Australia take on India in a massive Semi - Final encounter at the Sydney Cricket Ground. After a breathtaking Semi Final that we got to witness between New Zealand and South Africa, the expectations are sky high in the game between the Indians and Aussies. The Australians are the co-hosts of this tournament, along with New Zealand and have done exceptionally well this World Cup.
After starting extremely well in a high pressure encounter against England at the MCG in the World Cup opener, Australia lost their way a bit, largely due to a washout and big break between games. They had a two week break before they played the New Zealanders at the Kiwi backyard. They lost that game of course after a batting failure, but Mitchell Starc & co. restored some sort of interest & pride back into the game for the Australian supporters with some seething yorkers resulting in some super quick wickets. The Australians then went on to play a couple of Associates and had a good workout against a solid Sri Lankan line up. The Australian batting line up came good there but their bowlers were tonked around and co-incidentally that was at the Sydney Cricket Ground where tomorrow’s semi final encounter will be played. Word has it that the same wicket will be used that was played on in the Australian-Lanka game.
Australia’s Semi Final showed some sort of cracks in the Australian batting order when Wahab Riaz with his pace and fury unsettled the top order. Australia’s bowlers were good in that game like they have been in most, but, the batting had some nervy moments before eventually coming through to setup this enthralling encounter against the Indians. Both these teams have seen a lot of each other this summer and India have not beaten the Aussies on any occasion, across formats. Having said that, this is a different Indian team we are dealing with & tomorrow should make for a riveting encounter. Here is a look at Australia’s Strengths & Weaknesses leading up to this all important encounter.
Batting Depth & Flexibility
One of Australia’s biggest strengths going into this World Cup was their batting depth. Australia have tremendous balance in their team, especially with Shane Watson striking a couple of fifties at the right point in time. It is astonishing to see how deep this Australian line-up can bat. Amongst the two teams, clearly, Australia have the better power game, due to the versatility of their batters and the depth that this order has.
Australia bat as deep as No. 10; it is unbelievable. Mitchell Starc will be batting at No. 10 for Australia and he has a Test match high score of 99 against India. Josh Hazlewood who will follow is no mug with the bat either. Just to give you readers perspective, in the 2011 World Cup encounter when these two teams locked horns in Ahmedabad, India; Australia’s openers were Shane Watson & Brad Haddin, both of whom still feature in the XI, & bat at No. 5 & 8, respectively. You could only imagine how daunting a prospect that would be for any bowling opposition.
Apart from Australia’s batting depth, the versatility in it, is freakishly scary too. They have two floaters in Glen Maxwell & James Faulkner who could slot in anywhere in the innings to up the tempo & wreak havoc. This gives Australia a serious edge as far as batting is concerned, despite India’s magnificent batting line up.
The Power game that Australia brings to the fore, is commendable too. David Warner & Aaron Finch open the innings, who are as explosive as it gets at the top of the order. The duo is followed by Steven Smith who has matured in the last 18 months but has the power game to accelerate as good as any in the World. Add to this lot, Glen Maxwell, James Faulkner, Shane Watson & Brad Haddin; it just keeps coming. Australia’s batting really looks formidable. If skipper Clarke gets the coin toss right, the Indians may have some serious leather chasing to do.
Mitchell Starc has been Australia’s best bowler this tournament, possibly the best bowler of the tournament. He has been scintillating with those late dippers that have give Australia a fantastic start in the field. He has got the new ball and the old ball to talk, being one of the few bowlers this tournament to reverse it consistently. His slingy action allows for greater reverse on the ball.
After all the hype of Mitchell Johnson early in the season, Starc has proved to be Australia’s best bowler and is clearly the leader of the pack at the moment. Despite Trent Boult being higher on the list of wicket takers this tournament, Starc has looked more threatening. His ability to bowl well early on in the piece and in the death overs has aided Michael Clarke tremendously. He almost turned it around single handedly against New Zealand after the Aussies succumbed to the Kiwi quicks for a paltry 149. Starc then went on to get a 6 for that had New Zealand reeling at 140 odd for 9 before Kane Williamson took them home.
Early on in the season, Starc was half the bowler he is now. But perhaps a little someone’s comments (Shane Warne), calling him ‘Soft’ fired him up, thus bringing the best out of him. Here is what his returns have been this tournament:
|4 + Wickets
Australia will be hoping Mitchell Starc can ring in one more performance and dismiss the likes of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharme early on in the piece. If that happens, watching Starc bowl to Virat Kohli, will make for incredible cricket.
Steven Smith has become one of the World’s best batsmen over the last 18 months. Who knew 5 years ago when this scrappy 20 year old made his debut as a blonde leg spinner, that he would turn into such a wonderful cricketer. Along with Virat Kohli & Kane Williamson, Steven Smith will make for the top batsmen in the coming decade World over as all three batsmen find themselves in the mid 20s.
Ever since Australia slotted him in that number 3 position early on in this World Cup, Smith’s game has floured, thus making the Australia top order look more solid than it ever looked. Smith after taking over that position from Shane Watson has made that position his own and it would really take some performance from other Aussies if they have to come close to displacing him from that slot.
