India fall short in chase to send Australia to World Cup final

Michael Clarke’s side will face fellow co-hosts New Zealand in Melbourne final

With blissful ease compared to their cousins across the Tasman Australia cruised into Sunday's World Cup final in Melbourne.

A polished century by the man of the match Steve Smith, which was followed by a bowling performance that was both disciplined and hostile, was quite sufficient to defeat India by 95 runs, a huge margin at this stage of the tournament.

Smith coolly set about his business alongside Aaron Finch, enabling Australia to post 328-7, the highest score in a World Cup semi-final. It was too much for India, who were outgunned in almost every department. In fact Australia could have scored more. Despite the early loss of David Warner, caught at mid-off from a leading edge, they were ominously placed at 155-1 after 30 overs. And one of their batsmen was out of nick.

It was something of a struggle for Finch, who has been barren since his century in Australia's first match of the tournament against England. There was the occasional beefy stroke but for much of the time he appeared to be looking for the ball rather than watching it. His timing was often awry and he had never scored a slower half-century in ODI cricket (82 balls) than this. So Finch's was a gutsy innings. Fortunately for him Smith was near his impish best at the other end. He took Umesh Yadav for four fours in an over, mostly from crisp pull shots and he was on his way to becoming only the fifth man to score a century in a World Cup semi-final after Graham Gooch, Saeed Anwar, Sourav Ganguly and Mahela Jayawardene. Smith found the gaps on the leg-side with ease. He is a formidable player now.


The Australians took the powerplay after 32 overs partly to interrupt an exceptional spell from Ravichandran Ashwin. Smith became one of several batsmen to fall to a bouncer, top-edging Yadav to deep square-leg. In came Glenn Maxwell and – surprise, surprise – the run rate rocketed. His presence seemed to galvanise Finch briefly. That powerplay yielded 64 runs.

But the return of Ashwin briefly rescued the situation for India. First Maxwell swept the ball straight into the hands of Ajinkya Rahane, then Finch mis-pulled against Yadav. Two of Australia's senior citizens, Shane Watson and Michael Clarke were at the crease and needed time to bed in. The innings stalled before Clarke was another to try to pull without success.

In the end Australia were indebted to James Faulkner (21 off 12 balls) and Mitchell Johnson (27 off nine) for their late-innings flurry. After the lull 57 runs came from the last five overs and there were smiles in the Australian dressing room again, smiles, which would give way to whoops of delight as Australia contemplated their World Cup final.

Only at the start of their reply did India’s batsmen give their fanatical supporters much to cheer about. Many of them had snatched flights from Mumbai on Wednesday before donning their blue shirts. Except for the final five overs when the match was decided they outnumbered the gold-clad supporters of Australia at the SCG, which provided the perfect amphitheatre – and a fair wicket – for the occasion.

There were early struggles for India. Rohit Sharma edged towards Watson at slip and a review was needed to decide whether the ball had carried. It had not. Then Shikhar Dhawan was dropped off Josh Hazlewood by a diving Brad Haddin.

Australian eyebrows were raised especially after Faulkner yielded 29 runs from his first two overs as Dhawan swished like D’Artagnan. After 12 overs India had advanced to 73-0.

Now Dhawan smeared a full-length ball from Hazlewood to Maxwell on the point boundary and the innings lost impetus.

The Australians seized their chance; Clarke recalled his senior bowlers and they were fast and miserly.

Virat Kohli looked tormented. After he had faced 12 balls for a single Johnson propelled another bouncer at him – without doubt there have been more bouncers bowled in this World Cup than ever before and they have produced a record haul of wickets. Kohli became one of those statistics. An attempted hook only sent the ball into the night sky and Haddin waited gleefully for its return to earth.

Then Sharma clubbed a six off Johnson to mid-wicket. But the next ball was fuller and faster; Sharma missed it and those bails lit up. Soon after Suresh Raina nibbled against Faulkner and the maths were now all against India. There was a 70-run partnership between Rahane and MS Dhoni, which ended bizarrely with a successful review for a thin edge to the keeper, which escaped the notice of Haddin, who is seldom reticent to make an enquiry.

India were travelling nowhere near fast enough and the Australians were giving them nothing. Dhoni fought as hard as ever, biding his time and scuttling singles. But Dhoni could produce no fireworks unlike Maxwell who eventually ran him out with a stunning direct hit from mid-wicket. The bowlers, with Mitchell Starc, Johnson and Hazlewood on top of their games, had been too good. The Kiwis will have to play well to beat this lot.