A good-old politician came calling on the Australian cricketers at the nets while some good-old politics sneaked in at the Sydney Cricket Ground when the Indians were training. Former Aussie PM and lifelong cricket fan, Bob Hawke, brought with him smiles and hearty laughs. Meanwhile, when the Indians were warming up, not far from the much-discussed 22-yards being prepared for Thursday’s semi-final, conspiracy theories were being whispered around the SCG. (Full Coverage| Points table| Fixtures)
There was talk about BCCI’s growing influence within the ICC and the pitch being tailored to suit the Indian spinners and not Aussie pacers. With so much conviction floating around, you could almost imagine Chhotelal flying in from Kanpur and turning SCG into Green Park. Since the ‘pitch’ was dominating all conversations related to the second semifinal — that too four days before the actual contest —it almost felt like a countdown to a Test match.
Over the last few days, on radio shows and television discussions, they have been talking about the last game at SCG, the South Africa vs Sri Lanka quarter-final. If Imran Tahir could get wickets there, so could India’s specialists R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, the pundits would conclude. Aussies, without a true-blue slow tweaker, will be at a distinct disadvantage.
By late evening on Monday, it becomes clear that the semifinal would be played on a different pitch, one where South Africa compiled 400 plus and AB de Villiers scored a daddy hundred. It was a belter, a quintessential ODI track that can be found all around the cricketing world. It helped only those who were willing to bend their backs or give the ball a heavy tweak.
A lot of grass can grow, or get cut, till Thursday, so a definitive verdict about the nature of the pitch should be totally avoided. Though, on a day spent gazing at the greens, the general assumption that “spin-friendly meant India-friendly” was amusing. Had the whispers about BCCI cutting water to the SCG or poking fingers in the pitch to widen the cracks reached the Indian pacers, they would have been heartbroken. They have got bounce, carry and a lion’s share of the 70 wickets, so why would India crave a rank turner.
Can India afford to negate those all-important 30 overs where they have been getting breakthroughs and bottling up rivals? It is pure math. Would India want 20 spin-friendly overs or the 30 overs of more consistent and proven match winning pacers? It can be argued that the Aussie new ball trio, plus Shane Watson, would use the conditions better. But shouldn’t India play to their strengths? Shouldn’t they finally be confident about their pacers?
Interestingly, the men who would be on the central square on Thursday, didn’t hint at anything that suggested the expected nature of the track they will find themselves on, in a few days’ time. All-rounder James Faulkner was asked if India had an advantage with spinners in their side. “I think it all depends on the wicket. The wicket was very good against Sri Lanka. We made 360 I think and they made over 300. It was great one-day cricket. I am expecting a lot of runs to be scored,” he said.
Even in the India nets, there weren’t too many signs that hinted that the team was preparing to play on a slow and easy track. MS Dhoni had a tennis racket in hand and he was serving short balls to Suresh Raina. The captain knew who had bailed him out of the quarterfinal against Australia in 2011. They would target him again, regardless of the nature of the surface. Both India and Australia know that.