Tension building ahead of India vs Australia World Cup semifinal

SYDNEY (AFP): Defending champions India will hope the law of averages does not catch up with them when they clash with hosts Australia in a widely-anticipated World Cup semi-final in Sydney on Thursday.

The Australia and India squads have had ample time in the past four months to work each other out, ensuring a level of tension for their World Cup semifinal expected to go well beyond the usual for a knockout game.

Australia all-rounder James Faulkner won’t be surprised if there’s some niggle and verbal exchanges, just like he’s not surprised that defending champion India shook off its poor form leading into the World Cup to win seven consecutive matches.

“They’ve spent a fair bit of time in the country, so they’ve adapted well to the conditions,” Faulkner told a news conference Monday. “It’s no surprise they’re up against us in the semifinal, they’re a very strong team.

“You’re going to see two very good teams going up against each other – it should be a very good spectacle.”

Australia has won the Cricket World Cup four times and reached the final on two other occasions, but never on home soil. India has two World Cup titles, and became the first team to clinch it at home in 2011 after beating Australia in the quarterfinals, Pakistan in the semifinals and Sri Lanka in the championship match.

India didn’t win a competitive match between the time the squad landed in Australia in November until its opening World Cup game against Pakistan on Feb. 15. In that time, it lost a test series to Australia, and was winless in a limited-overs tri-series against Australia and England.

There was some glaring aggression between the teams in the test and ODI series, with players on both sides sanctioned and warned that sledging would not be tolerated at the World Cup. Australian all-rounder Shane Watson was fined last week for his part in an exchange with Pakistan paceman Wahab Riaz during a torrid spell of fast, short-pitch bowling that was easily the highlight of the quarterfinal in Adelaide.

Faulkner said that exchange was “all in great spirit,” and he expected more spirited exchanges with a spot in the final at stake at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday.

“There’s going to be words said and it’s going to be a really tough contest,” Faulkner said, adding that there’s usually some sledging on the field. “It’s the nature of the game, it’s a semifinal. Cut throat. Neither team will be backing down.”

The India squad practiced at the SCG on Monday but, as has become the usual routine at the World Cup, remained off limits to the media until the eve of the match. The Sydney venue is expected to be packed with traveling India fans who may outnumber Australia supporters and possibly make it seem more like an away game for the locals.

“We were talking about it last night at dinner, the last game we played here it definitely felt like that,” Faulkner said. “The passion the Indian fans show toward their cricket team is sensational, so we’re definitely expecting that.”

The winner of Thursday s match will face New Zealand in the final in Melbourne on Sunday.

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