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Perfect record leaves India as favourites over New Zealand in Cricket World Cup semifinal

MUMBAI, INDIA (AP) – After winning nine straight games to finish atop the standings, India faces fourth-place New Zealand at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium today in the first Cricket World Cup semifinal.

Based on the host team’s perfect record going into the semifinal, and the parochial home crowd, New Zealand will have to rise above expectations to advance to Sunday’s final against either Australia or South Africa.

As the historic stadium gets ready to host the match, the tournament’s promotional tag line comes in to play. “It takes one day” – the slogan has been everywhere since the World Cup went into a marketing overdrive a few months ago – in television and digital promotions, on merchandise and memorabilia, and at the tournament venues. At the Wankhede, it is hard to miss the same banners adorned everywhere.

In pursuit of its third title, India set the benchmark – it easily beat Australia and Pakistan, then trounced England and South Africa. Perhaps its biggest challenge came from New Zealand at Dharamsala, but Virat Kohli’s 95 helped navigate past it.

India changed its combination when allrounder Hardik Pandya was ruled out with an ankle injury, and it ploughed on unbeaten. This was achieved through dominant performances with both bat and ball and playing in nine venues. Kohli leads the run charts with 594 runs in nine games. Skipper Rohit Sharma is fourth with 503 runs – his strike-rate is the highest for any opener who has featured in all nine games. Four of India’s six primary batters have posted hundreds in the tournament.

India’s Jasprit Bumrah is fifth in tournament bowling with 17 wickets. Mohammed Shami has blitzed his way through batting lineups to pick up 16 wickets at a remarkable average of 9.56 in just five games. Ravindra Jadeja is just outside the top 10 with 15.

New Zealand has the onerous task of facing the rampant home team in the playoffs. The New Zealanders opened with four consecutive wins before a loss to India at altitude sparked a run of four losses. They stopped that slide to win against Sri Lanka and qualify for a fifth successive World Cup semifinal.

Virat Kohli celebrates with teammate KL Rahul. PHOTO: AP