Australia vs India | Thursday 26 March | Sydney | 05:30
It’s more or less an open secret that these two sides despise one another. The second World Cup semi-final could well reach emotional boiling point as hosts Australia and one-day giants India clash for a shot at the final and further cricketing glory. The war of words will definitely have an impact in this fixture as sides attempt to rile with the other with choice sledges. With the cutthroat nature of both teams expected to shine through at the SCG and the sheer weight of Indian support negating home ground advantage, this will truly be a case of victory being decided by a steely nerve and impregnable focus.
To Win Match
The hosts cruised to six-wicket victory over Pakistan in their quarter-final, the margin of victory a poor indication of the competitive nature of the contest. The obvious talking point is Wahab Riaz’s superhuman spell that had the Australian batsmen all aquiver. Sledged when walking out to bat, Riaz delivered a fearsome display of short-pitched bowling that accounted for David Warner, Michael Clarke and almost Shane Watson. Had the catch to dismiss Watson been held, who knows the damage that Riaz could’ve inflicted? The wider implications of that spell must be considered. It was obviously not wise to rile the opposition paceman but Australia are prone to the verbal jab. It also highlighted a weakness against a roaring fast bowler with a wicked bouncer, one decidedly in the Mitchell Johnson mould. India most certainly will take inspiration from Riaz, but it’s a whole different kettle of fish to replicate his exploits.
A potentially dull and lifeless track at the SCG could prevent such an occurrence but a slow strip presents a double-edged sword. Australia will rely on their own pace battery to fire and would prefer a pitch akin to Adelaide to unsettle India’s strong batting department. There will be no wicket more prized than vocal Virat Kohli. An equally belligerent David Warner will be disappointed with his dismissal against Pakistan and will look to cut loose against the Indian seamers. Captain-to-be Steve Smith has been immense in stabilising the innings and innocuously accumulating runs. His is an unflappable personality that could have a big part to play in this match. Shane Watson is also in great form with the bat and after riding Riaz’s wave of aggression, set to breaking the back of the Australian chase. Glenn Maxwell is a potential match winner but his high-risk approach could be put to the test against a disciplined Indian attack. As witnessed in their match against New Zealand and in the quarter-final, Australia’s batting line-up can be rattled. It’s just a matter of the opposition taking opportunities as they present themselves and leaving nothing up to chance.
For India, one big question still remains. After losing just about everything in the months of World Cup preparation Down Under, what kind of reaction can they muster in the face of the psychological battering they received? Sure, India have been fantastic in the tournament and pundits have been floored by the turnaround. Clearly India were saving the best for last. But facing Australia is as much a battle of wits as it is a cricket match. A side must be mentally sound as well as executing their skills efficiently. In a knockout fixture, this increases two-fold. India are the undisputed kings of holding their nerve in pressure situations and have a side peppered with players who have won trophies for club and country. All of their know-how, experience and natural talent will need to come to fore in Sydney.
Indeed, captain MS Dhoni himself holds the key. He is without a doubt the best batsman to have in a high-pressure chase. He absorbs it all and counterattacks ferociously, knowing how to perfectly pace his own innings and well as lift those around him. Mentioned earlier, Virat Kohli and his intense nature will also be under the microscope. A weak area just outside off-stump has been identified and Kohli has battled to impose himself in the same manner since. He does, however, love to score runs against Australia and should he kick the nick-behind habit he’ll thrive here. Rohit Sharma is coming off of another big century and opening partner Shikhar Dhawan has shown good form throughout the tournament. Suresh Raina is dangerous in the middle-order but one feels that one of the Indian top four will need to score a hundred if they are to themselves a place in the final. The bowling attack has yet to complete their full fifty overs in this tournament and it has been India’s pace attack that has surprisingly done the damage. Umesh Yadav can certainly turn up the pace and could be India’s trump card.
The SCG has favoured spin over pace this summer, a fact that will trouble the Australian camp. It was a rather slow track that greeted the Aussies and Sri Lankans in a match the produced a whole host of runs. However, the same strip that was used for the South Africa vs Sri Lanka quarter-final will be utilised and that definitely provided a bit of assistance to the seamers. The weather is predicted to be sunny and dry.
VERDICT: Australia 4/10
It’s a daring punter who bets against the Australians in a World Cup, even in a match in which they will likely concede the lion’s share of support to India in Sydney. Both sides are well versed in the vagaries of tournament cricket but Australians seem to be born with nerves of steel. India have also not been vigorously tested in the tournament so far and are due a comeuppance. Back the Aussies all the way to the trophy.