India will be looking to show that they’ve come a long way since the start of their long stay in Australia, when taking on the co-hosts in Thursday’s 2015 Cricket World Cup semifinal at the Sydney Cricket Ground. No one could accuse India of not taking preparations to defend their trophy seriously, having ben in Australia three months before the tournament got underway. But their performances ahead of the event did little to suggest that they would be going into a semifinal in such rich confidence.
India failed to win any of the four Test matches played against Australia ahead of the World Cup, and then went through a One-Day International tri-series, also involving England, without tasting victory. Two defeats to England, who showed with their group stage exit at the World Cup that they are no great shakes in the 50-ver format right now, raised particular alarm bells. Indeed, it wasn’t until they beat minnows Afghanistan just a few days before the World Cup got underway last month that Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men had any success on their tour.
Yet they got off to a perfect start when the real business got underway, beating their fierce rivals Pakistan. That set them up for a run of seven straight victories in the competition, including a big win over South Africa and a comfortable path past Bangladesh in the quarterfinals. India’s strength so far has been, not only a surprisingly effective performance from their bowling attack, but that their batsmen have alternately shouldered the responsibility of making a big score.
In their first World Cup since the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar, the weight of expectation was on Virat Kohli to confirm his assumption of the legend’s mantle. The 26-year-old had, after all, scored centuries in three of the four test matches against Australia. But since leading India to victory over Pakistan with a score of 107, Kohli has failed to notch up even a half-century. While he still scored steadily prior to being bowled out for just three against Bangladesh, Kohli’s status in India has ensured that there have been questions raised about his form. Dhoni, though, insists he has no concerns.
“I don’t think he has batted badly,” he said, reports the Indian Express. “When he has got an opportunity he has scored runs. It’s not that he has scored a century every time he has gone out to bat. But everybody relating his performance with the Test series and expecting a hundred in every innings from him.
“I don’t think there has been any poor shot selection. He is a dominant batsman who likes playing his shots when he goes in to bat. It’s quite difficult but at the same time I feel it is important to keep focusing on the process. It’s just around the corner and big players always score in big games.”
As well his form with the bat, Kohli’s temperament is also likely to be under scrutiny against Australia, in a match which will decide who goes onto meet either New Zealand or South Africa in Sunday’s final. Kohli was one of the players, along with teammate Shikhar Dhawan and Australia opening batsman David Warner, who was fined by the International Cricket Council following the continuation of a fiery history between the teams during the first Test last December. And, with so much at stake, Australia all-rounder James Faulkner is expecting another heated occasion at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
“There are going to be words said and it's going to be a really tough contest,” he said, reports AFP. “I think there is always sledging in the game. If there is not, you've got problems. It's the nature of the game. It's a semi-final. Cut-throat. Neither team will be backing down.”