Australia v India: Back Warner to bludgeon hosts into Sunday's final
There are several key elements to Thursday's second semi but Matt Harris expects David Warner and Australia's pace attack to get the pre-tournament favourites over the line...
"India’s batting order down to MS Dhoni at six is in good form coming into the semi and their handling of Australia’s pace battery is potentially far more pivotal to this match."
Australia v India
Thursday, 03:30 GMT
Live on Sky Sports World Cup
Sporting clichés can often have great relevance and the concept of 'peaking at the right time' fits Australia perfectly. The best team in the group stages doesn't always win the World Cup - perfect example being Pakistan in 1992 - and the current format means it's just about winning three knockout games.
Among those finding form is skipper Michael Clarke who has finally responded after a long injury lay off and his improved run scoring could be the most important product of those pool matches. With Shane Watson, David Warner, Glenn Maxwell and Steve Smith also in good touch, the only real concern from a batting point of view is Aaron Finch who has fallen away after England's fielders provided an early assist to get him to 135 in the opening tie. It was notable Finch took time out to work in the nets on his batting yesterday while his teammates were inside the SCG.
Mitchell Starc is the side's leading wicket taker with 18 and will be no less of a threat than Mitchell Johnson while Josh Hazelwood turned in a Man of the Match performance against Pakistan to prove that the bowling attack gives a perfect, menacing balance to this team.
Pundits are united in identifying India's spinners as the key to this contest with Anil Kumble stating that: "The decisive factor will be how well the spinners bowl in the middle stages of an innings. That's where Australia are perhaps a little handicapped."
While no rain is forecast for the match itself, damp conditions in Sydney have affected Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in their build-up but is it all about the slow men or are India getting their excuses in early with the words 'straws' and 'clutching' coming to mind?
Those middle overs certainly will be crucial but with the exception of Virat Kohli, India's batting order down to MS Dhoni at six is in good form coming into the semi and their handling of Australia's pace battery is potentially far more pivotal to this match.
Venue and Conditions
Group matches at the SCG have produced wildly contrasting first innings scores. At the high end of the scale we have South Africa's 408 against the Windies and an Australian effort of 376 against Sri Lanka. Elsewhere, a much weaker Afghanistan produced 111-7 in a shortened match before the Sri Lankans confused things further with their 'rabbit in the headlights' 133 in the first quarter-final.
The weather is set to behave with just minimal cloud cover and while 400 seems unlikely, a strong batting line up against a competitive bowling unit will look to target 350.
Looking to the recent Carlton Tri-Series and beyond, the Australians have a far superior record against these opponents and in home conditions, odds of [1.43] are entirely justified. But can you read too much into those results?
I wouldn't bracket India alongside the West Indies who blunder through ODI cricket and barely look interested but a World Cup defence has suddenly galvanised this team and they are serious value at [3.25].
I'm also ignoring the claims about the spinners and while not wanting to argue with Kumble - one of India's greatest bowlers - the real contest for me is Starc, Johnson and Hazlewood versus their opponents' top four and this is where Australia seem to have it won.
Admittedly they were robbed of a 'boot filling' day against Bangladesh but it's still surprising to see no Australian batsman in the top ten in terms of leading run scorers. Glenn Maxwell is the highest placed at number 18 while David Warner is a disappointing 21st with 288 from six knocks.
Warner seems to be a big stage player and will be targeting a big effort to give us a profit at [4.9]. Finch has eased to a tempting [5.8] after that loss of form while Smith at [5.0] and Maxwell at a generous [8.8] also offer value but the marginal favourite is my pick.
Although this has given consistent profits around the ODI world, it hasn't been the expected cash cow for this tournament. Tuesday's semi-final was another instance where a century seemed a banker so while it's not a formality for Sydney, surely at least one player from Australia or India will go past three figures and trigger a return at [1.85].
Back David Warner to top score for Australia at [4.9].
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Matt Harris' World Cup P/L
Staked: 27 pts
Returned: 34.03 pts
P/L: + 7.03 pts