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The Rediff Special
Australia is the form side at the moment: Bevan
April 24, 2007
Australia and South Africa square off against each other in what promises an epic semi-final showdown of the 2007 World Cup, in St Lucia, on Wednesday.
Defending champions Australia have thrashed every opponent they faced so far in the tournament, while South Africa had to work hard before sealing a place in the last four stage.
The 1999 tied semi-final between the teams is still fresh in the cricket aficianado's mind -- when Australia advanced by virtue of finishing higher in the standings in the previous round. South Africa have also been unlucky, having twice fallen victim to the controversial rain rules at the World Cup.
One of Australia's key players this time is opener Matthew Hayden, who has hit three hundreds, including the fastest in the tournament's history, against South Africa in a group match.
In the other semi-final, Asian powerhouse Sri Lanka take on New Zealand, in a contest of contrasting styles.
Former Australia batsman Michael Bevan in an exclusive chat with rediff.com previews the two semi-finals and also analyses Australia's chances.
'It will be a big test for South Africa, but I guess Australia will win it,' he told Special Correspondent Harish Kotian.
You played in that memorable 1999 semi-final match, which finished in a tie and knocked South Africa out of the World Cup. How much will that match play in the minds of both the teams?
It probably won't play a big part. In the lead up to the World Cup, South Africa went into the tournament as the world's number one team and what we saw that South Africa were really trying to talk up the fact they are a changed team. They were labelled as "chokers" before the start of the competition and they had this tag for a little while now. They made it a point coming into the competition to say that they felt good about their chances and they didn't feel that [choking] was a problem anymore.
Meanwhile, Australia beat South Africa in a round robin match of the World Cup and they pretty much have the wood on them for some time now.
It will be a big test for South Africa, but I guess Australia win it at this point of time.
The round robin match that you are talking about saw Australia register a convincing victory. Matthew Hayden scored a blazing century and all the other Australian batsmen did well with the bat. Would that match have some sort of a bearing on this semi-final?
It will give the Australia a little bit of confidence. One of Australia's plans seems to have been to progress and become a stronger and stronger team throughout the Super Eights, which was a really good time for Australia.
However, Australia have been relying a lot on Matthew Hayden and some of their top order batsmen. So what South Africa will be looking to do is to take a couple of early wickets to put Australia under early pressure. If they do that, they have a chance.
Talking about early wickets, how important will be the wicket of Matthew Hayden from South Africa's point of view?
Hayden has been the outstanding batsmen of the tournament so far. He has scored his runs at nearly run-a-ball and has really provided Australia with a great start. It's very hard to stop a team when an opening batsman is consistently scoring at run-a-ball and scoring a hundred every second innings.
So he has been the key to Australia's good form. Once again I think we will find that it will be the top order that will set the platform for either side to score a big total.
Australia have won all their matches quite convincingly in tournament so far. But now that counts for nothing as we saw in the tri-series in Australia when they lost to England in the best of three finals. What does Australia need to guard against in these knockout matches?
I think this is probably one area where South Africa hold a little advantage over Australia. Throughout the Super Eights, South Africa have been playing from a position where quite a few of their matches have been similar to a final. They knew they had to win their match to progress through.
Australia, meanwhile, started strongly early in the Super Eights and it was just a formality for them after that to make it to the semi-finals.
In a semi-final or a final, anything can happen. But from South Africa's perspective they would have already played a couple of do or die matches so they would probably be in a reasonable frame of mind.
Do you see any team stopping Australia in the form that they are in at the moment?
Of course! When you get to the semi-finals, any team can have a bad 10 overs or a bad innings and all the teams playing in the semi-finals have some good players. What you find that any team is really capable of winning the tournament [at this stage].
Australia is the form side at the moment, but there might be an occasion where they are put into bat on a seaming wicket or when they chase runs they might be facing someone like Muttiah Muralitharan. So during a semi-final or a final anyone can win, but you would say at this stage given Australia's consistent performance you would see it hard not tipping them to win.
Australia's bowling has also been consistent through the tournament. Left-arm spinner Brad Hogg has been one of the star performers with the ball. He has not only taken wickets, but also managed to stop the runs in the middle overs in every match.
He has been very important. Hogg was always going to play a reasonably large part in the World Cup given the conditions and the wickets, which are taking some turn. He is very competitive and he always gives 100 percent.
He has got a very, very good wrong one. What happens if a batsman fails to pick his wrong one, then it gets them in a defensive frame of mind and stops them from scoring as quickly as they would like.
He has had a great tournament so far and Australia need him to bowl really well and he has done.
Australia have this habit of targeting certain players from the opposition. Which South African player do you think they will target in this match?
Australia always approached big games in the past targeting big players in the opposition team because they feel if they get the senior players or the leaders of the opposition early then it puts them in a strong position.
I guess they will be looking to target guys like [Graeme] Smith, [AB de] Villiers, [Herschelle] Gibbs and then [Shaun] Pollock with the ball and Makhaya Ntini.
It's not going to be a dramatic change in the game plan and Australia will probably stick to what they know the best. It's really about how well they can execute their plan in the final as opposed to the types of plans because there is a little bit more pressure on the players.
Michael, what is your take on the first semi-final match between New Zealand and Sri Lanka to be played later today?
It is going to be an interesting game. Both teams have the capability of winning the World Cup. They both have got some dynamic players.
New Zealand will be a little bit concerned with their form in the last game. Both teams when they played against Australia they rested their key players so it's very hard to tell where both teams are at this point of time.
Sri Lanka had a pretty reasonable win over New Zealand [in the Super Eights]. So I think they will probably feeling fairly confident, but I think both teams will feel a few nerves.
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