At the start of the summer, Steven Smith was not included in the game against South Africa because he was not good enough, can you believe it, he was not picked to play for Australia. He was though, in the games after, and did tremendously will to walk away as Man of the Series. Following which, his preparations and performances against India, left no stone unturned as he then went on to bag this year’s Alan Border Medal on the eve of the World Cup.
In the World Cup itself, Smith has put in some solid performances, especially the twin 50s he scored against Sri Lanka & Pakistan. His knock against Pakistan in the quarter finals proved to be decisive. It was his presence at the crease that gave the Aussies some sense of calm as Wahab Riaz was tormenting Shane Watson with vicious bouncers as the Aussies found themselves to be 3 down for nothing.
Here are what his performances have resulted in this World Cup:
|No. of Runs
For Australia’s sake, they will be hoping he could redo what he did against the Indians early on in the summer.
Glenn Maxwell has been a powerhouse this World Cup for Australia. He has been the Aussies’ top scorer of the tournament and has the second best strike rate in the tournament after Brendon McCullum. Maxwell, surprisingly, with his unorthodoxy has been consistent and has done exceedingly well in the batting power plays when the Aussies have really needed him.
What Australia will desperately be hoping for is, Maxwell’s performance to come good against the Indian spinners. Historically speaking, Maxwell has thrashed both Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja for plenty. He does have the wood over them, no matter how “enjoyable” Ashwin finds it to bowl against him. Having said that, with Maxwell’s unpredictable game, these records do not hold for much and everyday starts afresh.
It is a surprising and wonderful turn around for a man who could not buy a run at the start of the summer and found himself batting at No.8 in the beginning of the tri-series. Well, a lot has changed since then. Here are what Maxwell’s stats looks like before heading into the Semi Final against India.
|No. of Runs
Australia will be hoping Maxwell can go one further and continue his good record that he has shown against the Indian spinners.
Australia’s fielding has looked tremendous this tournament. While they have been outdone by New Zealand they still have some class players who set high standards when they take the field. Michael Clarke is no more the spring chicken that he was and with his back trouble does not feature on the list unlike his predecessor Ricky Ponting who remained Australia’s best fielder right through his time in International Cricket.
Nonetheless, Australia who have the likes of David Warner, Steven Smith & Maxwell make for a very good fielding unit. These three are the exceptional ones, however, the average of the Australian unit is pretty high in itself. Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Marsh, Josh Hazlewood, James Faulkner all are pretty useful in the field with the former duo having scintillating throwing arms.
Having said that, their counterparts, India, for the first time have an excellent fielding team in a World Cup. Should be great to see both teams leaving everything out there on the field come game time.
Australia may find it difficult to cope with situational pressure. If the Aussies find themselves, 3 down for very little, they are not going to get gifts like what Rahat Ali’s drop catch presented in the Quarter Final encounter against Pakistan. The Indian team is a lot more disciplined and seldom misses out on such opportunities.
Australia were in trouble in that game against Pakistan and found it hard to come out of it. The Australian batting order, especially in the lower middle half only knows one way, and that is to hit their way out of trouble. If the Indians manage to nip a couple of them out early, it will be fascinating to see if the Aussie juggernaut can make a match of it.
The Indians on the other hand have players who are able to play both roles in the lower middle order, with MS Dhoni leading the way to either play time or the aggressor.
SCG - Ground & Atmosphere
The atmosphere at the SCG is expected to be heavily in favour of the Indians. It will be a great spectacle to watch the Australians play in their home territory but in very different circumstances. The ground is expected to be a sea of blue rather than that of Gold. As reports have it, close to 70% of Indians have purchased the available tickets leaving the Australian supporters to make up the remaining numbers.
It was such a worry to the Australian dugout that several players, including, skipper Michael Clarke had sent out a tweet urging the Aussies to come out and show some home support for the men in gold. It should make for great viewing as the Sydney Cricket Ground is a place where we either get to see a wave of Gold or Pink on the Jane McGrath day.
If the Indians can get a foot into the match early, the Australians will face some serious heat as the crowd will be strongly in support of the Indian team. Woah, that national anthem should be fun.
If India had to pick any ground to play Australia in Australia in a World Cup semi - final, rest assured they would have chosen the SCG. Historically, the SCG has been slow, offered help to spinners and been a batting beauty. Australia have requested the curators to spicen up the wicket by adding a tinge of green that could assist the spinners. Most of their players, especially, Glen Maxwell has made a vocal call for a green & mean wicket. However, since it is the end of the Australian season, it will be surprising if the green holds up throughout the match in case it finds itself on the wicket.
All in all, Australia look a fantastic unit, well oiled and ready to go, but, India could surprise them. Australia’s bowlers must get into the middle order quickly, especially, see the back off Rohit Sharma & Virat Kohli early. There will be a lot of banter on the field tomorrow. Mitchell Johnson has taken on the mantle from David Warner. You can be rest assured, that there will be no holding back with Virat Kohli & co.