AUSTRALIA captain Michael Clarke warned his side were yet to play their perfect game in the World Cup, despite booking their spot in Sunday’s final against co-hosts New Zealand with a 95-run victory over defending champions India.
Australia’s slow-and-steady approach batting first in Sydney reaped rewards. Steven Smith struck his first World Cup century while Aaron Finch weighed in with 81 and despite Umesh Yadav’s four for 72 pegging them back, late hitting from Mitchell Johnson, who smashed four fours and a six in an unbeaten 27, meant Clarke’s side posted a commanding 328 for seven.
James Faulkner then produced the heroics with the ball to bag three for 59 as India’s response never got beyond promising 40s from their leading batsmen.
Only India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s run-a-ball 65 avoided defeat by a bigger margin. Dhoni cracked two sixes to reach his 50, but the run rate was proving insurmountable and his run out by Glenn Maxwell in the 45th over was the beginning of the end, with the run chase eventually ending on 233 in the 46th over.
Australia have World Cup triumphs from 1987, 1999, 2003 and 2007 to their name and now have the chance for a fifth title when they face in-form New Zealand in Melbourne this weekend.
The Black Caps are the only unbeaten team of the tournament so far, having trumped Australia as well in the pool stages, but Clarke said: “We’re playing some really good cricket at the moment.
“Losing to New Zealand gave us that kick up the backside. I still don’t think we’ve played the perfect game yet. I think we’ve improved every game and now we’re excited to be in the final.
“I think the boys have played some outstanding cricket. Smithy was exceptional once again.
“He’s hitting the ball so sweetly, and I’m really proud of the execution under pressure there from our bowlers.”
Smith’s fluent 105 off just 93 balls comes in a tournament that has already seen him make scores of 95, 72 and 65.
He exited with a slog off Yadav that found Rohit Sharma at deep square leg but the stand-in Test captain hopes there is plenty left in the bag for Sunday.
“Another big hundred would be nice,” he said. “It’s nice to contribute to a few wins.
“It was a pretty big stage, the semi-final of a World Cup. I’m just happy that we got over the line in the end.”
Dhoni, meanwhile, feels his side can walk away with their heads held high after a World Cup that belied many pre-tournament expectations.
India came into the showpiece on the back of a disappointing tour of Australia, with no competitive wins to their name, but marched to the knockout phase by topping their pool and then easily beat Bangladesh.
“Overall, I’m quite happy,” Dhoni said. “Where we were at the start of the tournament, a lot of people didn’t think we’d get this far.
“At the same time, when you come to the knockout stages you have to lift your game. There were too many (runs) to chase. If you lose quite a few wickets and you’re supposed to chase over six runs an over... Our lower order, I don’t think they can contribute as much in these conditions.
“Overall, it’s good exposure for them. Maybe next time, in other conditions, they’ll know how to bat and do better.”
Dhoni was undecided when asked after the match whether this would be his last World Cup.
“I’m not sure about that,” he said. “I’m 33, I’m still running, I’m still fit.
“But I’ll have a (think in a) year’s time. Maybe next year during the T20 World Cup I would like to decide if I can continue until the 2019 World Cup or not.”
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