ICC World Cup, 2nd semi-final: Team India's three areas of concern
At the end of four quarter-finals in the ICC World Cup 2015, cricket world moved a step closer to crowning the kings of ODI cricket.
After 46 matches, 430 sixes, 2031 fours and 674 wickets, players from 10 nations have made their long journeys back home. As cricket's quadrennial coronation nears, four teams – New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and India are now only two steps away from the promised land.
With ICC's tournament structure, heavily loaded in favor of the big guns, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa making it to the final four was hardly a surprise. Considering their team strength, form coming in to the tournament and nature of pitches laid out for the World Cup, odds were loaded heavily on the side of this trio.
Going in to the World Cup, the Indian team was in a shambles. Pundits in air-conditioned studios passed a unanimous verdict that the defending champions would find it hard to compete purely because of their ineffective bowling attack.
India completing the quartet of semi-finalists was not as obvious as it appears now. The only thing more remarkable than India making it this far is the manner in which they got here. This is the best an Indian team has played in a World Cup.
However, the road to Melbourne traverses through Sydney. In order to get there, the defending champions will have to get past their quarter-final opponents from the 2011 edition.
India's winning streak at the World Cup faces its toughest test yet against Australia, widely thought of as the best team in the tournament. Though MS Dhoni's men have dominated all their seven opponents so far, there are areas of concern going in to a high-voltage semi-final at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Misfiring lower-middle order
India's top five batsmen have scored five centuries between them, which bodes well for the team. Barring Ajinkya Rahane, all the other batsmen have got to the three-figure mark.
In most games, the top order has provided a solid foundation for the likes of MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja to go big as the innings tails off. Yet, the team has ended up with 20-25 runs short in the games where they have batted first. Despite having wickets in hand to throw the bat around, batsmen have been stifled by the opposition death bowlers of Pakistan, South Africa and Bangladesh.
Mitchell Starc has been the best exponent of the yorker in tournament, while James Faulker's clever mixing up of deliveries if often hard to pick. India's lower middle order could struggle to get them away for runs in the death overs. Considering the quality of the Aussie attack, the Men in Blue will have to address this issue in the quarter-final.
Batting second against a quality bowling attack
Despite blips early on or in the middle of their innings, Indians have recorded comfortable wins while chasing targets in all their Pool games. Teams that the Men in Blue beat batting second include UAE, West Indies, Ireland and Zimbabwe.
Taking nothing away from the bowlers, MS Dhoni's men did not have any substantial targets to achieve against UAE and West Indies. Against Ireland, India knocked off the runs with relative ease against a below par bowling attack. Hence, the team has not had to the chase a tough total against a quality bowling attack. India's batting depth could be tested against the home team on Thursday.
Barring a quality spinner, Australia have the perfect bowling attack - left and right-arm quicks in Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Johnson as well as medium pacers with good variation in Shane Watson and Faulkner. India's batting could come under severe pressure batting second against them.
Untested bowling in death overs
Indian bowlers have been the team's trump card so far in the tournament. Led by Mohammed Shami's 17 wickets, the bowling unit has picked up 70 wickets in 7 matches – a feat that has never been achieved by any team at the World Cup.
Shami, Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma have put on an exhibition of quick and accurate bowling that most batsmen have found hard to counter. Ravichandran Ashwin has been among the top spinners in the tournament and his ten overs could be gold dust to MS Dhoni in Sydney against Australia. Consistent good bowling performances have meant that Indian bowlers have not encountered a pressure situation so far.
Also, they haven't had to defend a below par total as well. If the batsmen fail to deliver in the quarter-final, the bowlers will find themselves in a position they have not been before in this World Cup. At such a time, someone like Ravindra Jadeja could be at the receiving end of an Aussie onslaught.