The semi-finalists of the 2015 ICC Cricket World cup are set. Australia vs India and New Zealand vs South Africa. Before the tournament began, the four best teams in the world according to their rankings were Australia, India, South Africa and New Zealand. The foursome have been the best teams in this tournament. It is not that often when the four best teams/players make the final four of any tournament. Ever the armchair analyst, I have decided to rank the four teams in order of who will win.
The main reason for making Australia the favourites is very simple: The final is in Melbourne. Beating Australia in Australia has proved to be the hardest job in cricket be it tests or ODIs in past 20 years. In the last two years, they won 24 matches and lost only 4. In these 20 years, they have lost their annual tri-series (though it has been held only once since 2008) only 4 times and failed to make the finals only twice. They are a really really hard nut to crack at home.
The Aussie batting has a superb mixture of explosive hitters (Finch, Warner, Maxwell), steady Eddies (Clarke, Smith, Haddin) and a good finisher in Faulkner. This is the best batting line-up of this world cup more so at home. As is the case with good sides, there is always one player who picks up the slack. Even during the spectacular collapse against the Kiwis, Haddin played a steady innings to lift the score to 151 from 106/9. The adage, every run is important could not have been truer in than this match. The best thing about this batting is that every top order batsman has scored at least one fifty. The blip against Wahab Riaz was exactly that: a blip. Catches were dropped but there is no way we can know what could have happened. Hell, the all-conquering 2003 Aussies were put under the cosh by Asif Karim for a few overs but it didn’t hide a comprehensive victory. What it made was very engaging viewing that is all.
The bowling has a trump card in Mitchell Starc. Andy Zaltzman picked this up. He is unusually good at picking up 5 wickets in a innings. He has not even played 40 ODIs and already has 5. The best is 13 by Waqar Younis and he had 262 attempts to do it. Hazlewood is truly McGrath/Pollock’s heir. Super steady, unrelenting line and length bowling and very hard to hit. I do not think Cummins should play in the semi-finals. The other Mitchell has been thrashed around the ground by McCullum and Sangakkara but has managed 10 wickets at 24.6 but more importantly at the strike rate of 27. In Faulkner/Maxwell/Watson, they have trio that don’t do anything particularly excellently but don’t do it very badly either. It is possible that a lack of specialist spinner at SCG might hurt them but I think if the trio do not concede more than 6 runs per over in their 20-25 overs, the Aussies should be in good stead.
2) New Zealand
With due respect to India, the Kiwis have been the best side in this world cup. They are playing super aggressive, high octane cricket. McCullum does not seem to give a crap about the opposition’s run rate. All he cares about are wickets. If I were to draw an analogy to football, it would be like the Kiwis winning games 8-5. Leaky defence but an overwhelmingly spectacular attack. The only reason I am not making them favourites is that the final is in Melbourne and not Christchurch.
The Kiwis have a solid top and middle order. Explosiveness provided by McCullum and accumulation provided by the trio of Guptill, Anderson, Williamson and an out of form Taylor. I think their lower order is suspect but they do have the serene and evergreen Daniel Vettori. Guptill took a while to get off the blocks but what a way to join the party! A calm 100 in a tight chase against the Bangla Tigers and an aggressive testosterone filled Viv Richards-type innings of 237 against WI. In Baba style, latea vanthalum latesta vanthan*.
McCullum must be the dream captain of any bowler and it shows in the way the Kiwis are bowling. Boult has been phenomenal. Southee has been expensive but among the wickets. Anderson has 11 wickets! Pitamah Vettori. The Italian-Kiwi has long been one of my favourite bowlers. He cannot turn the ball but gets his wickets with a typical spinner’s guile. He has taken 15 wickets and concedes less than 4 runs per over.
Special mention to McCullum who has been superb as a captain. He isn’t really worried when the bowlers get hit. Sets really aggressive fields. He has taken the superb Martin Crowe’s 1992 skippering and made it go to 11. The 1992 Kiwis were one of the best teams not to have won the Copa Grande. Given that Crowe is going to the next world sooner rather than later it would be a fitting tribute to the great man, if McCullum’s NZ go all the way.
