India favourites for World Cup 2011 crown but they take the strain?

Tags: World Cup 2011, 2nd Semi Final - India v Pakistan at Mohali - Mar 30, 2011, India, Pakistan, ICC Cricket World Cup 2011

Published on: Mar 28, 2011

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The line-up for the semi-finals has surprised me. I had thought that we would see two teams from outside the subcontinent among the final four.

The line-up for the semi-finals has surprised me. I had thought that we would see two teams from outside the subcontinent among the final four. That only one of them has made it just shows how hard it is to adapt to conditions there in such a short space of time. And of all the teams from outside Asia I thought would make it this far, I never would have picked New Zealand. England, South Africa and Australia all seemed like much stronger contenders.

Judging by the manner of their victory against Australia, India have to be the favourites now, followed by Sri Lanka. The semi-final against Pakistan in Mohali, up near the border between the two countries, is going to be an incredible occasion, worthy of being the final. I just hope that the match itself is not a damp squib, which can always happen in one‑day cricket if one side gets away and the other buckles in the chase.

The most intriguing aspect is going to be seeing whether the Indian batsmen can stand up to the enormous mental strain the circumstances of the match will put them under. Technically they are a superb unit. Everybody knows about Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag but to pick out lesser players, Gautam Gambhir and Suresh Raina have also made a huge difference to the side.

Gambhir has added a toughness to the team that I always thought they were lacking. He is a little scrapper, feisty and quick to chirp back at the bowlers. Raina has been a dangerous player for a while now, very clever and with a deft ability to manipulate the ball all around the ground.

He produced an outstanding finisher's innings against Australia, when he seemed to relish coming in at No7 with the match in the balance. Having him down the order is going to give a lot more confidence to the middle order above him, who will not have to worry about exposing the tail if they get out.

Most of the Pakistani batsmen would struggle to get a place in that Indian top seven. That does not mean you can count them out. They have less ability but they do have an unusual degree of flair and some volatile and explosive hitters. So you just never know what kind of total they will make, it could be huge, or they could collapse.

Unlike the Australians and English, they are going to be used to batting in these conditions against the Indian style of bowling. Mahendra Singh Dhoni may not be able to get away quite so easily with using all those part‑time spinners to fill in the overs.

Pakistan's bowling looks over-dependent on Shahid Afridi, although they do have a better group of quick bowlers than the Indians. Afridi has been brilliant at leading his team from the front in the field but that means that if he starts to flag or fade in this match they could soon be in trouble. England depended on Graeme Swann to control matches to a similar extent and looked short of options when he struggled against Sri Lanka.

The other semi-final looks likely to be more one-sided. New Zealand have been so inconsistent in recent months that I just cannot see them lifting their game to such a high level for two matches in a row, especially against a well-balanced Sri Lanka team who have home advantage and the confidence that will come after with giving England such a thrashing.

New Zealand have scraps of hope to feed off. They will rely on one of their top four to carry them through but they do not have anyone there as reliable as Jonathan Trott. Instead either Brendon McCullum will have to click for once or one of Jesse Ryder and Ross Taylor will have to show the consistency to play a second good innings in a row.

New Zealand may take a little hope from Muttiah Muralitharan's injury but their own chances are hindered by Daniel Vettori's fitness. And whereas Sri Lanka have three other good spinners to fall back on, New Zealand's bowling does not have the depth to support Vettori and their other leading bowler, Jacob Oram. But Oram will have seen the trouble the Sri Lankans had facing Chris Tremlett's first few overs and although he does not have Tremlett's pace he will still reckon he can trouble them with his height and bounce.

The one thing that the Sri Lankans have to guard against is complacency, the assumption that they are guaranteed a place in the final. New Zealand are streetwise and good in a scrap. South Africa should never have lost that match but when they stumbled in the run chase, New Zealand were quick to take advantage of their soft middle and lower order. But Kumar Sangakkara is too shrewd a captain to allow his team to think that way. I would bet as well that their fielding will not be nearly as forgiving as it was against England. It should be India v Sri Lanka in the final.

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