March 25, 2015

SYDNEY (AP) Acrimony is omnipresent now whenever Australia and India clash in cricket. With a spot in the Cricket World Cup final against New Zealand on the line, expect the intensity to peak.

India batsman Rohit Sharma said his squad was prepared to fight fire with fire in Thursday's semifinal against four-time champion Australia, which has forged its reputation on an aggressive, uncompromising brand of the game.

India, which beat Australia in the quarterfinals in 2011 en route to winning the title on home soil, has been in Australia since November but didn't win a competitive match until the World Cup kicked off. Since then, Mahendra Singh Dhoni's squad has won seven consecutive games, bowling out the opposition every time.

But top-ranked Australia has lost only one limited-overs international to India at the Sydney Cricket Ground, something of an enigma considering it's the one venue in Australia which tends to favor spin, and dominated the bilateral test and ODI series leading up to the World Cup.

Sharma, who scored a century in India's quarterfinal win over Bangladesh, said India's squad had the advantage of experience in winning the previous World Cup, and had the form bowling attack in the tournament.

''We know how to play big games. We've been part of it,'' he said. ''We bring the best out of everyone during those big matches.''

Players from both teams were fined and cautioned during the test series as a result of heated on-field exchanges.

The Australians have vowed to maintain the aggressive approach, and Sharma said the Indian players wouldn't back down from the challenge.

''Both the teams were in each other's faces,'' in the test series, Sharma said. ''As a team I believe we need to stick to our game plans, which is coming hard. If there's a bit of banter going around, so be it - there will be times when you see our bowlers, fielders, getting right on their faces.''

Michael Clarke said his team wouldn't lose sight of the ultimate aim, whatever happens on the field.

''There is going to be sledging, there is going to be banter,'' he said. ''It's really important for us to focus on what's important, and that is playing our best cricket.

''It's not what you say, it's what you do - We'll do whatever we have to do to play our best cricket.''

Australian opener Aaron Finch suggested this week that the Indian squad might be scarred by their losses to Australia before the World Cup, an assertion Sharma and Virat Kohli both rejected Wednesday.

''We're playing some different cricket now, so what happened ... we left right there,'' Sharma said. ''We never wanted to carry (that form) into the World Cup - we know how important the World Cup is, and we've come out and played some good cricket. Just a matter of two more hurdles.''

Clarke, one of three players in the Australian squad with experience of winning a World Cup in 2007, backed his team to continue its recent dominance of India.

''Expectation is there because we're the No. 1-ranked team,'' he said. ''The reason you have that expectation on you is because you've performed.''

Clarke's team lost once in the pool stage - a one-wicket defeat to co-host New Zealand in Auckland - and fended off a fiery challenge from Pakistan in the quarterfinals.

Australia has relied on its pace battery led by Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson with support from seaming allrounders such as Shane Watson and James Faulkner and part-time spinner Glenn Maxwell throughout the tournament, changing its lineup to suit the conditions. Left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty, the only specialist slow bowler in the squad, went wicket-less in the only game he has played at the tournament - against Sri Lanka at the SCG.

India has mostly stuck the same lineup, with a balanced bowling attack featuring seamers Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma and specialist spinner Ravi Ashwin.

Rohit Sharma said whether or not the SCG wicket favored spin, India had the attack to handle the conditions.

''It doesn't matter. We've taken 70 wickets in seven games, distributed between spinners and fast bowlers,'' he said. ''We've got everything covered in those areas.''

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