We are only three games away from crowning the world champions of the 11th edition of ICC Cricket World Cup. Co-host New Zealand will face South Africa in the 1st semifinal on March 24 at Auckland, followed by Australia vs India on March 26 at the SCG. The semifinal lineup pits the top four teams of this tournament against one another and avid cricket fans from all around the globe can expect some good cricketing action in the next few days. Let’s look at the four teams that have qualified for the semifinals:
1. New Zealand
The Kiwis are one of the two unbeaten teams in this tournament. Winning seven games at a stretch, they have qualified for the semifinals for the 7th time in the history of the tournament. They have been on a roll since the start of the tournament with skipper Brendon McCullum and paceman Trent Boult leading the team with the bat and ball. The highlights of their group stage matches include the dominant victories against Sri Lanka and England as well as the nail-biting finish of their match against Australia, where they emerged victorious.
Their middle order seems a bit shaky as most of the runs have been scored by the top order batsmen. However, Martin Guptill’s 237* against West Indies in the quarter finals hinted to the fact that once their top order starts scoring, they can post huge totals that are almost impossible for their opponents to chase. Boult has been superb with the ball, leading the list of wicket-takers with 19 dismissals under his belt. Vettori and Southee have taken 15 wickets each throughout the tournament.
A balanced side with their bowlers firing on all cylinders as well as the batsmen being in form, the Kiwis look poised to qualify for the world cup final for the first time in history. The likes of McCullum, Anderson, Vettori, Boult will ensure that they book their spot at MCG by beating South Africa!
2. South Africa
The Proteas finally removed the tag of ‘Chokers’ from their shoulders, as they annihilated the batting lineup of Sri Lanka, finally winning their first ever knockout match in the world cup history. They lost two of their group matches against India and Pakistan but have not looked back since then. De Villiers has transformed his squad and a revived Proteas are now only one step behind from qualifying for the finals of the World Cup.
AB remains the top scorer for South Africa with 417 runs from seven games whereas Imran Tahir picked up 15 wickets! However, one of the major weaknesses of the Proteas is that once their batting order starts to collapse, no batsman can rebuild the innings from lower order. This was the major reason behind their defeats against the Asian giants India and Pakistan. Pacer Steyn has not looked that lethal with the ball and must step up his game should South Africa wish to beat New Zealand in the semis.
Should De Villiers, Amla, Morkel, Tahir perform their level best, the Proteas may finally end their drought of winning a major ICC tournament.
Currently ranked no.1 in the ICC ODI rankings, Australia are a side to be reckoned with in this tournament. Their only loss came against New Zealand in the group stages, where they even defended an abysmal total of 151, and almost snatched away the victory after a fiery spell of Mitchell Starc(6/28). Starc has picked up 18 wickets in this tournament and remains a major threat to opponent batsmen.
Their batsmen have been on top of their game since the start. Openers Warner and Finch, Smith, Clarke, Watson and Maxwell have all performed significantly with the bat. Their biggest highlight of the group stage was Watson regaining his form! However, Wahab Riaz, in the quarterfinal, exposed one of the key weaknesses of the Aussie batsmen; their inability to play short balls. Riaz’s fiery spell was hailed by Clarke and Watson after the game. Should India come up with a similar strategy, Australia may find it difficult to score runs unless they work on this area.
Australia are yet to lose a semifinal in the history of the world cup and with Maxwell, Watson, Starc, Hazlewood all peaking at the right time, it seems almost impossible to stop them from reaching the finals for a record, seventh time!
No one thought India would reach the semifinals before the start of the world cup. They were decimated in the summer against the Aussies but since the tournament started, we have seen a different India. They remain undefeated in the tournament and have picked up all the 70 wickets in their seven consecutive games.
Shami is the leading wicket-taker with 17 dismissals whereas Dhawan(367 runs), has been the leading run-scorer for India. Pundits have hailed Dhoni for leading a determined India to victory against the mighty Proteas and arch rivals Pakistan in the group stages.
They qualified for the semis after beating Bangladesh, with umpiring errors being the center of discussion from that game. However, Dhoni and co. look forward to playing against Australia at the SCG and despite their poor performance against Australia early in the summer, India have realistic chances of qualifying for the finals for the second consecutive world cup!
March 29 will see a side (New Zealand/South Africa) reach the world cup final for the first time in history. A new champion may be crowned or Australia may win their 5th world cup. India also remain favorites to retain their world cup trophy. Till then let’s enjoy the cricketing action and hope that our heroes will lead their respective nations towards the ultimate glory!
Author’s prediction: Both the co-hosts Australia and New Zealand win their respective matches and face each other for the 2015 ICC World Cup final at the MCG!