And then there were four. The 2015 Cricket World Cup semi-finalists have been decided, so I’m here to breakdown each side’s chances.
Australia, India, New Zealand and South Africa each have their flaws and there will be key areas that could determine who squares off in the World Cup final on Sunday.
The reigning champions have momentum by the bucketload at present, and will take plenty of stopping in the semi-final. Their batsmen are firing, with five centuries so far in the tournament, but it’s their bowlers who have been a revelation, led by Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav.
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja could be decisive given the conditions Sydney has produced throughout the tournament. For this reason, and their abundance in vocal supporters, I think they’re an even-money chance against Australia.
To win India will need to see off Mitchell Starc. The bowler of the tournament will be Australia’s biggest weapon, but should India get through him then they should be confident of scoring freely against Mitchell Johnson, Josh Hazlewood, Shane Watson and Glenn Maxwell.
Match-winner: On a Sydney pitch expected to be dry, Ashwin could be the man, especially considering Australia’s troubles against the turning ball.
The co-hosts haven’t put a foot wrong since losing to New Zealand. Their recent history against India should reap psychological benefits but World Cup India is a far different beast from the Test and Tri-Series equivalents.
Batting-wise Australia’s strength has been its powerful middle-order, with Steve Smith, Michael Clarke and even Watson in the runs, gifting Brad Haddin and Maxwell licence to thrill late in the innings.
I do, however, have doubts over Aaron Finch’s form. Besides his century against England, where he was dropped on zero, he has barely been sighted. We’re at the point in the tournament now where Australia will have to carry Finch through the finals as it’s simply too late to be tinkering with the line-up. The absence of Nathan Lyon could also come to the fore in this match.
Match-winner: Glenn Maxwell has been in tremendous form but he is yet to do it when Australia’s in trouble. I get the feeling Maxwell’s ‘Andrew Symonds, 2003 World Cup’ moment is just around the corner.
How well has Martin Guptill timed his run? He has played a supporting role to Brendon McCullum’s pyrotechnics all tournament but Guptill has certainly peaked when it matters. Those two and Kane Williamson are critical with the bat, so preserving early wickets will be the key.
Besides the top three and the brilliant bowling of Trent Boult and Tim Southee, home advantage should be enough in itself to get New Zealand over the line, for the co-hosts look unbeatable on their own grounds.
Although we’re deep into the tournament there are still areas of New Zealand’s game that remain untested. The form of several key players have masked potential weaknesses in Grant Elliot at number five and Corey Anderson as the fifth bowler.
Match-winner: The veteran Daniel Vettori has been superb. West Indies were the first team to get hold of him in what has otherwise been a faultless campaign. A World Cup final would be a fitting way for the Kiwi champion to go out.
It’s hard to know what to take from the Proteas’ quarter-final victory. The psychological pressure release of finally winning a knockout game is immense but playing-wise it was a bizarre result.
South Africa’s strength with the ball lies with the pace of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, however it was spinners Imran Tahir and JP Duminy who did the damage against Sri Lanka. For South Africa to advance to the World Cup final their openers Quinton de Kock, who returned to form in style against Sri Lanka, and Hashim Amla will need to weather Southee and Boult.
If they can see off that threat, the lower-order should be able to cash in on Adam Milne and Anderson – who are untested under pressure in this tournament. Like New Zealand, their fifth bowling option could decide the game.
Match-winner: With 15 wickets, Imran Tahir leads all South Africans in the tournament. The leg-spinner has a strong limited overs record but has really elevated his status over the past month. Look for him or Duminy to come on early as McCullum gets a fast start.