Defending champions India will take on co-hosts Australia in the 2015 Cricket World Cup semifinals in a meeting of the two most successful teams in the tournament’s history. India maintained their perfect record in defense of the trophy they won four years ago when easing past Bangladesh in the quarterfinals. Australia eventually had a similarly straightforward time in the last eight, defeating Pakistan on Friday to set up a mammoth semifinal.
For Australia it is a record seventh World Cup semifinal. Ominously for their opponents, on the six previous occasions they have made it this far, they have gone on to reach the final, lifting the trophy four times. Having failed to even make it to the last four the only previous time the competition was held on home soil (in 1992), they have extra motivation to maintain that streak.
Australia have lost just once so far, and that was when traveling away from home to take on New Zealand. An in-form Pakistan team appeared that they could pose a threat, but the match was put in Australia’s control when they bowled their opponents out for just 213 on the back of Josh Hazlewood’s four wickets and another two for Mitchell Starc to take his World Cup tally to a tournament high 18. The chase looked straightforward, and eventually proved that way, although a brilliant spell of bowling from Wahab Riaz would have reduced Australia to 83 for 4 had a simple catch not been dropped to allow Shane Watson to go on and hit a decisive 64. After the six-wicket win, captain Michael Clarke believes the belief running though his side will only continue to grow.
“The fact we won gives us a lot of confidence,” he said. “Since the New Zealand game I think we’ve slowly been building our cricket, slowly been improving. Every win gives you momentum, gives you confidence and this will be exactly the same.”
Australia have reason for confidence, too, approaching their semifinal. While having won seven of the 10 World Cup meetings against India, Australia also came out on top in a tri-series, also involving England, a month before the World Cup. Clarke, though, expects India to be a very different proposition at the Sydney Cricket Ground next Thursday.
“I think they’re obviously playing a lot better than they were throughout the start of the summer,” he said. “And I said that leading into the World Cup that India were going to be a extra tough team to beat, obviously because they’re a very good team, but also because they’ve spent so much time in Australia, they know the conditions quite well. The game on Thursday is certainly going to be a challenge and we’re definitely going to have to be at our best to beat them.”
India’s turnaround has been an impressive one. Arriving in Australia three months before the World Cup, India had endured a miserable time and failed to record a single victory, either in One-Day Internationals or Tests. The defense of their trophy, won on home soil in 2011, looked set to be undermined by their bowling attack. Instead, since beating Pakistan and then South Africa to open the World Cup, India have not looked back, and their bowling has been a major part of their success. Only Starc has taken more wickets than Mohammed Shami’s 17, while fellow fast-bowlers, Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma have contributed a further 25 between them. Meanwhile, the batting has been consistently good, with Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina all delivering centuries in the competition.
“It has been good, we can't shy away from the fact that we are playing some good cricket,” said captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said at the post-match presentation, via Reuters. “But at the same time a month back we were struggling. A lot of credit needs to go to the boys and the support staff.”
“The good thing is not many players from our side are in the top run-scorers list, but the batting has performed. That was an area we wanted to improve [bowling teams out]. Even in New Zealand and South Africa, we were struggling with that, but now we are doing much better. It's difficult to pin-point how it changed.”
Prediction: This semifinal is set up to be a classic. In home conditions, Australia will start as favorites, but India’s confidence has to be sky high after seven-straight wins. India’s batting is so solid that you’d back at least one member of their lineup to make a big score. And if Dhoni wins the toss and India get to bat first, they could well post a hugely challenging total, as South Africa and Australia have previously done on the SCG pitch in this World Cup. Yet, while Australia showed some vulnerability chasing against Pakistan, you’d have to just back them to get the job done.
Match time: Thursday, 2:30 p.m. local time. Wednesday 11:30 p.m. EDT.