Two big guns, one big prize
March 26, 2015
Start time 2.30pm local (0330GMT)
On Tuesday it was the hard-luck teams from past World Cups; on Thursday it is the powerhouses. Neither New Zealand nor South Africa had ever made a World Cup decider despite playing in nine semi-finals between them; Australia and India have collectively reached nine World Cup finals. It will soon become 10. The only question is which team will take on New Zealand on the last Sunday in March.
Some people collect souvenir spoons when they go travelling, for a while Australia picked up cups in much the same way. They got one in Calcutta, one in London, one in Johannesburg, one in Bridgetown. It is quite a collection. India picked up their first in London, and waited 28 years to add another in Mumbai. They are the defending champions at this tournament; Australia were for the past three campaigns. These are teams that expect success.
It is no great surprise to see Australia at the semi-final stage. It is a home tournament. They are the No.1-ranked side in the world. They entered the campaign fresh from victory in a tri-series. In some ways it is not surprising to see India there either, for they have the experience in such big tournaments, and their batting line-up is full of talent. But in that same tri-series they failed to win a match, and their turnaround has been absolute. Unlike Australia, they are as yet undefeated.
Shikhar Dhawan has two hundreds in this World Cup, Virat Kohli has one, Rohit Sharma has one, Suresh Raina has one. The question was always going to be whether they had the fast bowlers to succeed in these conditions. Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma have collectively answered that in the affirmative. And on the Sydney surface, their spinners will play key roles.
Australia's batting has been perhaps a little less emphatic, with David Warner, Glenn Maxwell and Aaron Finch each having scored one century. They have taken until now to settle on a line-up and a batting order, but they look sturdier for Steven Smith's presence at No. 3. With the ball, though, much depends on how much swing Mitchell Starc can extract.
Australia enter this match as favourites, but that is only down to the home conditions. Only once in 13 completed ODIs have Australia lost to India at the SCG. That was seven years ago. It is more than three years since they have lost a one-day international to anyone at the SCG. But as Tuesday's game in Auckland showed, it's all about who can stand up in the heat of a World Cup knockout. Who will be this game's Grant Elliott?
Australia WWWWL (last five matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Who would most people have tipped as Australia's leading run-scorer in this tournament? Aaron Finch? David Warner? Steven Smith? Well, after the quarter-final stage the holder of that title is Glenn Maxwell with 301 runs. It's quite an effort for a man who started the summer at No. 8 in the one-day side, and struggling for form and confidence. But Maxwell's work in the middle order during this tournament has been key to Australia's success. The Big Show has shown he is capable of the Big Innings - his 102 against Sri Lanka in Sydney, for example. Some of the shots he played against Pakistan in Adelaide could barely be called cricket strokes, but they're working for him.
It took him most of the tournament to get going, but when Rohit Sharma finally did, it was worth the wait. His 137 off 126 balls in the quarter-final against Bangladesh sealed India's place in the final four. And his recent form against Australia is pretty handy as well. In his only ODI innings against Australia this summer he made 138, and his previous innings against them was 209 in Bangalore in November 2013. Australia know there are plenty of match-winners in India's batting line-up, and stopping Rohit is their first task.
The hosts are expected to name an unchanged team from the one that defeated Pakistan in Adelaide. Pat Cummins for Josh Hazlewood is the only possible change, though this would be harsh on the taker of four wickets in the quarter-final.
Australia (possible) 1 David Warner, 2 Aaron Finch, 3 Steven Smith, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Shane Watson, 6 Glenn Maxwell, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 James Faulkner, 9 Mitchell Johnson, 10 Mitchell Starc, 11 Josh Hazlewood.
India have a very settled eleven, and are unlikely to change anything.
India (possible) 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Ajinkya Rahane, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Umesh Yadav, 10 Mohit Sharma, 11 Mohammed Shami.
Pitch and weather
Already used for the quarter-final between South Africa and Sri Lanka and at the end of a long season, the surface for the match will be more to India's liking than Australia's. Heavy rolling of a strip that sports very little live grass is geared at making it as hard and bouncy as possible, but it is unlikely to offer the sort of steep bounce and lateral movement Australia's pacemen are seeking. The possibility of spin is more intriguing, as of all spinners only the legbreaks of Imran Tahir have deviated significantly all tournament. The weather forecast is fine.
Stats and trivia
- Last time these teams met in a World Cup game was the quarter-final in 2011, which India won comfortably in Ahmedabad
- In that game, Shane Watson and Brad Haddin opened for Australia; here they are likely to come in at Nos. 6 and 8 respectively
- Their only previous World Cup meeting in Australia came in Brisbane in 1992, when Australia squeaked home by one run in a rain-affected game
"Expectation is there because we're the No. 1 ranked one-day team in the world. The reason you have expectation is because you've performed. There's been a lot of talk about pressure and expectation, but that's what comes with ... playing sport at the highest level.
Australia's Michael Clarke
"We'll be playing some different cricket now, so what happened we never want to carry into the World Cup. We always spoke about this."
Rohit Sharma says India's failures earlier in the tour will not matter on Thursday
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale