What to Watch in the Australia vs India World Cup semifinal
SYDNEY (AP) Australia and India have won six of the last eight Cricket World Cup titles and have developed a heated rivalry over the last decade. When the teams meet in the World Cup semifinal on Thursday at the Sydney Cricket Ground, there's bound to be some friction. Both captains have attacking mindsets in the 50-over format, and the top order of both batting lineups are stacked with free-hitting players, so there's also bound to be some entertaining and enterprising cricket.
The winner will advance to Sunday's final against New Zealand at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Here are some things to watch:
THE SLEDGE: Not a universally recognized term but widely known in cricket circles as a tactic used to distract an opposition player with banter or insulting comments, be it subtle, implied or obvious.
Australian teams are good at it. Recent series between Australia and England, and Australia and India have featured heated verbal exchanges, and players from those teams have been fined and sanctioned.
Australian opener David Warner is reported to be on his last warning before some kind of ban is imposed, and allrounder Shane Watson conceded Wednesday that he can't be far off after being fined for his part in an angry episode in the quarterfinal win over Pakistan. Neither player wants to risk being suspended for the final, but there are others - paceman Mitchell Johnson jokingly volunteered - to take up the banter in the semifinal against India.
''I don't want to get fined again or get suspended so I know I'm going to have to be even more diligent with what I say, when I say it and how I say it,'' Watson said. ''Based on my last fine, I am just about on my last warning.''
Australian skipper Michael Clarke was asked if Warner's attitude had changed since the International Cricket Council announced a crackdown on the sledging tactics for the World Cup.
''David will be fine. He knows the rules, as we all do,'' Clarke said.
UNDER PRESSURE: Virat Kohli has thrived in matches against Australia, with his combative style coming to the fore. He is one of three players in the India squad who featured in the World Cup final in 2011, so he knows all about the pressure of local expectations.
India is the only country to have won the Cricket World Cup title on home soil. Australia has won it in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Caribbean, but failed miserably in 1992 - the only previous time the tournament was staged in Australia and New Zealand.
''I'm sure they'll be under massive pressure,'' Kohli said in a television interview for Fox Sports. ''I can understand, we played at home last time around and every ball, every player, every over that we played of any game was really nerve-wracking.''
AWAY CROWD: Rohit Sharma expects there to be more blue shirts than yellow shirts in the Sydney Cricket Ground crowd for the semifinal, with the number of India fans expected to far outweigh the number of hometown supporters.
''We've played in India a number of times and they out-support us there as well,'' Clarke said. ''We don't need any more motivation. We know we've got the support of the Australian public. We've felt it the whole tournament, and we'll feel it again tomorrow whether it's 30 percent of the fans here or 50 percent of the fans.''
India has played Australia 14 ODIs at the Sydney Cricket Ground since 1980 for only one win - in 2008 - although it has registered wins at the venue against England, New Zealand and Pakistan.
''I thought they would have had a better success rate at the SCG than that, so that does surprise me,'' Clarke said. ''But it probably does show how Australia loves playing in their own back yard.''
ROAD WARRIORS: The India squad landed in Australia in November and went through a test series against the Aussies and a limited-overs tri-series against Australia and England without winning a match. India also lost a World Cup warmup match to Australia before starting the tournament proper with a big win over archrival Pakistan which sparked a seven-game winning spree.
''When you're away for four months, you definitely miss home, there is no doubt,'' Sharma said. ''But we are here on a mission and the mission is to win the World Cup.
''If you look at the way the last one and a half months has gone, it's been really good, so we have to make the last four months we have spent here a reward by winning the semifinals and the finals. We don't mind for staying away for five months that way.''