Monday, March 23, 2015

Are the best 4 in the semis?

Are the 4 semi finalists the best teams in the CWC15? If you look on paper and at pre-tournament form, probably Not. In fact, there would have been many eyebrows raised if someone would have predicted India to be amongst the Top 4. Though, 2 of the world’s best batsmen ever, predicted this list of Top 4.

Now, looking at the performance of the teams in the CWC15 so far, these 4 are by far the best teams. Very predictable and more or less consistent performances from them and no wonder, the batsmen and bowlers from these teams are holding the top few slots in all the statistics charts for the CWC15. Even some of the best catches are from these teams only. How can one forget the acrobatic Baz at the boundary or Rilee Rossouw and AB catching some beauties, or MS Dhoni taking a diving catch behind the stumps or may be the excellent slip catching by the Aussies.

While, South Africa was the first team to reach the Semis, they have been a bit off-shade when put under pressure. Consider the India match, when, their bowlers were taken to task and their batsmen were made to chase 300+. Or their match against Pakistan, where up against a quality bowling attack, chasing a modest total, they lost the game. Take Amla, and AB out of the equation, their batting line-up looks easy to get. They can buckle down under continuous pressure. They have a bowling unit, who can win you matches from nowhere. And their fielding always adds 20-30 additional runs.

India was the second team to partner South Africa in the Semis line-up. No one would have given India a chance for CWC15 before the world cup – all because of their woeful form. Famed batting line-up was not cracking at all and Virat Kohli who was in a purple patch in the Aussie Test series, suddenly lost touch in the Triangular ODI series against Australia and England. And then, their bowling, everyone lambasted them right, left and centre. But cometh the CWC and cometh the best performances from this team. They have hunted in packs. All batsmen have scored and scored together. All bowlers have bowled superbly and again together. They have gotten 70 wickets from 7 matches and none of their bowlers have ripped through the opposition. All have gelled together to hunt down the opposition. And to top it all with some brilliant ground fielding and catching, India are on a roll, with 7 out of 7 in CWC15. Their biggest problem still is their bowling. Can this bowling attack taken on the Aussie juggernaut?

Aussies, are one of the per-tournament favourites and they have lived to that billing so far. They have produced, some ruthless performances, except against their Trans-Taman rivals, New Zealand. That game was anybody’s and the lucky one scraped through. Their batting had not really clicked big thus far, especially, they top 2. Though, Aron Finch and David Warner have a century each in CWC15, however, they haven’t done anything worthwhile by their lofty standards. Its been mostly the middle order and the last middle order which has worked for them beautifully. Their bowling attack is excellent, which has worked marvellously for them so far, with Mitchel Starc at the top of the ladder for CWC15 with 18 wickets so far. Other bowlers have been contributing regularly too. The only problem they might face, especially at SCG is the lack of a quality spinner. So far, they have worked with Glenn Maxwell, who is not a regular bowler. Their attack looks one dimensional in that sense and much would depend upon the pitch for the March 26th game.

The New Zealanders are also having a ball. Unusual pre-tournament favourites, and not being the dark horse like during the previous CWCs, the Kiwis have played some good cricket. But I believe, they can also falter under pressure, as was visible during their match against Australia. Other than that match, they have not really been tested too so far in the CWC15. Whats been working from them are the starts that Baz has been able to give them. And with Williamson also in excellent form, they marched past during the initial league phase. And then Guptill rose to the occasion and scored a century and a double century in the QF. Their bowling has been too good, with Boult and Southee knocking everyone over. And Daniel Vettori has been magnificent as always.

In the first semi-final between New Zealand and South Africa at the smallish Eden Park at Auckland, it will be fun to see how the Kiwi bowlers who have been fabulous so far in CWC15 rise up to the challenge posed by AB and Hashim Amla. And how the arguably the best bowler in the world, Dale Steyn work against the Baz onslaught. For me the result of these duels will decide how this match progresses. And of course, how they handle such pressure. For NZ, it should be to apply continuous pressure at all times, as the team from the Rainbow nation is known to not handle pressure well.

The second semi-final between the hot favourites and home team Australia and team with the momentum, India should be a spectacle to watch. A lot will depend on how the laid in pitch behaves at the marvellous SCG. Already, there are calls for a local team supportive pitch suited for fast bowlers. Traditionally, SCG pitch supports spin bowling and let’s see how the curator acts on the 26th. It is a 50-50 game, with Aussies having a slight advantage due to home conditions and a lethal bowling team. A lot will also depend on how Indian new ball bowlers handle the attacking Warner and co upfront. I believe it has to be the same approach, as so far, for Indian bowlers in the CWC15 –take wickets regularly. And the same approach for the batsmen – don’t give too many wickets at the start, settle down and one batsmen out of the top 3 should bat through. For Australia, it should be the same too, else, this match can go out of your hands anytime. India has a great momentum by their side. Let’s see a full house on Thursday.

For me, this CWC dominated by the batsmen, with so many 300+ scores, 400+ 6s hit and 2 double centuries already, the fate of the semi-finals and then the finals will be decided by the bowlers. And that’s the irony of the CWC15. Or may be that says it all – sports is a great leveller. There will always be a balance somewhere and that’s so interesting and heartening to see.

All in all, a stupendous semi-final line-up, which should live up to the expectations of the fans. Crunch times for equals. From here on, it’s only about performing on that day. Who handles and manages the pressure of the CWC semi-final will come out trumps. And may the best teams win.

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