The forecast for wild weather in India is threatening to rain on Australia's parade at the Cricket World Cup, with the toss looming as a particularly crucial one for skipper Pat Cummins to win. The Aussies will head into Thursday night's (AEDT) showdown against South Africa full of confidence after winning seven straight matches since going down to the Proteas in their second group game of the tournament.
However, progress into Sunday night's final could be taken out of their hands, with forecast storms emerging as a potential threat to Australia's hopes. The match is being played in Kolkata, where there is a 60 percent forecast chance of rain on the Thursday of the match and a weather system moving in that has the potential to develop into cyclonic conditions.
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There is a reserve day available if the weather wreaks havoc, meaning the game can be completed on Friday if needs be. The only problem is the forecast is even worse for the Friday in Kolkata, with the chance of rain rocketing to 90 percent according to local forecasts on Tuesday in India.
If the match can't be completed across the two days then South Africa would win by virtue of the fact they finished higher on the table than Australia. The Aussies and Proteas both finished the group stage with seven wins and 14 points, but South Africa's superior net run rate put them second and Australia third (1.261 compared to 0.841). The winner of Thursday night's match will take on the victor from the first semi-final between unbeaten hosts India and New Zealand.
Toss of the coin could be crucial for Pat Cummins
Even if Australia's semi-final is able to be completed on either day, it will be a crucial toss for Cummins to win if, as expected, the clash ends up becoming a rain-reduced ODI. Teams generally prefer chasing in a rain-affected match because they have more control over proceedings than the team who batted first under the DLS scoring system.
However, batting first at this World Cup has been favoured by a majority of captains winning the toss, with an average score of 8-289 across the tournament. In fact, the average 132-run winning margin for teams batting first is the highest in World Cup history, which only further highlights the difficulty of chasing.
Further complicating the scenario for Australia is the fact South Africa have won all five games when they have batted first this tournament. On each occasion Temba Bavuma's men have passed 300 and posted an average score of 6-375. In their two losing chases, the Proteas were bowled out for 83 and 207 by India and the Netherlands respectively.
"The wickets have probably been two different wickets during the day and night," Aussie quick Mitchell Starc said this week. "It's certainly been more beneficial to swing the ball and nip the ball in the second innings, when the sun has gone down and we've been under lights a bit."
Mitchell Starc backs Australia's 'plan of attack'
Starc - who is set to come straight back into the Aussie XI for Sean Abbott after being rested for the final group game against Bangladesh - admits the toss could be a major factor against South Africa. However, the fiery left-arm paceman says whatever happens, the Aussies will back themselves to come up with a plan to topple the Proteas.
"The toss of the coin obviously plays a part," Starc said. "But it's not the be all and end all. We've won some games chasing in this tournament which is a big tick.
"Like everyone, they (South Africa) have had challenges chasing at night here in India. If they put us under pressure then we're in the same ballpark. If we end up bowling first we need to be mindful of the conditions and have a plan of attack."
Under ICC conditions, a match will be deemed complete on Thursday if 20 overs have been bowled in the second innings. If the match has to be postponed for the day before the team batting second has managed 20 overs then the game will be continued on Friday to get a result. All scores will carry over from Thursday's play. A similar situation played out in 2019 World Cup, where New Zealand beat India by 18 runs on a second day in Manchester.
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