The overwhelming numbers of fans present at the Sydney Cricket Ground on a fateful Thursday were sorely disappointed to see India go down softly against the charged up Australians in the second semifinal of the ICC 2015 Cricket World Cup. There were a billion others watching the action on television across the globe with high hopes that accompanied India’s superb show in the tournament thus far. In an impressive build-up to the last game before the final at MCG on March 29, 2015, Indian cricketers touched dizzy heights by their superlative show in every game that they played. They began solidly with the inaugural match against arch-rivals Pakistan and kept up the tempo over the next six games, in each one of which they bowled out the opposition. Coming to SCG, India lost the toss but failed in the chase of 329 runs despite reconciling to the reality that a score of 300-plus runs in this World Cup had become a routine. With the way they had gone about in league phase and the quarterfinal against Bangladesh, Indians were expected to reach there despite the odds. But against the co-hosts, they wilted after a good start and there was no one, who could meet the Australian challenge head-on. Australia also suffered reverses in their innings but played sensibly regardless to finish with 328/7 after 50 overs. In their chase, key Indian batsmen gifted their wickets to recklessness and lost the match by a whopping margin of 95 runs. The second semifinal was in sharp contrast to the first in Auckland that went to the wire, where South Africa could also have won but Grant Elliott denied them in the end. Now the big game at Melbourne will involve both hosts, who are certain to fight hard for the coveted trophy.
In the most appropriate Player-of-the-Award, Steve Smith cornered the glory. He was truly the man, to whom India had lost. After Michael Clarke won the crucial toss, Aaron Finch and David Warner could only put on 15 on the board as India looked great on the field. After the 7-ball third over bowled by Mohammad Shami, where the bowler conceded a single off the first as wide, Umesh Yadav took the ball for the fourth. Of the first ball, Warner tried a short-arm pull but only succeeded in getting a leading edge that flew to cover and Virat Kohli made no error. In stepped Steven Smith and frustration began in the Indian camp. Here was a man, who had tormented India in every test of the Australian summer and returned at SCG to haunt them again in World Cup semifinal. With Aaron Finch also on a roll, the two batsmen added 182 runs and the Australian score reached 197/2 in the 35th over. After scoring 105 off 93 balls, Smith attempted a hook off Umesh Yadav but was held by Rohit Sharma in the deep. But the batsman had done his job of providing a solid foundation to Australia. Glenn Maxwell came to join Finch ahead of Clarke in a smart move. Like he always does, Maxwell began firing on all cylinders from the word go. In 14 balls that he faced, Maxwell reached 23 and just when he readied himself for a murderous assault, India took him out. The breakthrough came, when Ashwin dropped one slower ball on Maxwell’s pads and forced him to sweep but the ball flew high to deep backward square, where Ajinkya Rahane held him. Shane Watson came to join Finch in the 38th over but saw the rejuvenated Indians take another wicket 5 balls later. Finch was hurried into a short ball from Yadav and the edge was taken by Dhawan at mid-wicket. Indian bowlers looked like building a comeback momentum and they succeeded in removing Clarke as well in the 43rd over. At 248/5, India had a great chance of restricting Australia to within 300 runs. Though Shane Watson was not allowed to score, Indian bowlers yielded easy runs to James Faulkner and Mitchell Johnson. With a dropped catch by Virat Kohli benefitting Australia, they carried the score to 328/7 at the end of 50.
A chase of 329 should not have been considered difficult since countless matches have been won in this World Cup with teams overhauling 3oo+ scores. India began very well by scoring 6 runs an over and collecting 76 for the first wicket in the 13th over. There were all indications of India reaching the figure of 329 by the way Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan thwarted the Australian opening attack. If there was any panic, it was certainly not in the Indian camp at this time. But then wickets began to fall. First was Dhawan, who struck Josh Hazlewood, cleared the in-field but sent the ball flying straight to Maxwell, the only man in the outfield. After toying with 13 deliveries, India’s star batsman Virat Kohli top-edged a bouncer from Mitchell Johnson to Brad Haddin. The score of 78/2 was ominous and when Rohit Sharma was castled in the 18th over, Australia returned to the match decisively. Suresh Raina went Kohli’s way after scoring just 7 runs and only Rahane and Dhoni did some resurrection to take the score to 178 in the 37th over. India had slipped in scoring, lost key batsmen and lost the spirit. Runs dried up with Dhoni and Jadeja failing in the revival. Both batsmen fell as run-out dismissals and there was no one in the lower order, who could stage a bravado. From 208/5 at one stage, India were pathetically bowled out for 233 in the 47th over and gift-wrapped a 95-run win for Australia.
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