India against Australia: A preview and best-bet for the World Cup of cricket

Tips for betting on cricket: India vs Australia

Kuldeep Yadav Man of the Match, 1 point, Betfair Sportsbook, Paddy Power, 25/1

Kuldeep Yadav leads India’s bowlers with 1 point at 4/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes).

1 point for Ravi Jadeja Man of the Match (20/1), Betfair Sportsbook, Paddy Power

First-rate Indian batter KL Rahul is rated at 15/2 (Paddy Power, Betfair Sportsbook)

Marnus Labuschagne leads Australia’s batting team by 1 point at 7/1 (William Hill)

The mask has slipped. No more hiding in the shadows. India, the BCCI, and Narendra Modi will accept nothing less than a World Cup victory, at whatever cost.

For those who wisely gave up on politics a long time ago, Modi is the current prime minister of India, a hardline nationalist who is seeking re-election later this year. What better way to stir up emotions of patriotism and nationalism than for India to win the World Cup on home soil, especially in a country where cricket takes on near-biblical importance?

Sunday’s final, surprise, surprise, will be staged in Ahmedabad, at the Narendra Modi Stadium, a venue named in honour of the prime minister and one that will welcome 132,000 home supporters to cheer on their beloved India against Australia. Expect Modi to do his victory lap of honour should India finish the job. Cricket, like so many other sports, has become merely a tool in a much bigger game, and India is not attempt to hide it.

Wednesday’s semi-final against New Zealand was shrouded in controversy before it began, the ICC has since confirmed that, against protocol, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) switched the pitch at the Wankhede Stadium at the last minute, moving from the new wicket previously agreed for the match to a surface that had previously been played on twice before.

Andy Atkinson, the ICC’s pitch consultant for the World Cup and whose job it is to ensure such agreements aren’t broken, was furious at the late switch, but also powerless as the BCCI flexed its muscles.

The aim: to play the match on a used surface that would more likely favour spin, a big strength of India’s, both with bat and ball, and something their opponents, New Zealand, are much less suited to.

The most puzzling thing about this unpleasant saga is that India doesn’t need to do it. Unbeaten throughout the group stage, India has been by far and away the best team in the competition across a variety of conditions, and taking a chance on the surface and tossing made little sense. In the end, they won the toss and in batting first, got the best of conditions that although good for batting throughout, did deteriorate later in the game.

With the stakes so high, and pressure coming from the very highest powers in the country, India’s win-at-all-costs approach has been revealed for all to see. And it’s not pretty. Reputational damage has been done, but India doesn’t appear to care.

Outstanding India has all bases covered

Why India would feel the need to take a gamble on the toss when you have the best team in the tournament is hard to understand. Perhaps it reveals some insecurities in the home camp that onlookers might struggle to comprehend. Perhaps the pressure of the occasion, carrying the hopes of a nation and the expectations of the most important man in the country, is beginning to tell.

All of the above adds a fascinating sub-plot to Sunday’s final, which begins at 8.30 am, UK time, but the evidence in front of us suggests India will be incredibly hard to beat, and that match odds of 4/9 are entirely justifiable.

India won the group fixture between the two sides by six wickets, despite suffering a rare top-order wobble, and have dominated all comers since. For a brief time on Wednesday, Daryl Mitchell and Kane Williamson threatened to spoil the party, but India had 397 runs to play with having produced another impressive batting innings, and few matches are lost from that position.

India has two of the top five leading runscorers in the competition, with Virat Kohli leading the way with 711 runs at an average of 101.57. Australia’s best is David Warner at number six on the list. Mohammed Shami (23) and Adam Zampa (22) sit one and two in the wickets list, but Shami has played four games fewer. Australia’s next highest wicket-taker is Josh Hazlewood with eight – Jasprit Bumrah has 18, Ravi Jadeja has 16, and Kuldeep Yadav has 15.

By almost every metric going, be it bat, ball, spin, swing, or pace, it’s hard to escape the fact that India is the overwhelming favourite to win, and on that basis, you could argue they are entitled to be even shorter in the betting. When you factor in the likelihood that the pitch in Ahmedabad will spin, as is sure to be demanded by the BCCI, Australia are up against it.

For Australia fans, they will be hoping that pressure is a big man and that it all proves too much for Rohit Sharma’s side, who did visibly begin to wilt when Mitchell and Williamson started to dominate in the first semi-final.

