India: Looking forward to the Semi - Finals?

Mark Horowitz Mar 25, 2015 No Comment 41,297 views

It has been close to 130 days since the Indian team found themselves in Australia. And we have seen all emotions on display. There has been a fare share of disaster, agony, pain, despair, anger, shock & finally joy. It all began with a horror experience with former Australian cricketer, Phillip Hughes being hit on his head in a domestic match. Hughes lost his life tragically and was declared dead a couple of days from the fateful incident. A sea of emotion took over the otherwise tough Aussies.

The Indian team could surprise the Australian team in tomorrow's encounter.
The Indian team could surprise the Australian team in tomorrow's encounter.

It’s really hard to believe, some of India’s cricketers have been in Australia so long that if India goes on to win the World Cup and I was Virat Kohli, I would be thinking, the last time I was in India, Phillip Hughes was still alive, , MS Dhoni was not a father, Alastair Cook was still captain of England, Michael Clarke was not to play the World Cup, Kevin Pietersen had no chance of playing International Cricket, MS Dhoni was still a Test Cricketer & the Supreme Court of India still had N Srinivasan clean of any conflict of interest. Well, all of that has changed someways fortunately and some terribly disastrous.

After a treacherous Test match series against the Aussies, India played a triangular series involving their Test match opponents and the Englishmen. India was outplayed completely. They were still to win a game against a top class opponent and they were scheduled to take on Pakistan in the very first weekend of the World Cup.

Well, a lot has changed hasn’t it? When the group stages of the World Cup has been done and dusted and believe it or not, India are 6 to nothing. They thrashed Pakistan, comprehensively beat South Africa, drubbed UAE, Ireland, Zimbabwe and obliterated West Indies. India have topped their group against all expectations. As a matter of fact, India and New Zealand are the only two teams to have won 6 games on the trot contrary to popular belief that South Africa & Australia would be in that position. And now, after Rohit Sharma scored a brilliant century in the Quarter Final encounter against Bangladesh, India are 7-0 & are up agains the mighty Aussies in a home clash as we gear up towards the Semi - Final.

Despite some fantastic individual performances in the Test series, India never found their bearings. So, what is it that has suddenly clicked for this Indian unit?

Strengths

Fast Bowling Unit 

One of India’s greatest strengths this tournament, rather unexpected, has been their fast bowling trio. They have gone more or less unchanged right through this tournament, barring an injury to Mohammed Shami. Coming into the tournament, India would have thought their man to lead their pace attack would be B Kumar. But, except for that one game due to Shami’s injury, he has not even got a look in.

The trio of Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav & Mohit Sharma have performed so wonderfully that in all the games that India have played this tournament (7), they have bundled out their opposition. Be it, Pakistan, South Africa, the Associate nations or Bangladesh in the Quarter Finals, opposition batsmen have not had much of a say against this very potent Indian attack. It really has been startling as India came into the tournament with their batting being the dominant force but it is due to their bowling that they look a side who can go all the way.

Let us look at each of their bowlers individually and what they have done this tournament:

Mohammed Shami

Shami has clearly been the best of India’s bowlers. He has been sharp, on target and has gotten the ball to swing both ways &  very early on in the piece. More often that not, he has dismissed batsmen before they have got in and also when he has come into a new spell. Former Australian bowler, Brett Lee too, had some nice words to say about Shami saying "Shami has got the most number of wickets in the tournament (for India), and he is right up there. He has been really impressive. I have actually played a fair bit of cricket with Shami over the last couple of years and he is a wonderful guy. He goes in hard.

Here are what Shami’s returns have been this World Cup:

Innings Wickets Economy Rate Strike Rate 4 + Wickets
6 17 4.43 18 1

India will be hoping Shami can do a repeat performance and lead the way against Australia tomorrow.

Umesh Yadav

Umesh Yadav has been ironically, super consistent. He has been on target, super fast and has gotten the ball to talk. Umesh and Shami make for a perfect new ball combination. Shami is more a bowler who hits the wicket, where as, Umesh Yadav is someone who kisses the wicket. He puts it up there and lets the ball swing; Shami is more a seam bowler. However, he has added another dimension to his bowling in this tournament.

Umesh’s returns have been mighty impressive too, in this World Cup:

Innings Wickets Economy Rate Strike Rate 4 + Wickets
7 14 4.50 23.7 1

Mohit Sharma

Now, Mohit Sharma; another of MS Dhoni’s IPL finds has turned a corner in this World Cup. At a very average pace, Sharma has been so very accurate this tournament; that it has restricted batsmen from scoring and consistently built up pressure so bowlers at the other end could make hay. Mohit Sharma, very much a bowler who bowls in the mid 120s to 130s is so confident at the moment that he has at times made it to the 140 mark. It is surprising to see a bowler who does not swing, bounce or nip the ball too much at average pace do so well on wickets like Australia has to offer.

They key to this has been Mohit’s consistency and variations in pace. His line & length have been impeccable. Mohit has delivered the goods to a straight field and has done exactly what the captain has asked off him. Here is what he has done this World Cup:

Innings Wickets Economy Rate Strike Rate 4 + Wickets
7 11 4.50 28.9 -

India will be hoping their trio of fast bowlers continue their good form and add to the 42 off 70 wicket tally that they have brought thus far.

Fielding

India for once, have a fantastic fielding unit in a World Cup encounter. They are looking as good as Australia are in the field, if not better. The likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Rohit Sharma & Shikhar Dhawan form a very strong fielding unit and restrict important runs in the inner circle early on in the piece. Never have India looked this good on the field. Throw in Ravindra Jadeja’s arm & MS Dhoni’s sharpness behind the wickets, India makes for a formidable fielding unit.

