India's recent annihilation of Sri Lanka is a sure sign of the massive improvements that this Indian team has made in the last few weeks. However, will it be enough to beat the all-conquering Australians? Following New Zealand's mauling at the hands of Australia on a substandard pitch at St George's Park, Port Elizabeth, who, indeed how, is anyone going to better the Australians? That is the million dollar question, and even someone coughing in the audience won't get the answer correct.
For those of you who think I have gone stark, raving bonkers, I hope you are following the fraud trial in the UK, where a 'Who wants to be a millionaire' contestant is being sued by the show for cheating, as his friend coughed when the right answer came up.
On current form, India are the only side that look as though they will give them a game, and one can only hope that the pressure of continuing to win will eventually get to the Australians. When I say that sport is usually a great leveler and that the law of averages has to take effect, there are plenty of precedents to fall back on.
At one stage, New Zealand looked as though there might be a sniff of victory. This was dispelled by Andy Bichel, who, for me, is slowly becoming my player of the tournament, and Michael Bevan, who continues this remarkable ability to score runs from impossible situations. His mind in one-day cricket is the strongest I have ever witnessed, including that of Steve Waugh, and it is amazing that he has not been able to take that into the Test arena. Ian Chappell has always said he has a weakness to the short ball, yet even with the relatively new ruling of just one bouncer an over in the one-day game has not affected his remarkable consistency.
Back to Bichel, I have found him to be one of the nicest men in cricket. His unassuming humility, his higher than high work ethic, his passion for the game and pride in playing for Australia stand out like a beacon for all cricketers to follow. He is one of those few professionals who will accept everything thrown at him. He was considered by a few to be lucky -- can you believe it -- to make the final side! He came as a reserve for Jason Gillespie and Glen McGrath, now he has made sure on two occasions that the Australians have recovered and won from desperate situations. Perhaps, he should be nicknamed 'The Phoenix'.
Having players like Andy Bichel in a team, I am sure inspires a similar attitude from his team mates. As a coach one hopes you have someone of his calibre in a team. The South Africans had Rhodes, Warwickshire of the nineties had a guy called Tim Munton, and Kent of the seventies had Alan Knott, all of whom were inspirations and undoubtedly a catalyst for success.
Good players, great attitude, as part of team dynamics, is very important. So, the million-dollar question is how to beat the Australians?
Most coaches would say we need to get the upper order out of the way. But now they will have to add 'we need to blow away the tail (what tail?)'. They do have one and there has to be a method of getting them out. I am surprised that they have not exploited Andy Bichel's weakness to the shorter delivery. Not that he is scared of it, but he does hit the ball into the air and that gives a shrewd bowler and captain a chance. It would seem that the team having got him to the crease would try and stop him from scoring. But once in, he can hit the ball very hard. I thought Stephen Fleming captained beautifully at the beginning and his game plans were exemplary, yet they did not go the whole way.
In fact, if you play the Australians it is necessary to play for all 100 overs; there can be no respite. The strength of the Australians is that they never give up or step off the gas. They believe that each man can do a job.
For a short period now Matthew Hayden has provided the opposition with an early wicket. He has played too many shots too soon even for him. With Gilchrist as partner he needs to spend a little more time at the crease before he opens up.
Having exposed the middle order to the newer ball, batting is not quite so easy and the Australians have looked as human as the rest. So it is obvious that a team playing against them has to have a bowling attack and a plan for each player even down to Glenn McGrath.
Incredibly, Shane Bond's 6 for 23 was not enough to put him on the winning side. Incidentally, Shane has joined the list of 'Super Bears' that have been at this World Cup. A brief explanation of the 'Bears': It is the exclusive club of international cricketers who have played for Warwickshire, and when I say exclusive then I mean exclusive. Among them are Allan Donald, Brian Lara, Shaun Pollock, Vasbert Drakes and now Shane.
It would seem the key now to beating Australia is with the batting. Trying to get a defensible score or indeed chasing a low one are increasingly hard to come by. Sri Lanka managed it recently in Australia and England. Not many sides have managed to expose their attack despite the fact that they are missing Gillespie and Warne.
Here then is the challenge for a team to put in a collective batting display that will apply the pressure to the Australian bowling attack. Seeing off the new ball and getting used to the other bowlers, wickets in hand, are all pre-requisites of building an innings.
The Australians are preventing this by taking wickets. Brett Lee, who used to be the most expensive and probably still is, takes wickets. He is bowling people out with yorkers and slower balls. It is in the hands of the batsmen to find methods of overcoming the Aussies' plans by using new game plans to prevent this from happening. Standing in the crease, coming down the wicket, messing up the bowler generally will have to be the focus of all batsmen, more especially watching the ball, so that they make fewer mistakes.
Otherwise that certain inevitability will become a reality, unless someone can cough up the real answer!