Spinners will play key role in Sydney - Shastri
India's team director Ravi Shastri believes the spinners will have a key role to play in Thursday's semi-final against hosts Australia at the SCG. India's spin-duo of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have been crucial in suffocating the opposition's flow of runs during the middle overs this World Cup, and Shastri backed his slow bowlers to once again rise to the occasion.
"It's very important that they bowl well," Shastri told ESPNcricinfo. "They've been key to our success with wickets in the middle overs, and it gives the captain lot of options. There's a great variety and balance in the attack. I'm sure spin will play an important role tomorrow."
Shastri also left open the possibility of MS Dhoni even resorting to spinners early in the innings: "You never know. It looks a good pitch for both sides and will likely last the duration of the game. It mainly depends on the weather. If it's hot, the odd ball could just grip and we wouldn't mind that one bit."
Ashwin and Jadeja have collected 21 wickets between them from seven matches at an average of 28.04. Backed by the longer boundaries in Australia, Ashwin, in particular, has tossed the ball up more often than before and made regular use of the offbreak, fetching him 12 scalps at an economy rate of 4.29, the third-best among spinners to have bowled at least 20 overs this World Cup.
However, both Ashwin and Jadeja have enjoyed little success against Australia in the recent past. Glenn Maxwell, in particular, has hit the pair for 124 runs off just 78 balls at a strike-rate of 158.97. But B Arun, India's bowling coach, remained unfazed and had only high praise for all his bowlers, who he felt "complemented" each other really well. He added that India would not alter their game plan to negotiate the threat of Australia's batting power, and rather persist with a tried-and-tested winning formula.
"Ashwin and Jadeja have been brilliant," Arun said. "It's been a great journey for Ashwin, who has rediscovered flight. He has been exceptionally good with his variations. Jadeja had a difficult time coming back from injury, but he too has done well to deliver at right time. The bowlers complement each other, learn from each other and take pride in bowling well as a unit. Tomorrow is just another game and we'll take it as it comes. We're going to go around with whatever has been working for us."
India's bowling unit has been one of the surprise packages of the tournament so far, constantly keeping batsmen on the back foot with a consistent line and length. After failing to bowl a team out even once in the tri- series against Australia and England in January, India's attack bounced back strongly and has now snared 70 wickets from seven matches - the only team in the tournament to bundle out all their opponents.
However, both Shastri and Arun weren't surprised by the sudden turnaround from their bowlers.
"Most of these bowlers were bowling well in patches in the Tests," Arun explained. "The tri-series was a great experience and the bowlers did well. We analysed certain areas where they bowled well and areas where they went for runs. When they understood the best lengths to bowl on, they worked hard at doing that.
"Sometimes, they were bowling a little too short, or bowling up to be driven. The lengths back home in India and in Australia vary a little bit, so they needed a little time to get used to it. Once they got it, they've been getting it right consistently for the last seven games."
Shastri felt the bowlers had all been both "brilliant" and adequately tested over the last month.
"Their consistency is what has most impressed me," he said. "They learned a lot in that Test tour of Australia, where they bowled well in patches. They realised how important it is to bowl well as a unit. They've done that from game one in this World Cup and been brilliant in all seven games.
"When you play seven games, you would like to believe that you've been tested by one team or another. When you get guys like Gayle smacking you all over the park, you're bound to be tested. Australia will be no different. They are just another opposition, like how we've treated all the opposition. It doesn't make a difference to us. It's a semi-final."