World Cup: Fascinating contest on the cards between equals

Australia and South Africa, two teams familiar to each other at the World Cup stage, meet in second semifinal at Eden Gardens in Kolkata
Australian players during a training session in Kolkata on Tuesday. (Photo | Bibhash Lodh)
Australian players during a training session in Kolkata on Tuesday. (Photo | Bibhash Lodh)

KOLKATA:  The Eden Gardens in Kolkata is all decked up for the second semifinal between heavyweights Australia and South Africa. But if one compares the buzz with that of India's league match against the latter at the venue on November 5, the enthusiasm and craze seem to be missing.

The roads surrounding the stadium were sparsely occupied on Tuesday with only a few trying to get their hands on the tickets. In fact, almost all of them were successful even with only two days to go for the match.

It was the complete opposite when the Men in Blue landed in the City of Joy less than a fortnight ago with the cops resorting to lathi charge to disburse the agitated crowd as they failed to procure the tickets. With Virat Kohli's birthday falling on the match day, the scene became even more chaotic as fans celebrated his birthday on roads, which already were chock-a-block with ticket seekers.

Intensity off the field might be missing but the same could not be said inside the venue. Both teams had long training sessions both on Monday and Tuesday and are scheduled to have another one on Wednesday before the clash.

Given the history they share, especially in the World Cup, the contest is expected to be loaded with action. Be it the Super Six encounter at the 1999 edition wherein skipper Steve Waugh came up with a gritty unbeaten century to see his team home or the second semifinal only four days apart that ended in a tie with the eventual champions progressing by virtue of their win in the previous match.

Australia had it easy eight years later as they won both the league match and second semifinal but South Africa registered a close 10-run victory when they met next in 2019. They extended that run this edition as well when they humbled the five-time champions by 134 runs last month in a league match.

Overall, both the sides have played seven matches in the showpiece event since South Africa's return to international cricket in 1992. All those contests have been even-stevens affairs with each side winning three each, with one ending in a tie.

Temba Bavuma and Co, however, can take confidence from the fact that the Australians have never defeated them in an ODI in India. Since 1996, when they played three ODIs in the Titan Cup, the Proteas had emerged winners each time, pocketing all the four matches.

Come Thursday, the past records have no bearing as a lot will be on stake for both the teams. For South Africa, this will be a chance to break the semifinal hoodoo and march a step closer to holding the coveted trophy. Australia, in turn, will be eager to add yet another silverware to their already full cabinet.

Rain threat
There is a threat of rain in Kolkata with the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) predicting formation of a low pressure area over Southeast Bay of Bengal and adjoining Andaman-Nicobar Islands. As per the IMD, it is likely to move west-northwestwards and intensify into a depression over West Central Bay of Bengal on Wednesday.

"Thereafter, it would move northwestwards and may intensify into a deep depression over West Central Bay of Bengal off Andhra Pradesh coast on Thursday. Subsequently, it would recurve north-northeast wards and reach Northwest Bay of Bengal off Odisha coast on Friday," the IMD said. The city may see rain from this system on both days, including Friday, reserve day.

Snehasish Ganguly, Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) president, believes they are ready to tackle the situation. "We can cover the entire ground in no time. The drainage system here is world class. So in that sense we are absolutely ready to host the match," the CAB president told this daily.

Notably, the association bought covers from the United Kingdom before the 2016 T20 World Cup. "The covers are divided into four quarters and are lightweight, so they can be easily pulled from corners at each quarter of the ground in no time. Besides, we have three super soppers in case we need to dry the outfield," Arindam Basu, venue media manager, told this daily.

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The New Indian Express