Five talking points as Australia take on India in the second World Cup semi-final in Sydney on Thursday.
1. There will be sledging
That is a fact. The question is, how far will it go? These two rivals have a history of exchanging pleasantries out in the middle, and especially the Australians revel in the verbal exchanges. They are masters at it, and will once again use it to get under the skin of the Indian players. The recent four-Test series between the two sides featured a handful of run-ins, with Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Ishant Sharma, David Warner and Mitchell Starc all reprimanded over their conduct. Warner risks a ban if he plays up again in the semi-final, having also been fined for his ‘speak English’ stoush with Rohit Sharma during the ODI tri-series. Shane Watson and Pakistan fast bowler Wahab Riaz were fined for sledging after their quarter-final clash last week.
2. Is this a home game for Australia?
The Sydney Morning Herald reports organisers believe that 70% of tickets at the sold-out 42,000-capacity Sydney Cricket Ground have been bought by India fans. If the pitch suits spinners, as has been the case at the SCG in the past, co-hosts Australia may well feel as though they have been kicked out of their own party. Kartik Ayyalasomayajula, one of the founders of the Swami Army — India’s version of England’s Barmy Army supporters group — forecast the Australian team would be in for a hard time from fans on Thursday. ‘It will be very loud, very intimidating,’ Kartik told a Sydney-based News Limited newspaper. ‘It will feel like an away game for them.’
3. Can India overcome recent failures?
How big a factor India’s recent tour of Australia will have on the outcome will be interesting to see. They toured Australia prior to the World Cup, which started in November last year, where MS Dhoni and his players failed to win one single Test or ODI game against the Aussies in a tri-series that included England. It’s difficult to know how relevant this will be come Thursday, but Dhoni is experienced and astute enough to make sure his charges don’t get caught up in the past. Australia, on the other hand, will no doubt be quick to point it out once the teams take the field.
4. The difference may lie in the batting
Both teams have strong batting line-ups. Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli will once again be key batsmen for India, while Glenn Maxwell and David Warner are the only Australian batsmen featuring in the top 20 highest run-scorers at the tournament. Maxwell has the ability to turn a game on its head in an instant, while Warner’s explosive batting at the top of the order must help Australia get a good start. Dhawan has been India’s most consistent batsman, and after a good start to the World Cup for Kohli against Pakistan, it’s time for him to come to the party again.
5. Spin could have the final say
The SCG is known as a ground that provides assistance to the spinners and is the most spin-friendly wicket in Australia. The surface is likely to suit India more, but Australia have never lost a World Cup semi-final so Dhoni and his men will have to make history on a ground where they have only managed one win in 15 ODIs. Legendary Australian spinner Shane Warne was invited to attend his former team’s training session on Wednesday, where he bowled a few balls of spin. He talked with Michael Clarke and Darren Lehmann, and also had lengthy chats with spinner Xavier Doherty after every delivery he bowled in the nets to Michael Clarke. Doherty is the only recognised spinner in Australia’s squad and this might suggest that he will be picked to face India. Who he will replace if that happens though, is anyone’s guess.