Cricket World Cup Australia vs. India Preview, Semi-Final, Sydney
Dhoni’s men have been ruthless, and Clarke will know his team must be at its best on the spin-friendly SCG
They say that in all of Australia, it’s the pitch at the Sydney Cricket Ground that assists spinners the most.
They say Indians are among the best players of spin, driven by their quick feet and soft hands and an almost inborn contempt of non-Oriental spin bowlers.
They say, also, that few countries can boast of the wealth of spinning talent in the history of the game as India, the home of spin, of the Bedis and the Prasannas and the Chandras and the Kumbles can.
Cricket World Cup Australia vs. India: Google Doodle
If we go by all they say, India should have an outstanding record at the SCG. And yet, in 11 Tests, it has tasted victory just once, when Australia was severely weakened by Kerry Packer’s World Series in January 1978, and lost five times. In 14 One-Day Internationals against Australia at this hallowed venue, India’s record is more dismal – one victory, 12 defeats, two no-results.
History. Statistics. Numbers. Precedent. Knowledge of conditions. Home advantage. They all stack up favourably in Australia’s corner ahead of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 semi-final on Thursday (March 26). But no one is taking Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men lightly.
India’s astonishing transformation from the tri-series in January into this rabble-rousing bunch of robust individuals that has tornadoed the field has been one of the stories of the World Cup. The team has been clinical, professional, meticulous, impeccably prepared, delivering their lines sharply, but with emotion and joy and a sense of freedom that has at once been popular and punishing. You have to prise the World Cup out of its grip, it is not giving it back.
Australia is convinced it has what it takes to snatch it away, but around the conviction, gremlins are slowly beginning to germinate. Michael Clarke’s men haven’t been the dominant, all-conquering unit that Australians in World Cups have come to be identified as for so long now. The team has won plenty, but the players have laboured and huffed and puffed, surviving several attacks of nerves and benefitting from slices of luck at the most opportune of moments. Australia has been conquered, cornered, taken blows on the chin, and yet, here it is, standing within two wins of its fifth World Cup title.
The gremlins stem from a wariness of the pitch for the second semifinal of the World Cup. The team would have preferred a surface with genuine pace that Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson would relish, with bounce that Josh Hazlewood would thrive on, with grass that would have India in trouble. Instead, the pitch seems to be a bare, brown strip with loads of runs.
No matter. By Thursday, Australia will have laid those gremlins to rest. It has to, for if Australia is at anything less than its best, India will exploit it with the ease of a practised master that Dhoni has elevated his ODI outfit to.
The No. 1 ODI side in the world is not so fragile as to be seized by the fear of the unknown. It will back itself to play India’s spinners, given that in Michael Clarke and Steven Smith, it has two of the best players of spin and that in David Warner and Glenn Maxwell, it has a pair that makes it fairly impossible to set fields.
Australia did have a very interesting addition to its training session on Wednesday afternoon. A gentleman with 1000 international victims, the man they call the Sheikh of Tweak. Shane Warne strode out for a close look at the pitch, then strode back to the Australian nets and turned his arm over. Not so much turned his arm over as put on a master class in leg-spin bowling. Warne spoke at length to Clarke and Darren Lehmann, he watched from close quarters as Xavier Doherty bowled to Shane Watson, speaking to the left-arm spinner after almost every delivery.
Self-doubts or not, Australia will be up for a fight on Thursday, in front of a predominantly pro-Indian crowd in what will be a new experience for it at home. The team has tried to reopen old wounds by pointing to its dominance of India in the summer gone by. It has promised aggression. It knows that in World Cups, it has the advantage over India – seven wins, three losses in ten matches. It hasn’t forgotten that four years ago, it was India who ended its reign, in the quarterfinal in Ahmedabad. It believes it will be poetic justice if it can dethrone India at the SCG, in its own backyard. Australia has the desire, India has the Cup. This could just be Eden Park revisited, a classic of undulating fortunes and unbridled drama.
Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt, wk), Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Mohit Sharma.
David Warner, Aaron Finch, Steven Smith, Michael Clarke (capt), Shane Watson, Glenn Maxwell, Brad Haddin (wk), James Faulkner, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, Josh Hazlewood, Xavier Doherty, Mitchell Marsh, Pat Cummins, George Bailey