India and Australia are no strangers to each other. They have done several memorable battles in big competitions, and are coming off an intense four-Test series that seems such a long time back but actually ended a little over two-and-a-half months back. Most of the personnel in the ODI squads from both teams were part of the Test series, and several Australians are IPL regulars, so there are no secrets between the teams.
It’s all fine to have the greatest knowledge about the opposition, but it is what we do with that knowledge that is important. In some ways, knowledge cancels itself out. Australia know as much about India as India do about their semi-final opponents. In the end, as ever, here too it will boil down to execution of your skills, because if you execute your skills perfectly well, it really doesn’t matter who the opposition is.
The SCG pitch will be under much focus going into the game. This is an ICC event and it is the groundsman’s prerogative to prepare the kind of pitch he wants so long as it meets certain standards, but I doubt it he will prepare a surface that will go against the Australians. I can’t see there being much turn for the Indian spinners, so once again, the focus will be on India’s pace bowlers and the top order batting.
The key to success in this World Cup has been wickets in hand. If the top seven play out the 50 overs, if your number eight is not required to bat, then you are pretty much guaranteed a big total. Where India will have to be careful is in what score to post if they win the toss. That will depend entirely on the conditions and the nature of the pitch.
India played it beautifully against Bangladesh, building carefully at the start, keeping wickets in hand and then exploding at the end to post 300-plus at the MCG. No team has successfully chased 300 at the MCG, so by the halfway stage, India had all but secured their semi-final spot. The SCG will offer different challenges that India’s top order must counter. As well as Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are bowling, India’s batting has the quality to not just see them off but also dominate them. As I have said before, Virat Kohli has to take the lead. He has cooled off a little after that hundred against Pakistan, but he loves the big stage. I see him coming up trumps against a side off whom he took four hundreds in the Test series.
The one thing India must be wary about is overdoing the short-pitched stuff. Till now, they have used the short ball judiciously, at the right time against the right batsmen. I am sure MS Dhoni and the team management will have their plans ready for the Australians. I have been bombarded by people asking me if we shouldn’t go short at the Australians. Okay, so they struggled against Wahab Riaz in the quarter-final, but you can’t make a blanket statement on the basis of that one innings. The short ball is effective only when you set the batsman up.
The Aussie batsmen by nature are aggressive, but against Pakistan, with the target only 214, they were caught in two minds about whether to attack the short ball or just survive it. There were some awkward moments, but generally, they are good players of the short ball. It will work when used effectively, at the right time, but we can’t emphasise too much on the short-pitched stuff.
There is much more to Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma than just bouncing teams out. They are all very skillful bowlers who can swing the ball at pace. Starc and Trent Boult are very good examples of how to make swing count at the start of an innings. I am not suggesting India change their plans because Starc and Boult have been successful. All I am saying is that there are many ways to skin a cat, and MS knows all about it.
Australia will depend heavily on their pace attack again to do the damage. Xavier Doherty’s left-arm spin has hardly been required, and once again, it will be up to Starc, Hazlewood and Mitchell Johnson to make inroads into the Indian batting. Considering they are playing at home and know the conditions well, Australia will have the edge especially if their bowlers are supported by the pitch.
But if you want to win the World Cup, you must be good enough to beat all teams, and I strongly believe this Indian team is good enough to beat anyone, anywhere.
Credit: www.icc-cricket.com & 2015 © ICC Development (International) Limited