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Semifinal showdown: India chase Mission World Cup, Australia fret over quality spin on home turf

Australia and India have won six of the last eight Cricket World Cup titles and have developed a heated rivalry over the last decade. When the teams meet in the World Cup semifinal on Thursday at the Sydney Cricket Ground, there's bound to be some friction. Both captains have attacking mindsets in the 50-over format, and the top order of both batting lineups are stacked with free-hitting players, so there's also bound to be some entertaining and enterprising cricket.

cricket Updated: Mar 26, 2015 08:14 IST
Nilankur Das
Nilankur Das
Hindustan Times
World Cup 2015,India vs Australia,India vs Australia semifinal

Four batsmen sharing five centuries, the top six playing at least one crucial knock, pacers and spinners sharing 65 wickets as India bowled out all seven opponents and a crack fielding unit. There is a quiet confidence in the India camp which stems from their performance in the run-up to the semifinal against Australia on Thursday.

Shikhar Dhawan has hit two centuries, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina one each and Ajinkya Rahane and Mahendra Singh Dhoni have both played important knocks, against South Africa and Zimbabwe respectively.

Mohammed Shami has led a young and inexperienced pace attack which has in tandem with a spin duo that had struggled to defend even 300 plus scores before the tournament accounted for all the sides India have faced so far.

Two run outs changed the match against South Africa and an agile and fit team resulting in some fabulous catches and stops inside the circle has frustrated rival batsmen. Except for the match against West Indies where catches were dropped, skipper Dhoni has been proudly saying “whatever we score, you can safely add 20 to 25 runs to it because of our fielding.”

Mission World Cup

All these have combined to give a sense of belonging to this side. So, when a Rohit Sharma is asked whether he misses home, having been on the road for four months now, he says: “We are here on a mission to win the World Cup. When we finished the tri-series, it was two-and-a-half months then. None of us thought of going back. We were right here and just wanted to create history. Yeah, it’s been tough, but if you look at the way the last one-and-a-half months have gone, it’s been really good. We have to make the four months we have spent here rewarding by winning the World Cup. We don’t mind staying away for five months that way.”

And spending time here has only helped them know the conditions as well as Australia. As familiarity has stoked India’s confidence, Australia are definitely going to feel the pinch. “We have to play our best possible game to beat India,” the words were uttered by Michael Clarke more in realisation than anything else.

Eight in the India team were part of the Champions Trophy-winning squad in England two years back. Of them, Dhoni, Ashwin, Raina and Kohli were also part of the 2011 World Cup winning squad.

So, winning is not alien to these boys and that has helped change the attitude of the pack inside the ground. They go in believing they can win.

“Our attitude has changed completely from what it was before. We are enjoying each other’s successes. Everyone is enjoying the moment and we just have to stay in the present and look forward to the semifinal,” he said.

“We have played in big matches, so we know what it takes to come out as winners. Hopefully, we can start well tomorrow (Thursday).

"That will be very crucial, whether we bat or bowl first. I’m sure all Indians are prepared and geared up and ready to go,” says Rohit.

Australia left spinning

There is something not quite right in Australia’s thought process; at least, that is how it appears from the outside.

The Sydney Cricket Ground pitch has traditionally favoured spinners. But like South Africa had showed in their quarterfinal against Sri Lanka, the wicket is equally good for pacers if they can hit the right length. Just the fact that South African spinners had got seven Sri Lankan batsmen here in the last match might have injected a wee bit of doubt in the minds of the Australians.

Ever since Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq pointed out that Australia will miss a quality spinner here and their batsmen’s weakness in tackling spin could be exposed against India while facing R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja or Suresh Raina, there has been an uproar from the players, former and current alike, for a green top at the SCG.

The problem is in the 14 matches at the SCG between the two teams, India have won just one, in 2008. Australia have won 12 and one was a no result. And they have done this irrespective of the wicket. So why is this hue and cry about whether Australia have not been given a wicket to their liking or not?

Over the years, Australian sides have ruled on the 22 yards almost everywhere across the world, except the subcontinent where wickets are slow, bounce is low, and the ball doesn’t really come on to the bat. And to top it all, it turns. Now, faced with the proposition of facing India at home where there is a possibility that the wicket might display the features of the subcontinent, certain disturbance seems to have crept into the Australian dressing room. That is more so because after Shane Warne’s retirement, Australia have failed to produce a quality spinner. And the co-hosts ignored Nathan Lyon for the campaign.

Also read:Warne helps Aussies to tackle spin

Also read:Four things to watch out for in the semifinal

First Published: Mar 26, 2015 01:18 IST