Few teams can be as dominating as India were in their group stage, as they breezed past all three of their opponents in the form of South Africa, West Indies and Pakistan, hardly breaking a sweat. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, didn’t find the group stage to be such a breeze, losing their opening encounter to New Zealand before surviving two difficult matches against England and Australia.
Unbeaten so far, India are the overwhelming favourites for the semi-final tie on paper, but the Lankans are also seeking revenge for their 2011 World Cup final defeat at the hands of India in Mumbai. India have had the best batting line-up, by a mile, in the competition so far, and have looked at ease against all their opponents. Though, one must err on the side of caution as the wickets in the tournament have not been typical English wickets one expect in the month of June where visiting teams struggle due to the swing and seam movements of the ball.
Talking of batsman, the opening combination for India, which many believed to be India’s weakness heading into this tournament has, in fact, been India’s biggest strength in the competition. Shikhar Dhawan has carried on his red hot form from five-day cricket to limited overs format of the game seamlessly, and coupled with Rohit Sharma, they provided excellent starts to the team, but the slight bit of worry remains as the middle order has not been tested so far in the prior matches. But on reputation, any of India’s top six is a match winner in his own right. All in all, India’s batting is by far their biggest advantage, and the Indian team will once again rely on their strongest suit to give them the maximum leverage.
On the bowling front, India has not been as clinical as their batting but are doing a decent job of restricting the opposition and picking up wickets through the middle-overs, mainly due to Jadeja’s emergence as India’s new strike bowler. The biggest relief for India’s bowling squad this time around is the fact that in the line-up, every-one has justified his place in the side. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar is doing his role of keeping things tight at one end while Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma have been sharp and bowled with good pace at the start of the innings. Probably, only R Ashwin has been average, and as a result Jadeja, very rightly, has outshone him in this tournament. India’s bowlers, undoubtedly, have been helped by what skipper Dhoni described as “the best fielding side in the world”.
Pitch and Conditions:
Pitches in Cardiff have been impossible to decode as they have been of contrasting nature thus far in the tournament. More than 600 runs were scored in the opening match between India and South Africa, followed by a low-scoring thriller between Sri Lanka and New Zealand in which 19 wickets fell for 277 runs. The semi-final, though, will be played on a fresh wicket that hasn’t yet been used in the tournament.
More than the pitch though, all the eyes will be on weather as heavy rain is expected throughout the day, which, at the least, will lead to shortened game or, at worst, a washout. In that case, India will go through by virtue of topping their Group.
Player to watch out:
Shikhar Dhawan- His performances – sheer aggression and will to decimate the opposition bowling attack - have caught the imagination of every cricket team, experts and fan alike in this tournament. He would hope to continue his brilliant run of form along with his opening partner Rohit Sharma as they have given India a solid platform in all three matches. In this tournament they scored 286 runs at an average of 95.3 runs.
Prediction: Being a neutral here, as much as I want to, it’s difficult to bet against India in this contest. Sri Lanka will give them a fight, but expect India to maintain their 100% record and advance to the final to take on the host- England.