Ahead of the toughest task at the cricket World Cup – heck, all of sports right now – New Zealand can go back four years for inspiration.

The semi-final of the 2019 World Cup might have been played at Manchester’s famous Old Trafford, but the crowd was firmly behind mighty India who were favored to edge past the plucky Black Caps.

India had powered into the semis after finishing top of the protracted group stages – a bloated format that was unwisely regurgitated for the current event. But after two days – you guessed it, rain was a bane in Manchester and a reserve day was needed to conclude the match – the rabid Indian fans were muted.

When MS Dhoni walked off in disbelief after being run out – in what turned out to be a grim final image of the legendary Indian player in international cricket – India’s chase was effectively over and New Zealand had once again punched above their weight.

New Zealand have beaten India three times at T20 World Cups – including in India in 2016 – and also in the final to win their only major white-ball event in 2000 in the old version of the Champions Trophy.

More recently, New Zealand again prevailed in what has been a one-sided rivalry when the stakes are raised when they won the inaugural World Test Championship final in England in 2021.

It almost defies logic that New Zealand, a rugby-mad nation of five million people, can consistently be a thorn to India – cricket’s undisputed powerhouse and home to a billion crazy fans.

But New Zealand face their biggest ever challenge against an irrepressible India, who have stormed through to the semis undefeated and are on the cusp of being the best ODI team in a generation.

They will be pitted in a cauldron at a capacity Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai with the local fans believing that a title-breaking triumph for India is all but assured. That’s not jingoism rearing although there have been unfortunate displays of overt patriotism in the terraces amid a country ruled by right-wing prime minister Narendra Modi.

It’s hard to blame the fans for their supreme confidence considering India have barely raised a sweat and are loaded in every department.

Conditions and the toss are thrown out the window because India can tailor their team accordingly like only a few teams have ever been able to in history. They showed their calmness in chasing against New Zealand earlier in the tournament by running down 274 with four wickets in hand. That was essentially India’s toughest test in the round robin stage although they never really ever seemed like losing.

Everything basically has to go right for opponents and even then they might not emerge victorious. It’s never looked so inevitable since Australia’s golden team clinched their third straight title in an unbeaten campaign in 2007. There is a similar predictability about this tournament.

It’s almost entirely forlorn for New Zealand except if they can summon the ghosts from yesteryear and somehow spook India, who have had a semi-final curse during their decade-long drought at major events.

The overwhelming pressure that is unapparelled in all of sports – given the sheer population and fanatical fandom – has seemingly suffocated this generation of Indian cricketers.

So far India have looked like they are relishing the bedlam and the fantacial support has lifted them to great heights. But India have yet to be truly tested and the format’s overbearing structure meant the stakes were relatively low given the lack of knockout matches in this tournament.

The question is whether New Zealand can make India and the fans feel jittery. You sense it’s entirely unlikely, but history suggests otherwise.

If New Zealand can achieve the unthinkable then it’s not just the biggest upset in recent cricket memory.

It surely goes down as the sporting performance of the year if not longer.

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