22/03/2015 9:26 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

World Cup Semi-Finals Preview: Players To Watch Out For

The good form of players who excelled in the quarter-finals could also hold the key to their team's success in the semi-finals. These are my picks.

Australian bowler Mitchell Starc watches his delivery during their Cricket World Cup match against New Zealand in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015. (AP Photo Ross Setford)

The good form of players who excelled in the quarter-finals could also hold the key to their team's success in the semi-finals. These are my picks:

NEW ZEALAND v SOUTH AFRICA - First Semi Final, March 24, Auckland

Martin Guptill: Guptill's record-breaking 237 not out against the West Indies left a lot of people flabbergasted. Where from did he get such a wide range of strokes, and so much hunger for runs?

But those who've tracked his career remember that he narrowly missed an ODI double century even in 2013, finishing with 189 not out against England.

Last Saturday Guptill went several steps better in smashing a double century, upstaging the 215 made by Chris Gayle, the contemporary game's most ferocious hitter, as New Zealand brushed aside the West Indies in the quarter-final.

What makes Guptill's battng exploits more remarkable is that he has only two toes in his left foot, having lost the other three in a accident when he was just 13. This reveals a man of courage and ambition.

Going into the semis, Guptill is now the star batsman of his side even ahead of Brendon McCullum and Kane Williamson - venerated by his supporters and feared by the opposition.

Trent Boult: Slim and wiry, Boult hardly looks the kind to bowl fast. He is not as tall and broad shouldered as some of the other left-arm fast bowlers on view in the World Cup like Mitch Johnson, Mitch Starc and Wahab Riaz. But what he lacks in physical heft, he makes up through run-up, rhythm and action.

Throughout the tournament, Boult has consistently clocked in the 140 kphs. Add to that pronounced late swing, in and out, have made him the highest wicket-taker yet in the World Cup.

Just how good Boult has been became amply evident in the quarter-final against the West Indies. On a dead-as-dodo pitch where batsmen could play strokes freely, he bowled with outstanding control.

Where all other bowlers went for 7, 8 even 10 runs per over, Boult was niggardly, costing not much more than four. More importantly, he also picked up four wickets which punctured the West Indies onslaught.

He is the man the South Africans will want to play out without suffering too much damage.

South Africa:

Imran Tahir It is a moot point whether Imran Tahir's celebrations after claiming a wicket was more impressive than his skilful bowling in the quarter final against Sri Lanka.

Every time he got a wicket, Tahir went ballistic, almost running a lap of the stadium, roaring his head off. This was an even more dramatic sight than Dale Steyn's appeals, which are like a primordial scream, which says something.

For the more discerning not easily swayed by histrionics, however, it was that manner in which Tahir got the better of batsmen adept at playing spin bowling which the highlight of the quarter-final.

Not one batsman, not even the great Sangakkara, could read him correctly that day as Tahir mixed the leg-breaks with googlies and flippers with astuteness and fantastic deception.

How he fares in conditions essentially favourable to seam bowlers remains to be seen. But New Zealand's batsmen, not quite tested by spin as yet, may find Tahir the big stumbling block in their way.

Dale Steyn: Dale Steyn found himself in the unusual - and unenviable -- position of being regarded as the world's best fast bowlers, but also the weak link in South Africa's attack in this World Cup.

In most matches, he had not only failed to provide early breakthroughs, but had also gone for plentiful runs, which had sent tongues wagging about whether he really enjoyed limited overs cricket.

Steyn went about correcting that misconception in the quarter-final against Sri Lanka. While Imran Tahir picked up the most wickets, Steyn came up with a hostile opening spell in which he got the prized wicket of Dilshan which pushed the Lankans on to the back foot.

It was almost as if Steyn was determined to show that he was still king of pace, the others mere pretenders to the throne. But he faces tough battle against New Zealand's openers, Guptill and McCullum, who have used frontal assault on ruval fast bowlers as a highly successful tactic so far.

One dare say that winner of this contest might determine which team wins the match.

AUSTRALIA v INDIA - Second Semi Final, March 26, Sydney

Rohit Sharma: No Indian cricketer in recent memory has raised as much misgivings as expectations. Everybody is agreed on his innate talent; you can't score two ODI double centuries without extraordinary ability. Yet, Rohit has also left fans regretful about their support because of his inconsistency.

Nevertheless, his century in the quarter final against Bangladesh couldn't have been better timed - for his team and himself. He may have been a tad lucky that he was caught off a no-ball which Bangladesh hotly contested. But that apart, this knock was remarkable as much for his patience and concentration as for the scintillating strokes towards the end.

Despite the two double centuries under his belt, this was unarguably his best ODI innings given the pressure of playing in a World Cup knock-out match and that India had lost a few early wickets.

He is the man in form, and India's supporters will be hoping that they see the new, resilient and focused Rohit in the semi-final too.

Umesh Yadav: For most of the tournament he played second fiddle to Mohammed Shami; perhaps even third, for Dhoni usually turns to Mohit Sharma when the situation gets a little tight. But in the quarter-final against Bangladesh, he came into his own - as strike bowler who can also be parsimonious.

In the Test and tri-series preceding the World Cup, Yadav had been in rather poor form: expensive, and very few wickets to show. With Shami also lacking rhythm and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar unfit, India's bowling resources looked thin for the World Cup. The fact that Bhuvaneshwar didn't recover in time gave a lifeline to both Shami and Yadav, and both made the most of the opportunity.

Yadav's biggest strength is uncompromising pace. Allied with pace is a natural outswinger which can test the best. The major issue with his bowling seemed to be control. Against Bangladesh, he seemed to tick all the boxes though, and Dhoni will be hoping that he can sustain this in the semi-final too.

Steve Smith: His rise to eminence in international cricket this season has come largely at India's cost. Since the Test series between the two teams more than four months ago, Smith has been in Bradmanesque form, notching up almost 1000 runs in different formats against the hapless Indian bowlers.

While Australia bat very deep and have some seasoned campaigners in Michael Clarke and Shane Watson, Smith has become the pivot of the side for his ability to hold the innings together as well as play attacking strokes.

His knock against Pakistan in the quarter-final was evidence of his brilliant current form. Even as Watson struggled badly against the hostile Wahab Riaz, Smith handled the pace bowler with aplomb, without a furrow on his brow.

Recognition of Smith's rise in stature comes from the fact that he now bats at number 3 from where he is expected to control the game. He is the thorn in the flesh that India will want to remove early.

Mitchel Starc There is a neck-and-neck, three-way battle underway to determine the best bowler of the World Cup between Trent Boult, Mohammed Shami and Mitchel Starc. The New Zealand pace ace is ahead for the moment, but the India-Australia semi-final could well see either of the other two sneak past him.

For many experts though, irrespective of who takes the most wickets in this tournament, Starc is the best of the fast bowlers seen in the World Cup. When New Zealand played Australia in the league phase it may be recalled, Starc almost won the match on his own with only 150 to defend.

He has bowled at red hot pace - frequently topping the 150 kph mark - but even more tellingly, got the ball to swing so late both ways that the best batsmen have been left bamboozled.

Several critics have likened Starc to the great Wasim Akram. Those are mighty boots to fill, but Starc has shown similar skills. At the start and in the death overs, he remains the big threat to India.

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