2015 ICC World Cup semi-final: Australia will sledge but Mahendra Singh Dhoni won’t care


March 25, 2015

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA: Since the last World Cup, India have played Australia 16 times in Australia. They have won just two of those games, one T20 and one ODI on the 2012 tour.

March 25, 2015

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA: Since the last World Cup, India have played Australia 16 times in Australia. They have won just two of those games, one T20 and one ODI on the 2012 tour.

They have been in Australia since November last year. In that time they could not beat Australia in four Tests and two ODIs (although one of those was rained off). Australia, naturally, claim they have the psychological advantage, a phrase that is used in almost every cricket match ever played.

That isn’t how Team India will see it though. Since the World Cup began, it is like a switch has been flicked inside the head of the boys in blue and the cricket they have been producing has been vibrant and eye catching.

While Australia will talk of the baggage that India will bring with them, India have won seven in a row, bowling out every side they have faced. MS Dhoni may have retired from Test cricket been replaced as captain by Virat Kohli, but MSD is still very much the man in charge in white ball cricket.

Kohli brings much to any side, both as a player and a captain, but Indian fans will be very grateful that it is the cool head of Dhoni leading the team into this highly charged encounter. For all the talk of the spirit of cricket, and the furious response from Dhoni and the Indian management to James Anderson’s antics during the Test series in England last year, the games against Australia on this tour have been replete with angry confrontations. Kohli’s leadership has done little to lessen these, but a Dhoni team is different.

James Faulkner, Australia’s fiery all-rounder, has said that we can expect more of the same in this semi-final. Speaking about sledging, Faulkner said; "I think there always is in the game, if there isn't you've got problems. It's the nature of the game, it's a semi-final, it's cut-throat. There's going to be words said and it's going to be a really tough contest. Neither team will be backing down."

This comes despite ICC acting to curb aggressive behavior on the field. Both Wahab Riaz and Shane Watson were fined by the ICC for their on-field confrontation during the quarter-final between Australia and Pakistan. In an angry and impassioned period of play, Wahab bowled brilliantly and Watson dealt with the onslaught brilliantly. Many have defended the two men involved; pointing out that in otherwise low-intensity quarter-finals this was the one truly exhilarating and competitive exchange.

These wars of words and psychological battles have always presented a problem for cricket. This idea of the Spirit of Cricket is enshrined in the laws of the game. However, so much of cricket folklore is based on these ill-tempered exchanges that take place when passionate men compete at the highest level.

The same incident is often glorified and condemned by the same people. Many have called for exactly this kind of crackdown to take place for years. Now it has they are beginning to wonder if the sport will be the same without flared tempers. You can’t have it both ways.

With this semi-final looming, perhaps psychology will be a deciding factor in the match. As clichéd as it sounds, when you get to this stage of a tournament, with the best cricketers facing each other, what goes on in the space between the ears becomes even more vital. That is probably the reason that we have these spats between players. At this level, tiny percentage differences in performance can have massive outcomes. If an aggressive word or gesture can put off your opponent or fire you up, then it is worth it, even if it costs you a part of your match fee.

The side that makes the final at the MCG on Sunday will be the one that can perform best under the most pressure. It will be the captain that can make the right decisions and say the right thing to get the most out of his players that will be the winner. Dhoni has been here before, Michael Clarke has not.

As Faulkner said, there will be words exchanged between the players. Whoever deals with those confrontations best will likely come out on top. There is no doubt that Australia will go into this game as favourites. They have home advantage and an excellent record against India. But their advantage is lessened by Dhoni’s presence, the man who is ice cool when others are boiling over.

Courtesy: AFP