cups and it doesn’t probably count but for a little bit of bragging rights.

“But I just think it’s not going to be as easy a match as some would potentially think. And that’s just because New Zealand tends to rise to the occasion. I think India has got so many match winners, but there’s a lot of expectation on India. If New Zealand can cause any form of self-doubt during the game, then that will create an opportunity. But it’s going to be easier said than done.”

Trent Boult has not been in great form but Hesson thinks that is not a big concern. 

“He hasn’t had too many wickets (13 from nine games) and he probably hasn’t swung the ball. I mean, the ball hasn’t swung as often because New Zealand bowled first. We know generally when you bowl first at this time of year; the ball is not swinging a huge amount. The other day it was a slightly fresher wicket at Bangalore (in NZ-SL game), obviously a bit of rain around, so he got the ball to shape and once he gets the ball to swing, he’s a completely different bowler. So I would think the ball will swing at the Wankhede.

“That probably is the same about Tim Southee as well. The fact that Matt Henry was missing is a huge loss, but to have the ability to bring in Southee is a luxury. So you got two swing bowlers. If the ball swings, New Zealand will be in the game with the new ball. If it doesn’t, then it’ll be tough for Trent and it’ll be tough for Tim.”

Although everyone has praised Rohit’s captaincy and his play during the World Cup, Hesson believes that captaincy won’t matter much in a one-off game like the semifinal. 

“Rohit is in great form with the bat and that certainly helps your leadership, particularly well when you’re playing well and you’re dominating games, isn’t it? It’s pretty easy to captain a side when you’ve got everything humming and you have so many strengths. As I said, you got five incredibly good bowlers. All the variety is great. Your top seven with the bat are all match-winners. You know, in many ways your captaincy is easy. Rohit is a very good captain and so is Kane (Williamson). So I think that the battle between the two will be interesting. But I don’t necessarily think captaincy in a one-off game will have a huge impact. I think it’s more the talent and who’s going to stand up from a skill perspective.”

Rachin Ravindra, in Hesson’s opinion, has stunned everyone with his performance, and people in New Zealand aren’t likely to be upset. He believes the batsman with Indian origin has been a major asset to the team. 

“With Rachin there, who got runs against India in the last game, he’s confident and he’s a bit of a bonus (for us) — probably a surprise package. No one on the New Zealand side anticipated Rachin to be that good. He’s a bit of an X-Factor that I think New Zealand will rely on.

With a majority of the crowd backing India, Kiwis need to brace themselves for a hostile environment. 

“The crowd is going to be amazing, but that’s the case everywhere in India and if New Zealand can put India under pressure, then the crowd can fuel New Zealand rather than hurt them. The one thing that New Zealand has in their favor is that it thrives on these opportunities. You thrive on playing the top sides in their conditions and it will be a hostile environment from an opposition point of view.

“There’s enough experience in that group. They’ve all been around a bit so they won’t be overawed by that, some previous New Zealand teams might have got overawed. There’s enough experience. That leadership group is very strong, obviously led by Kane, Tom, and Tim.”