by Kartik Ashta
The Indian Cricket Team has had a torrid time in their bilateral test series against the Baggie Greens, and the less said about the tri-series the better, being outplayed by a team that failed to even make it out of the group stage in this World Cup. However, the arrival of the biggest stage and the tag of defending champions seems to have set alight a hunger that was missing since December of last year. Along with co-hosts New Zealand, India remains the only unbeaten side in the tournament and on paper the team does look in ominous form. Shikhar Dhawan endured a horrendous run of form before the Cup but has managed to turn a corner and one of the top three (Rohit Sharma, Dhawan and Virat Kohli) have managed to click at different points throughout the tournament. The surprise however has been the effectiveness of the Indian pace battery and Ashwin’s spin. Having bowled out the opposition in all the matches, critics and spectators alike have been silenced. There are however a few chinks that have been glazed over as a result of the nature of the victories. The absence of a fifth bowler is a serious concern that needs to be addressed by MS Dhoni. Ravindra Jadeja has not been the force that he is on sub continental tracks and relying on part timers to fill in could be a risky move against aggressive batsmen coming in at the death (read: Maxwell and Faulkner). Moreover, the Indian middle order is still to be tested by a quality bowling attack on a challenging pitch and a few early inroads into the batting line up could result in testing times.
Coming off a dominant performance in the bilateral series as well as the tri-series, Australia has carried its form to the tournament. Dominant performances throughout have been marred only by the hiccup against New Zealand which was an error strewn, humdinger of a match dominated by Mitchell Starc’s stellar performance with the ball which almost snatched victory for the Aussies. Steven Smith, David Warner and Glenn Maxwell have been in scintillating form and Starc and Johnson have formed a lethal pace combination backed by Faulkner who has blossomed into a specialist finisher both with bat and ball. Arguably the best fielding side in the tournament, up there with New Zealand and South Africa, Australia carry the advantage over India in the field. They do however face the same problem regarding the fifth bowler with Maxwell, Smith and Michael Clarke sharing responsibilities as a result of Watson’s struggles with the ball. Unlike India, Australia did have a bit of a scare against Pakistan and had it not been for the abject fielding display that was on show by Rahat Ali, it could have been an India-Pakistan semi-final thanks to one of the finest World Cup spells bowled by Wahab Riaz. However, it was not to be, but it still left cricket fans with a mouth-watering clash between two titans of the game.
Other factors could influence the outcome of the game as well. The two teams know each other inside out, having played each other for three months straight and playing with and against each other in the IPL, so no secrets there. The pitch and the crowd though will play huge role. The Sydney Cricket Ground is one of the few grounds in Australia known to favour batsmen from the sub-continent, however it is unlikely that it will spin and grip as much. The crowd could surprisingly be a sea of blue rather than yellow considering the large Indian diaspora present in the city.
Though the two teams look evenly matched on paper and are in superb form, Australia trump India in the fielding department and they have the psychological advantage of having outplayed their opponents on a regular basis over the past 3 months. Moreover, familiarity with the conditions at home might play to Australia’s advantage.
With the stage set for a game that promises to enthral, one cannot help but wonder whether India’s Australian sojourn will end the way it began, with a drubbing, or will India banish the proverbial monkey on its back by dispatching the hosts and at this moment, favourites, Australia?