Umesh Yadav too, is an athlete and is pretty useful in the field. Ravi Ashwin though, along with the likes of Mohit Sharma & Mohammed Sharma average out the fielding and bring the touch of the old India to the existing XI.

It will be great to see as to which unit will perform better in the field tomorrow. Crunch games like these, the fielding generally has a lot to do with the result, as the game against South Africa & New Zealand did too. Needless to mention, if South Africa had taken their chances in the field, we would have a different finalist at the MCG.

Spin Bowlers tightening the noose

India’s spin duo of Ravichandran Ashwin & Ravindra Jadeja have been unbelievable this tournament. Ashwin, especially has come along leaps and bounds since his 2011-12 visit down under. Ashwin seems a new bowler altogether and for a traditional spinner, he has finally stuck to the line that Graeme Swann so advocated in his years of International cricket. Ashwin is finally flighting the ball and out & around the off stump thus making batsmen play against the spin into the covers rather than work him away on the leg side.

Another compelling difference has been, R Ashwin is now prepared to get hit. Shane Warne always said that was one of the first things spinners had to learn and Ashwin finally seems to have gotten hold of that. He has stuck to his stock ball a lot more than he used to and is only using the carrom ball as a variation. He has kept his action steady, & yes, Sunil Gavaskar is finally happy about that.

Here are what Ashwin’s returns have been like this World Cup:

Innings Wickets Economy Rate Strike Rate 4 + Wickets
7 12 4.29 33.5 1

Ravindra Jadeja has been bowling well in this tournament. He has played to perfection his role as the 5th bowler & MSD will be pretty happy about that. While he has not been attacking specifically, he has been himself by firing the ball in and keeping to a flatter trajectory. Here are what his Stats look like:

Innings Wickets Economy Rate Strike Rate 4 + Wickets
7 9 5.31 37.7 -

It will be interesting to see how the battle goes between India’s spinners and Glenn Maxwell, the latter of whom has had the edge against R Ashwin & Jadeja, spanking them out of the park whenever he has gotten the opportunity. Having said that, if the Indian spinners can get into their own, the Aussies might find it difficult to keep the scoreboard ticking.

Virat Kohli

India’s champion batsman, Virat Kohli has looked a little off colour in the last few games. Well, maybe, he has not really got a chance in most of the games but he did show us that he is a big match player with his 100 against Pakistan in India’s World Cup opener.

Over the last 4 years, Virat Kohli has shown fans across the World that he plays his best in the big stage and it will come as no surprise if the Indian Test skipper comes out all guns blazing in tomorrow’s Semi Final encounter against the Aussies. Kohli troubled the Aussie bowlers during the Test Matches as he raked up 4 centuries in that series. Mitchell Johnson has already put his hand up to take the mantle of sledging, you could be rest assured, Virat Kohli will not hold back. It will be a great contest to see Kohli take on the Australian bowlers.

Kohli seems pumped and has said there would be no better time to beat Australia and this to put the sheets over the summer gone by. Here is what Virat has done this World Cup:

Innings No. of Runs Average Strike Rate 50+ Scores
7 304 60.80 84.21 1

Shikhar Dhawan

After a horrendous few months, Shikhar Dhawan has shown the World via MS Dhoni and India’s team management believe in him so much. He has shown his class right through the tournament and stepped up in big games against big opponents. I still believe, his starts against Pakistan & South Africa in India’s first two games of the tournament, set the trend of things to come giving India significant confidence as they took the field.

Innings No. of Runs Average Strike Rate 50+ Scores
7 367 52.42 89.95 3

India will look to Shikhar Dhawan tomorrow to hopefully do what he did against this opposition on his Test Debut.

Ravi Shastri

Despite being a pain and over done sometimes, one cannot help but believe Ravi Shastri has had a hand in India’s tournament. One thing is for sure, he would have instilled enough amount of self - belief & confidence into this Indian team. Lot of India’s no give a damn play can be credited to Ravi Shastri.

I am certain he would have told the boys to “Go out there tomorrow & enjoy the occasion & express yourselves” to the best of their ability.

Weaknesses

Batting in the death

In both of India’s games against formidable oppositions early on in the piece, i.e. Pakistan & South Africa, the top order gave a solid foundation for the lower middle order to break the shackles. However, on both occasions despite, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina & Ajinkya Rahane’s brilliances at different times, the lower middle order has not been able to capitalize. On both occasions, India looked good for a score of 330+ but only managed in the early 300s. This has gone under the covers due to India’s sublime performance else where. However, come finals time, this could be an issue as the Australians may take that momentum into their chase if they end up batting second.

Ravindra Jadeja

Ravindra Jadeja’s bowling and fielding have done the job for India this tournament but his batting has been way below par. Not something that even a No. 7 batsman can be proud about. He has not been consistent and has gotten out to reckless shots when the situation has demanded against. MS Dhoni was very critical about Ravindra Jadeja’s batting during India’s chase against the West Indies. India will be hoping Jadeja can step up his game when it matters most and provide his team with some crucial runs at the fag end of the innings or hold his nerve if India end up chasing.

India’s Bowlers

This may sound contradictory & ironic but while India’s bowlers have been great against most teams and picked up the full quota of wickets, it should be a matter of concern that teams like Zimbabwe & Ireland could post sizeable scores on conducive wickets against their bowlers. There are no complaints against them as such, but, it did appear that India’s bowlers lost a little bit of focus mid - innings. MS Dhoni & co should ensure this does not happen & guard against it.

India are looking great for tomorrow’s game and could surprise the hosts in not so host like conditions. MSD has been wily with his captaincy and words, and will be looking to repeat what his team did here in that 2008 final of the Commonwealth Bank series at the SCG.

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