What happened to the Los Hombres en Blau? The bowling somehow flipped a switch and are now unplayable. 7 matches 70 wickets. Lots of parallels to the World championship of cricket win of 1985. Although that side was different than the current side. Shami (17), Yadav (14), Ashwin (12) and Mohit (11) have more than 10 wickets. The fifth bowler Sir Jadeja has 9. A superb turnaround!
India has always been blessed with good-to-great batsmen. Always. This side is no different. There is no batsman who can really explode like a Maxwell or ABdV but in Kohli/Dhawan/Rohit/Rahane have a foursome who score really quickly the old school way. Conventional strokes and hard running. The strike rotation has been superb by the Indian batsmen. Raina is probably closest to Maxwell in scoring that explosive cameo but his innings are more 35 off 25 type rather than 50 off 24 type. Dhoni. What can I say about the man? Probably the best finisher in ODIs ever! I have checked stats to see how Indian chasing improved multi-fold as soon as the man from Ranchi burst on to the scene. If Dhoni retires from ODIs as India repeat, I will blog about the finisher. Most of you must be aware of the stat:
MSD 40 not outs in chases, W39 T1 L1.
The bowling has been a revelation. The Indian bowlers have been uncharacteristically disciplined. Bowling to the field has never been done this well by any side ever this consistently. The fielding has been exceptional. In fact, I would say India have been the best fielding side this entire tournament. Better than SA, better than Oz, better than NZ. The fielding has made every chase for the opponents 20 runs harder and every target for India 20 runs easier. The only knock on the bowling is that they have not run through sides like NZ/Aus. My only fear is a repeat of the 2003 final. Zaheer (18 wkts)/Srinath (16)/Nehra (15) were superb all throughout the tournament only to drop a giant collective egg in the final. The opponents are same and the younger pacers and Srinath were absolutely overwhelmed by the occasion. Dhoni is not an emotional skipper as Ganguly was, so he should handle this young pace corps carefully to avoid a repeat.
4) South Africa
The chokers. The Proteas have had, over the years, the best, 2nd best, 3rd best teams of the cup and repeatedly failed to win a single knockout match. They are the anti-Kiwis. The Kiwis, almost always, punch above their weight and overachieve in every single world cup whereas the Saffas underachieve. South Africa finally won their first knockout match in a world cup at the 7th time of asking. They haven’t had a great world cup so far. The batting has struggled and the bowling, other than Imran Tahir, has been underwhelming.
South Africa have the most top-heavy batting of this world cup. They have two stand-out batsmen in Amla and superman AB de Villiers. Miller, Rossouw, De Kock have potential but are raw. Duminy is experienced but woefully out of form. AB de Villiers is in terrific form. Right now he is Viv Richards on steroids and Richards batted like he was on steroids. To be fair to Richards, if he had this day’s bat (I can’t believe no one talks about the bats. It is always the batsman that is talked about.), field restrictions (Richards got most of his runs in Australia where they had 15 over field restrictions but nothing like today’s) and shorter boundaries, he could have made de Villiers look like Chris Tavare but that is a discussion for another day. If Amla fails, ABdV has too much to do and somethings are beyond even Superman. So, Amla better turn up or it could be a long day.
The Proteas strength is in their bowling and it has not looked very good. They were made to look under par by Zimbabwe and poor by India. Steyn is not as good in ODIs as he is in tests but he still is very good. Morkel and Steyn haven’t looked unplayable but have 24 wickets between them. The man that has stood out is Imran Tahir. I hadn’t really seen him bowl in ODIs and I thought he would be as poor as he was in the tests but he has an average under 21 against the 8 test playing nations and an economy of under 4.5 and a spectacular strike rate of 27. He has 15 wickets this world cup. He most certainly has to come good in the semis for the Proteas to do any damage.
PREDICTIONS: Winners in bold
SF: Australia vs India
Simply because Australia are at home. Based on current form both are evenly matched but home advantage shades it. This is one prediction where I would be extremely happy to be proved wrong.
SF: New Zealand vs South Africa
Do it for Crowe and the spirit of ’92. And home advantage. Also, the Kiwis have the better batting and bowling.
F: Australia vs New Zealand
Home advantage for the win. Two evenly matched sides again but home advantage to nick it. I would be very happy to be wrong again for there is something nice about a first time winner.
*- This roughly translates to “He came late but he is the latest.” Latest here indicating the latest phenom or technology.