Early wickets are Australia’s only hope

Even more important will be Australia’s ability to reproduce the outstanding first 15 overs they conjured against South Africa on Thursday. Mitchell Starc and Hazlewood were exceptional in making use of favourable bowling conditions, knocking over the Proteas’ top four, and they were backed up by some quite brilliant ground fielding and catching. From 24-4, it was always a long road back for South Africa.

One of the hallmarks of India’s tournament has been their strong top four, especially Rohit at the top of the order who has produced several rapid starts that have immediately put the opposition on the back foot and set the tone for the day. Kohli has made the headlines, and will no doubt be crowned Player of the Tournament, but he has been able to cruise along at a strike rate of 90.68 because Rohit has given him breathing space by himself striking 124.15, while his opening partner, Shubman Gill has motored along at 108.02.

Make no mistake, this is Australia’s best chance. If Starc and Hazlewood can make the two new balls talk, backed up by more excellent fielding, they are capable of making the early breakthroughs needed to put that India middle order under pressure. As we know, nothing slows the run rate better than wickets.

What hasn’t been highlighted yet is that India has a particularly long tail, with Shami coming in at number eight, and it will be fascinating to see how India’s middle order plays the situation should they find themselves 30-3 after the first powerplay. If India starts well again, that won’t matter, so Australia must take early wickets.

Even if that happens, Australia’s task with the bat will be significant. They struggled badly in spinning conditions against South Africa on Thursday, only just scrambling home in pursuit of 213, and India rolled them out for 199 in Chennai earlier in the tournament.

Get the jump on Jadeja for Man of the Match honours

RAVI JADEJA was outstanding in that encounter, finishing with final figures of 10-2-28-3 with Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne among his victims, and I like his chances in the MAN OF THE MATCH market at 20/1.

As already stated, I’m expecting spin to play a big part on Sunday, and Jadeja has been terrific throughout the tournament in those crucial middle overs. He’s had the wood over Australia for a while now, too, having finished as Man of the Series when the two sides played four Tests on these shores back in March.

When you throw Jadeja’s dangerous middle-order batting and expectational fielding into the mix, he makes for an attractive proposition.

Joining Jadeja in the staking plan is fellow spinner KULDEEP YADAV, who has enjoyed an equally impressive World Cup and is very much the finished article nowadays.

The left-arm wrist spinner has always been a genuine wicket-taker, and having now added more consistency and a greater variation of pace to his bowling, he has become a key part of this India XI.

Much as Tabraiz Shamsi did on Thursday, Kuldeep can cause Australia’s middle order endless problems in Sunday’s final, particularly if Australia find themselves batting second and chasing the issue when he comes on to bowl. I’m banking on him having conditions to suit, and if so, there are wickets there for him.

The 25/1 about Kuldeep to be Man of the Match looks well worth a spin, and I can’t resist him to be the top India bowler at 4/1.

Class middle-order pair worth a bet

The top batsman markets are dominated by the usual suspects, but I’m happy to change a couple of class acts at big prices, starting with KL RAHUL for TOP INDIA BATSMAN.

Rahul is an old favourite of mine, a brilliant operator across all three formats who plays spin and pace equally well, and now averages 56.81 against Australia in this format. In the aforementioned group match between the sides in Chennai, Rahul top scored for India with 97 not out, he and Kohli rescuing India after Hazlewood had struck three early blows with the new ball.

He’s been forced to largely play a supporting role to the top order since, but still managed a century against the Netherlands and a rapid, unbeaten 39 against New Zealand. With his form still strong, I’ll change him again at 15/2.

Finally, MARNUS LABUSCHAGNE gets the nod for TOP AUSTRALIA BATSMAN.

Labuschagne wasn’t in the original Australia squad before impressing in the preceding ODI series in South Africa, and he’s done a solid job in India, making a couple of half-centuries, and scoring 304 runs in all.

Unsurprisingly, his strike rate is down at 75.62 while his teammates have scored at a much quicker rate. But Labuschagne tends to make runs when the going is tough, and he top-scored (71) against England when nobody else managed to breach fifty.

It’s hard to see India offering too many easy runs here, and though Warner and Mitchell Marsh have both been going well, they must pass the ultimate test up against Bumrah with the new ball.

Labuschagne, a fine player of spin, might be well placed in the middle order, and while it might not be quick or particularly pretty, he could well prove the most effective of the Australia batting line-up in tough circumstances. He looks worth a play at 7/1.

 

 

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