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ICC World Cup 2015 - Australia vs India: The final before the final

As India prepare to lock horns with Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) in the second semi-final of the ICC World Cup 2015, many feel that this match is the final before the final.

Mohammed Shami MS Dhoni
Pacers like Mohammed Shami have thrived under MS Dhoni’s captaincy at the World Cup

As Team India prepare to lock horns with Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) in the second semi-final of the ICC World Cup 2015, many feel that this match is the final before the finals. Prior to the start of the tournament, not many were optimistic of a stupendous performance from India considering their poor showing in the Test series and the tri-series that followed. However, under the leadership of MS Dhoni, India have gone from strength to strength as the tournament has progressed.

Who wins the many small battles in the game would eventually decide who wins the overall clash. Superficially, it looks like a game between a belligerent home side and a born again champion, but if we delve deeper, there is more to the game than that meets the eye.

Can Indian batsmen handle Aussie pace?

In Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc and James Faulkner, Australia boasts of one of the best bowling attacks in the world. However, with India spending close to four months Down Under, the Indian batsmen have acclimatized to the conditions and the pitches more than any other team in the tournament.

India have played these bowlers before and hence, handling them should not be a big problem. A lot will depend on the opening pair of Rohit ‘Double Centurion’ Sharma and Shikhar ‘Gabbar’ Dhawan. While Dhawan has been in good form, Rohit roared back to form with a gritty 137 against Bangladesh in the quarter-final.

All eyes will be on Rohit who struck a brilliant 138 against the Aussies in the tri-series in Melbourne before the start of the tournament. Rohit’s technical abilities will be crucial against the Aussies. When he is in form, he plays close to the body with a still head and that skill will come handy while countering the Aussie pacers. What Rohit and Dhawan do upfront will show the way to the rest of the Indian batsmen.

Virat Kohli has an impressive record against Australia and generally saves his best for matches against the best. The Delhi batsman was in ominous form in the Test series and it was in Sydney in January 2015 that Kohli captained India after the retirement of MS Dhoni from Test cricket.

Back then, he had scored 147 and 46 that helped India draw the Test match. He will definitely seek inspiration from that performance. A smaller skirmish within this batsmen vs bowler battle would be the mouth of Mitchell Johnson and the stare back of Kohli. Johnson has already declared his intentions to sledge and Kohli is never one to back down.

Another player who has been comparatively silent during the 2-month-long tournament and silently preparing for the big clash would be Ajinkya Rahane. He is like a stealth bomb ready to explode as the Aussies focus more on the other Indian batsmen. He has all the shots in the book to tear apart any attack and savors the quicks, as well as the slow bowlers. The Mumbai batsman scored a blistering 79 off 60 deliveries against South Africa in the pool game and can shift gears as and when required.

Indian spinners vs Australian batting

The revelation in this tournament has been the Indian seamers who have taken 42 wickets out of the total 70 that India have polished off the opposition. Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma would be a handful aiming for the higher body parts of the top order batsmen of Australia who have shown their uneasiness to the short ball against bowlers who are willing to bend their backs.

But the real battle will be between the Indian spinners and the Australian willows. Traditionally, the Sydney pitch loves slower bowlers and India have a handful of them, more than what the Aussies can swallow. While all eyes will be on Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja will play a crucial role. He hasn’t yet set the stage on fire like he did in the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 – where he emerged as the leading wicket-taker with 12 wickets in 5 matches – Jadeja seems to be slowly getting into his groove.

The Australian batsmen have to be careful against his arm ball, which can be extremely dangerous on a slow Sydney wicket. If India bowl second, we might see an over or two from Virat Kohli who too can be deceptive in these conditions.

A lot of mind games have already started and going by the record of the two teams one can expect a lot of chirpings. Australians are known to get under the skin of the opposition when things are not going right for them but one should not be surprised if India themselves initiate the verbal spat with the likes of Kohli, Dhawan and Rohit taking the lead to give the Aussies a taste of their own medicine.

Battle of the skippers

The match will also be a battle of the two captains — MS Dhoni and Michael Clarke. Dhoni is known to come up with surprises — just as he did in the last World Cup by promoting himself ahead of the in-form Yuvraj Singh in the final. The Indian captain has a Midas touch particularly in ICC tournaments (Dhoni won the inaugural ICC World T20 in 2007, ICC World Cup 2011 and ICC Champions Trophy 2013) and has been terrific in the ongoing tournament.

The Indian skipper’s bowling changes and field placements have been brilliant and Australia can expect some surprises. Clarke, on the other hand, is struggling with form and fitness. The Aussie captain underwent a fitness test prior to the tournament and has not looked impressive with the bat.

A half-fit opposite captain is half the battle already won for India. With 100 wins already under his belt, MS would want to close in on the gap with Steve Waugh for the total ODI wins record. Statistically, he already is the best ODI captain ever for India and he would like to put the cherry on the cake by winning back to back world titles.

The story so far

Australia have been pushed to the edge in this tournament by New Zealand and Pakistan. Trent Boult and Wahab Riaz have shown that the Aussie batting can be vulnerable against aggressive and accurate fast bowling and Indian pacers have been on the money in this tournament unfearful of the opposition they have faced.

They have seen off the likes of AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle, Hashim Amla etc. with quintessential ease. India have taken 70 wickets in this tournament.

True, the Aussies can stretch the champions but by how much is a question that can only be answered during and after the game.

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