New Zealand booked themselves a place in the final in the most dramatic way imaginable. It was by far the best game of the World Cup so far. After six long (sometimes slow) weeks, the world cup delivered an instant classic when it mattered. Both sides had their chances, both sides made a lot of mistakes. A lot will be made of South Africa choking again, which is a little unfair. There is no shame losing in such a close, hard fought contest.
In the end it came down to the penultimate ball of the match. An unlikely hero emerged, a 36 year old journeyman, a marginal selection for the world cup to begin with, became a hero. His name now forever etched in the cricket history books. It was fucking brilliant! New Zealand have made the World Cup final.
Tomorrow New Zealand find out who they meet, India or Australia. Below we look at the road each side has taken to the semi final and who we think will join New Zealand.
India’s World Cup started against Pakistan. It was an easy win. They followed it up by trouncing the tournament favourites South Africa a week later, one of the first upsets of the World Cup. A hugely impressive effort. They then easily won the games they were expected to win, easily defeating the UAE, West Indies, Ireland and Zimbabwe. Undefeated in the group stage, they faced Bangladesh in the quarters. It was another easy win. Over a long World Cup that has seen teams form rise, dip, rise and then dive again, India have been the immovable force. They haven’t tinkered with their side, naming the same side in most games, they haven’t lost a game and they haven’t really been pushed. India has a more than solid ODI team. The only question mark hanging over it is do they have a killer blow? Can they be brilliant if they need to be?
In contrast, Australia’s World Cup campaign has been an inconsistent affair. Australia started its campaign with a crushing win over what turned out to be a truly incompetent English side. Their second pool match against Bangladesh was abandoned without a ball being bowled. They followed this with a batting collapse from the good old days. All out for 151 against a rampant New Zealand side at Eden park.
Australias long known weaknesses against swing being mercilessly exploited by Boult and Southee. Despite the collapse, the game came down the wire after Starc tore through the New Zealand batting line up. New Zealand prevailed, but only just, 9 down with 161 balls to spare.
Easy enough wins against Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Scotland followed. The quarter final though was deceptively close. What looks like an easy win on paper could have ended in disaster is Wahab had a bit of luck.
Unlike India, Australia has had a revolving door of players in and out of the starting 11 over the six weeks of the World Cup, through both injury and form. Bailey, Doherty, Marsh and Cummins have all played at least one game. At times it felt the balance of the side was wrong, and Cummins and others struggled for form. It was only in the quarter final that it felt that Australia had settled on a team. In contrast to India, Australia can be brilliant when it comes together, the question mark is will it come together? Sometimes it doesn’t (e.g. the match against New Zealand).
Overall, India’s primary strength is their batting. Established superstars like Kohli, Sharma and Dohni, surrounded by the likes of Dharwan and Raina, have delivered on all occasions.
Coming into the tournament there were question marks over their bowling attack. However, Shami, Yadav, Ashwin and co have more or less done a good job, taking 70 of the available 70 wickets. However, it does feel that they haven’t really been tested yet. Their smashing of South Africa feels like an anomaly and it will be interesting to see how their attack steps up to the challenge should some of Australia’s batsmen get after them. The SCG will suit them, but it may not be enough.
In contrast, Australia’s batting has stuttered along at this World Cup. It has felt like every player in the line up has been out of form at some point or another. Finch hasn’t scored runs since the first game, Warner has been quiet apart form scoring 178 against Afghanistan. Smith has been the “rock”. Clarke hasn’t done much, his captaincy being his primary contribution. Watson spluttered along until scoring a match winning 60 odd in the quarter final.
The unlikely star has been Maxwell who has been in smashing form. Despite looking weaker on paper than India’s batting line up, it seems to work as a unit. It gets the job done.
Australia’s past success in World Cup semi-finals has been built on brilliant bowling attacks. Gilmour in ’75, Warne and McGrath in ’96, Warne in ’99, McGrath and Tait in ’07; Australia’s bowling has often delivered victory without much help from the batting. In this World Cup, Australia’s bowling line up has to an extent been a one man band. Starc has lead from the front and been brilliant.
He is Australia’s trump card in this match. Maxwell, Johnson, Hazlewood and Faulkner are all good enough, but its Starc that turns a decent attack into a good one and is the one thing that can make up for Australia’s glaring lack of spin options, something that could come back to bite them at the SCG. If Starc fails, Australia fails.
Who will win:
On form, India’s consistency may put them ahead. They have had a better World Cup than Australia. However, I have nagging doubts. Is consistency enough to win a World Cup? In contrast, I think Australia can be brilliant. The real question is will it come together for them? Given the respective strengths and weaknesses of both sides, its bound to be another fascinating semi final. On gut feel more than anything I’m tipping Australia in a nail biter. Hopefully for fans of cricket, it reaches the heights of the first semi.