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The Aussie juggernaut rolls on
March 19, 2003
The first semi-finals was supposed to be the one that could spring up a surprise, but the Australian juggernaut does not show any signs of slowing down. The match was more or less decided when Australia batted first, because Sri Lanka's only chance was to bat first, score a big total and then hope that their bowlers could get the defending champions out cheaply.
I was impressed with the way Chaminda Vaas bowled. He took all the pace off the ball, and kept his line right through. This was particularly tough because it was obvious that the Australians were planning on playing out Muthiah Muralitharan's overs. This meant that they would target the other bowlers, Vaas included. Aravinda de Silva was also very good, and it's sad to think we have seen the last of this wonderful fighting cricketer.
The Sri Lankan batting has been the letdown of the tournament, and they could not redeem themselves on Tuesday either. The middle order had been extended right down to number eight, but other than some flashes from Kumar Sangakkara later on in the innings, it was all over. The game was pretty much settled in the first 15 overs, and once Sanath Jayasuriya was dismissed, it was just waiting for the inevitable.
Now focus is on the second semifinals. Right now Durban is a very wet city with rain predicted for Thursday as well. This could mean either a truncated game or a game that would be cut short abruptly by the Duckworth Lewis system. India look pretty invincible, and the only way they could get shot out is if the rain rules play against them.
Once again, I wonder if Sourav Ganguly will change anything in his batting line-up. I had mentioned earlier that he is a little superstitious about his batting order, team composition and even the number on his shirt! However, I think he will do the team a service by batting at number four or five. This will enable someone like Rahul Dravid to see off the dangers of the new ball against Australia, should the Indians lose an early wicket. Also, Ganguly is the kind of batsman who will really take on Brad Hogg, so his skills as a batsman might be better employed if he comes in later.
The Australians look very strong right now, and they seem to be determined to win this World Cup. When they arrived here, both Ricky Ponting and coach John Buchanan had said that they were here to win the World Cup and not to defend it.
They have been playing winning, attacking cricket and the only way to beat them is to make full use of the new ball while bowling and to see off the new ball while batting. The latter is particularly challenging, and the entire game will hinge on whether Sachin Tendulkar is alive and standing after 15 overs.
India's next challenge is Kenya, but you cannot blame the Indians if they look beyond the clouds of Durban into sunny Wanderers. That's the finals everybody in South Africa are talking about, and hopefully they will be there to provide a good finale to this tournament.
The tournament has only a couple of games left, and it is obvious that India are one of the two teams that have showcased themselves well here. Whatever happens from here on, the benefits far outweigh the setbacks. They now have two fine pace bowlers, a batting line-up that is improving with every outing and a fielding unit that looks fit and fearless. These benefits are what the fans should be proud of. Their team has certainly done their country proud so far.