India came into the 2014 World T20 as a team who hadn’t got it quite right. Disastrous winless tours to South Africa and New Zealand, and on the back of being knocked out of the Asia Cup, didn’t inspire much faith of India’s chances of competing for their third ICC Trophy in four years.
Furthermore, India was one of the least experienced T20 squads over the last few years, having only played five T20Is between the last World T20 and this one. The Indian squad is also the only group of players who do not play in T20 franchises across the globe, apart from in the IPL and CLT20.
Nevertheless, India walked into their high-voltage opening match against arch-rivals Pakistan, and a disciplined by India’s bowlers tied Pakistan to a mediocre score. The pressure applied by the bowlers, helped the batsmen – who were out of sorts in the lead up – ease into the tournament, and chase it down comfortably.
A similar performance with the ball against reigning Champions West Indies, helped restrict the Windies to a total that required less than 6.5 per over. It became quite evident that Dhoni had once more become comfortable in familiar surroundings, being able to rely on his spinners to dry up the runs and apply pressure to take wickets – something he had missed on the tours of South Africa and New Zealand.
Beating Bangladesh, with all due respect to Bangladesh, was merely a formality ahead of what would have been the biggest hurdle in India being able to qualify for the Semifinals prior to the tournament, a showdown against Australia. India and Australia had played a see-sawing high scoring ODI series at the back end of last year, and with the form Australia has been in across all formats since were rightly favourites to win the World T20.
After losses to Pakistan and West Indies prior to facing India, Australia were already a demoralized team. India setting a total for the first time in the tournament, showed that they were not just a one trick pony relying on bowling first, and chasing down a restricted total. They not only beat Australia, they unleashed an almighty walloping.
India, now in a position no one thought possible after a disastrous run across formats, go into the Semi Final against South Africa with a lot of confidence. Ashwin, Jadeja and Mishra have done well to tie down the competition in conditions that have benefited them, with BK, Shami and Mohit Sharma complimenting the spin trio nicely. The inclusion of Suresh Raina, has added to the great standard players like Kohli and Jadeja set in the field. The return to form of Yuvraj Singh in India’s last group game, adds to the balance of India’s line up that they’ve been missing in limited overs cricket for a few months.
The only concerns for India are the inconsistent form of Shikhar Dhawan, and the unpredictability of South Africa. Shikhar blazed onto the international scene with the fastest debut hundred, and then man of the series in the Champions Trophy upon his ODI return. Since then it has been slim pickings for Shihkar across the formats, momentary rediscovering his touch in New Zealand, but it seems to have deserted him again in Bangladesh.
South Africa have been as unpredictable as Pakistan have been in the past. Out of their four games so far, they have been led by two different captains. AB de Villiers when Faf du Plessis was injured in their opening match, then again when du Plessis was suspended for slow over rates. After losing their first game by five runs against eventual finalists Sri Lanka, the Proteas managed to just edge passed the Blackcaps, minnows Netherlands and England by two, six and three runs respectively.
Going by the form book, India would be the team to beat in tonight’s second Semi Final, but the Proteas have the batting line up that can dismantle India’s spin trio. Dale Steyn as usual remains a great threat, it will also be interesting to see how India go about attacking Imran Tahir, South Africa’s leading wicket taker this tournament. Dhoni would be keen to try and win the toss and bowl first and chase for the victory, despite the threat of rain in the evening.
At the end of the game, either India will storm into their third successive ICC global tournament final, or South Africa will finally have the opportunity to vanquish their “chokers” tag.