Having won 7 matches in a row Defending champions India will hope the law of averages does not catch up with them when they clash with hosts and one of the tournament favourites Australia in a widely-anticipated World Cup semi-final in Sydney . India will hope to have better luck at the venue as India have beaten Australia just once in 35 years in a one-day international at the Sydney Cricket Ground when a Sachin Tendulkar century helped them win the first of the three-match tri-series final in 2008.
But Mahendra Singh Dhoni`s men have confounded critics by recovering from a winless bilateral tour of Australia before the World Cup to surprise all with their performance during the Cup and reaching the semi-finals.
Beginning with two wins against Pakistan and South Africa, India won all six group matches to top Pool B and then downed spirited Bangladesh by 109 runs in the quarter-finals. Amazingly, India have piled up 300-plus scores every time they have batted first and dismissed the opposition in all seven matches so far.
India now face a side that has won seven of their 10 World Cup clashes, although Dhoni`s men secured a five-wicket win in the quarter-final during the 2011 World Cup in Ahmedabad four years ago.
Four-time champions Australia have won all six semi-finals they have appeared in since the inaugural event in 1975, but India will consider the SCG as the best venue to halt that record. Groundsman Tom Parker has kept both teams guessing on the nature of the pitch he will unveil for the semi-final, but the wear and tear at the end of a long season indicates spin-friendly conditions. South African spinners Imran Tahir and JP Duminy shared seven wickets to bowl out Sri Lanka f0r 133 in the quarter-final at the SCG last week, setting up a nine-wicket win for the Proteas.
But the bat dominated the ball in previous World Cup games at the venue, with Australia piling up 376 for nine against Sri Lanka and South Africa smashing 408 for five off the West Indies` attack.
Australian coach Darren Lehmann expected a wicket similar to the one his team got for the match against Sri Lanka and predicted a high-scoring encounter. “I think the pitch will be very similar to the one we used in the game against Sri Lanka when almost 700 runs were scored, so I think this will be another high-scoring affair,” Lehmann wrote on the official Cricket Australia website www.cricket.com.au.
“But finals seem to have a way of working out differently sometimes. So even if the pitch is a belter, you have to do the basics well enough to produce a high score. And then bowl well enough to defend it.” Lehmann felt that constant meetings with India over the summer would “add an extra element to what already looms as an enthralling contest.”
“India are really starting to gain some confidence on the back of some good performances since the tournament began, but we know them inside out — just as they do us. “Everyone in the Australia squad is excited that we`ve reached the final week of the World Cup and are now within striking distance of a goal that we set ourselves more than a year ago.”
With organisers estimating that 70 percent of the tickets have been picked up by Indian fans, Australia would feel as if they were playing an away game on their own soil. India will once again bank on a sound start from openers Shikhar Dhawan, who has 367 runs in the tournament with two centuries, and Rohit Sharma, who hit 137 against Bangladesh.
But it will be India’s vice- captain Virat Kohli the Australians will be wary of after the elegant right-hander hit four centuries in the preceding four-Test series, including 147 and 46 at the SCG. Kohli`s form dipped after a match-winning century against Pakistan, but Dhoni was confident of his star batsman coming good when it mattered.”A big one is just around the corner because big players always score in big games,” Dhoni said of Kohli.
India`s pace trio of Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma have claimed 42 wickets between them, but it will be the off-spin of Ravichandran Ashwin that Dhoni will turn to if the pitch takes turn. The winner of match will face New Zealand in the final in Melbourne on March 29.