A mix of brains and brawns

Azad Majumder . Sydney
Brendon McCullum, AB de Villiers, Michael Clarke, MS Dhoni.

Brendon McCullum, AB de Villiers, Michael Clarke, MS Dhoni.

Michael Clarke’s astuteness, MS Dhoni’s precision, AB De Villiers’ athleticism and Brendon McCullum’s power are all on show as the World Cup 2015 has finally reached the semi-finals stage.
After long drawn out group phase and some lopsided quarter-finals, the quartet will lead arguably the four best sides, at least ranking-wise, with a place in March 29 final up for grab.
With both the semis predicted to be high-octane matches they are also expected to test the leadership qualities of all four captains who must now outmaneuver his counterpart to earn the bragging rights of playing in the final.
India’s Dhoni will have the edge over others in terms of experience, having led the side successfully to title four years back, but his task is also harder than others facing an in-form home side.
India already exceeded the expectations in the tournament, despite their status as defending champions, and Dhoni is credited with their remarkable turnaround from a poor build up.
In the lead up to the tournament they had only one warm-up win over Afghanistan in three months to back them but after the quarter-final stage they are now one of the two teams to maintain 100 per cent winning record and only side to dismiss all opponents.
India’s unbeaten run in the tournament was at stake against Zimbabwe in their last group match when facing a target of 288 runs they turned 4-92 at Auckland’s Eden Park.
In plain eyes it may appear that Suresh Raina won the game with a century but it can be argued if he could do so provided Dhoni was not at the other end to form a 196-run stand.
Dhoni spoke to Raina almost after every over and inspired him to take some calculative risks and finally exploded himself as the duo scored 161 in the last 20 overs.
Dhoni finished the game with a six, the ninth time him doing so in the career, most by an individual, which is an indication of how ambitious as a player and captain he is.
Driven by his guts, Dhoni famously brought himself before Yuvraj Singh in 2011 World Cup final and played a match-winning knock to lead India to the title glory.
A team-man, someone who always backs his players, Dhoni has an uncanny knack of winning big matches under pressure and this is what India need if they are to upset Australia in Thursday’s second semi-final in Sydney.
Clarke, who also has the experience of winning the World Cup, albeit not as captain but as a player in 2007, will have an easier job in hand, which is just maintaining the pressure.
Australia started the tournament as overwhelming favourites and despite a blip in Auckland against co-hosts New Zealand, their status remained unchanged.
With David Warner, Steven Smith and Glen Maxwell firing with the bat and Shane Watson returning to his best, Clarke was not required to do anything extra-ordinary so far in tournament.
Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc are also in brilliant form to intimidate the opponents making Clarke’s job easier. The deceiving slowers of James Faulkner came just as an added advantage.
Clarke was never hailed as the greatest Australian captain and was subject to a big debate before the World Cup after a career-threatening hamstring injury that nearly ruled him out.
Smith did a fine job in his absence and was the frontrunner to the charge for the tournament. Australian selectors set a deadline for Clarke which he barely made to finally return the leadership role.
His biggest success so far in the tournament is keeping the team’s morale high despite the debate surrounding his position.
Clarke’s emotional speech after Phil Hughes’ death made him respected by all Australian cricketers and under his leadership they have turned into a formidable side again, one that can very well deliver them their fifth World Cup.
While India and Australia will be vying for their place in final for another occasion, AB de Villiers will lead South Africa against New Zealand in the second semi-final for their maiden final berth.
Some study shows De Villiers is now the world’s best batsman by far for his ability to hit and defend with the same skill. But his leadership was never tested until this World Cup.
His handling of bowlers in their two group stage defeats against India and Pakistan was not greatest for any captain but De Villiers at least could deliver when it mattered most.
De Villiers helped South Africa to shed the tag of chokers in the quarter-final finally leading the Proteas their first ever win in a World Cup knock-out game against Sri Lanka.
In the semi-final, South Africa will encounter co-hosts New Zealand who also have some reputation as chokers, reaching the World Cup semi-finals for six times never to make the final.
In McCullum they are now looking for a Robert Bruce who can deliver it in their seventh attempt. The title of New Zealand’s best ever batsman still rests with Martin Crowe and as a batsman McCullum has a long way to reach Crowe’s status.
But in one aspect McCullum already outdid Crowe, who, despite his brilliant form, could not win all league matches in 1992. In their last match they lost to Pakistan to set up a semi-final against the same side.
In semi-final Crowe scored a century and left the field due to an injury for John Wright to make a mess as Inzamam-ul Haque snatched the game from New Zealand’s grip.
Keeping the history in mind, McCullum may refuse to leave the field under any excuse.  After all he will not want to ruin their brilliant run for any trifling reason.
In McCullum, New Zealand found a true leader after long time and he now stands with a chance to be their greatest ever captain if not greatest ever batsman. World Cup title or at least a place in the final is just what he needs to take the honour.

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