A battle of nerves beckons, as India and Australia lock horns at the cricketing citadel of the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday in the most intense clash of cricket’s greatest carnival – the ICC World Cup.
The stakes for Australia, the co-hosts, went higher as soon as New Zealand secured a place in the final.
Australia are four-time world champions, more than anyone else, while India are the defending champions and have not lost a game so far in the tournament. While India have bowled their opposition out in all the seven previous games, Australia’s bowling line-up of Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, Josh Hazlewood, James Faulkner and all-rounder Shane Watson is likely to hold an upper-hand in familiar conditions.
If media reports are true, the SCG will be a sea of blue re-emphasising the fact that cricket is not a simple game promoted by a single race. As Peter Roebuck once put it, “it is not merely a battle ground between black and white or communism or capitalism. It is a true battle between faith and progress.”
Whether it will be a battle of faith and progress, we will come to know. But one thing is for sure — there won’t be dearth of passion, aggression and verbal volleys (call it sledging if you like). With the likes of Johnson, David Warner and Starc in the ranks, the Indian team will do well to prepare for some taste of Aussie lingo apart from the chin music.
India draw its inspiration from the huge following and passion the game evokes amongst its fans. In a country with many religions, cricket is one binding faith.
India are likely to field the same team that beat Bangladesh. The team has done remarkably well to script a turnaround in their fortunes after defeats in the Test tour and then the tri-series. As Virat Kohli put it in one of the press conferences ahead of the game, “the difference now is how our bowling attack has come into play in the World Cup, taking 70 wickets in seven games.”
With Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma doing well so far, the pace-attack, for a change, looks settled. They will also do well to learn from the exploits of Pakistan’s Wahab Riaz. Riaz’s spell against Australia will give the Indian team’s think-tank some pointers to work on. However, it will be the spin of Ravichandran Ashwin that might hold the key to India’s chances considering the spin-responsive 22-yard strip of the SCG.
The Indian batsmen have also come to the party. Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina have centuries under their belt while skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni has marshalled his resources well.
And beyond the glare of Kohlis and Sharmas, Ajinkya Rahane has established himself as the fulcrum around which the Indian batting revolves. The SCG will be an ideal opportunity for the Mumbai-youngster.
Watch out for: MS Dhoni. As Michael Vaughan puts it, “MS Dhoni knows how to win World Cups and that goes quite a long way.” Need we say more?
Probable XI: MS Dhoni (Capt.), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Mohit Sharma, Mohammad Shami.
Australian cricket have been strong for over 125 years barring few patches where they dipped a bit. Cricket is officially their national sport, reaching their countryside, homes of farmers, young and old, rich and poor. It is the binding force and when the stage is for a World Cup semifinal it becomes even bigger.
Australia have the likes of Glenn Maxwell, David Warner, Aaron Finch and in-form Steven Smith and Michael Clarke in their ranks. However, their biggest concern at the moment would be the form of their openers Warner and Finch. For India, Maxwell will be the biggest concern as the batsman has hit himself into form. India would know what the batsman is capable of.
The hosts are also expected to name an unchanged side that beat Pakistan in the quarterfinal. Victory would set them for a trans-Tasman final in Melbourne on Sunday.
Probable XI: Michael Clarke (Capt.), David Warner, Aaron Finch, Steven Smith, Shane Watson, Glenn Maxwell, Brad Haddin, James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood.
What they said:
Michael Vaughan, former England captain: “A little bit of sledging, banter is okay. I am sure the Indians will give it back in plenty. They are not going to be quiet. Virat and co. will give it back and that’s good for the game.”
Michael Clarke, when asked how his players would deal with the pressure: “We’re about to find out.”
Weather: Temperature around 28 degree Celsius, partly cloudy.