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Match Analysis

India expand their knowledge bank of the MCG, the venue for the final

They now have the experience of putting up a total at this ground, to add to their know-how of chasing one from the Pakistan game

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
If, and it is a big if for no other reason than this World Cup has been unpredictable, India do make it to the final at the MCG on Sunday, then they might have a significant advantage.
Melbourne's inclement weather has allowed just two completed games at the MCG in this tournament, and India have played and won both. There has been only one other game where a ball was bowled when England lost to Ireland via rain, Duckworth, Lewis and Stern.
More than that, India have been able to experience both sides of the conditions at the MCG, part by luck and part by design. Rohit Sharma won both tosses. They bowled first and chased against Pakistan. Against Zimbabwe, they opted to bat first and defend.
"We just wanted to experience what it was to set a score in these kinds of conditions," India coach Rahul Dravid said after the match. "Also, we felt that if we batted first, it would give us an opportunity to play 20 overs and just get into that ability of still trying to get a par or par-plus score batting first."
They did just that. On a fresh MCG pitch, with the experience of seeing both top orders collapse in the India-Pakistan epic, KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli negotiated the nipping new ball and paced the first ten overs superbly to set up an assault in the last ten.
Thanks to Suryakumar Yadav's special, India plundered 107 runs off the last ten overs to post an above-par total of 186 for 5.
They preyed too on Zimbabwe's inexperience at the ground. Rahul's excellent half-century might have been cut short on 30 had Wellington Masakadza known where to stand at deep midwicket.
The MCG is so big square of the wicket that easy twos can be picked off to the sweepers in the deep, but fielders must hedge their bets to protect the boundary as well. The threat of two had Masakadza in too close, and he committed the cardinal sin of allowing a catchable ball go over his head and land inside the rope. It was a harsh lesson to learn for Zimbabwe, whose only previous experience of the ground in a practice game had not prepared them adequately.
"We played a warm-up game here against Sri Lanka before the World Cup actually started and the MCG was a very different picture than what it was tonight," Zimbabwe captain Craig Ervine said.
"Such an electric atmosphere... It's quite difficult when you're on the field because you can't even shout to anybody [even if they are] close to you, because they're just not going to hear you.
"One of the things we learned was you've got to keep your eye on the keeper obviously, and me at all times, to understand where to go. I think it's very easy to get caught up in all the noise."
And that's another advantage India have. It has been their noise and their cauldron in this World Cup so far. Should they reach the final, they will be the only team to have experienced it twice, with Pakistan having experienced it once.
India's bowlers also got another invaluable outing, this time defending late into the evening as batting got easier. Spin is usually a great weapon at the MCG on the drier January pitches in the BBL. But in October and November, it has been hard graft. Axar Patel had another expensive night, but R Ashwin found his groove picking up 3 for 22.
"For the spinners, I think you needed to understand the pace and how you can't bowl at one pace or one length," Ashwin said after the match, "and you need to be able to change it up and keep bowling and keep staying in a fight. Because there are going to be good shots being played on this pitch because batters do know once they get off to such a start that they have to attack the spinner."
India also got the chance to experiment with their side having already locked up their semi-final spot pre-game thanks to South Africa's collapse against Netherlands. They selected Rishabh Pant instead of Dinesh Karthik and he batted at No. 5.
It's obvious India are aware of the spin threats remaining in the tournament. From Adil Rashid to Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Mohammad Nawaz and Shadab Khan, they all turn the ball away from the hitting arc of India's right-hand batters. Axar was promoted against Pakistan at the MCG with no success. Pant missed out against Zimbabwe because of a brilliant catch from Ryan Burl at long-on. But it was a worthwhile exercise to see what it looked like.
Dravid, though, was quick to point out it was not an indicator of anything to come. "Everyone is available for selection," he said. "Just because somebody missed out in this game doesn't mean that we can't go back to him."
There are still a lot of ifs, buts and maybes before it is decided who will grace the MCG for next Sunday's final. But India have banked some knowledge. And in a tournament of complete unknowns, it's worth something.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo