India may be the defending Cricket World Cup champions, winning the tournament in their own home nation in 2011, but coming into the 2015 World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand, cricket pundits gave India little chance to retain the trophy with the two formidable host nations as competition.
That’s the scenario that is about to play out next week, as the semifinals of the six-week, 14-team competition play out, heading into the March 29 final at Melbourne Cricket Ground.
India will face Australia at Sydney Cricket Ground on March 26 (March 25 in United States time zones) while New Zealand, barring an improbable quarterfinal upset by West Indies Saturday, will square off against South Africa at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, on March 24.
Though South Africa has been in dominant form, New Zealand would be favored to win that match at home, meaning that India will, in all likelihood, need to get through both Australia and New Zealand to take home its third World Cup, and become just the third team since the quadrennial competition began in 1975 to win consecutive titles.
West Indies won the inaugural Cricket World Cup, then repeated the feat in the 1979 tournament. Australia has won four titles, including an incredible “three-peat” in 1999, 2003 and 2007.
Even the captain of India’s natural arch-rival, Pakistan, believes that underdog India could stun Australia on Thursday — by using the dusty pitch at the 160-year-old Sydney Cricket Ground to their advantage.
“The Sydney pitch, everybody knows, there’s a little bit for the spinners, and both their spinners are bowling well,” said Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq on Friday, referring to Indian spin bowlers Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. “They [Australia] are a very balanced team, but I think playing in Sydney they might just miss a good spinner. That could be the difference there.”
Ashwin has taken 12 wickets in seven Cricket World Cup matches heading into next week’s semifinal, while Jajeda has notched nine wickets.
Former India greats VVS Laxman and Yuvraj Singh have also backed India to upset Australia, thanks largely to favorable conditions for India’s red-hot spin tandem.
If India reach the final and face the seemingly indestructible New Zealand, the Australian locale — the Melbourne Cricket Ground this time — could work in their favor. New Zealand remains untested in this World Cup outside of their home nation with its cozier grounds and shorter boundaries.
But India have been playing in Australia since January, taking part in a tri-series with England and the host country leading up to the 2015 Cricket World Cup, which opened in February 14. The match, if India get there, would feel like a home game against New Zealand, who would be trying for their first World Cup trophy — in hostile territory.
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