|Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Dhaka: At 9.42 pm (local time) on Friday, the rattling of hailstones and the buzz of heavy rains took over the capital of Bangladesh. And it appears that 20-odd minutes of blinding rain have pushed India closer to a place in the final of the 2014 World T20.
The entire ground at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium went under water. Thanks to the state-of-the art drainage system, most of the surface water was drained out by the groundsmen with the help of pumps. But still, enough remains below the grass cover which only hours of a scorching sun can dry up.
The inner circle and the pitch were well protected with covers, but is there enough time to make the wet outfield playable? The second semi-final, between India and South Africa, starts less than 24 hours after such a downpour.
If you are of the optimistic kind and believe that the ground will be in fine condition for the match, remember there’s a forecast of thunderstorms on Friday as well. And that’s where comes the biggest twist.... If there’s no play, India will advance to the final by virtue of being better-placed in their group. While India topped Group II, South Africa were second-best to Sri Lanka in Group I.
But mind it, no one’s ruling out the possibility of a match entirely. With the tireless groundsmen doing their best till midnight on Thursday, you never know...
If there’s a game, somewhere between the chokers tag of the South African team and poker face of India coach Duncan Fletcher will reside the result.
The Proteas’ story defies logic. They have produced champion batsmen, fearsome bowlers, flying fielders, shrewd captains.... They have won hearts, but they have never won a world title. They have made the semi-finals of a world tournament on four occasions, but have never progressed further.
It’s like they came out of the curse of the apartheid, but instead of the boundless horizon of opportunities, they have been limited by an invisible boundary wall. The chokers tag sits bitterly on them and so on Friday, like umpteenth times in the past, they will once again try to beat the choke, to leap over the invisible psychological barrier.
On the other hand, Indian cricket is going through a strange phase, a part of it appears rotten, infested by worms, but on the field it appears to be in the pink of health, at least at the moment. It’s like a mansion which has weather-shield paint on the outside but flaky walls inside expose the ugly skeleton.
All that is happening within the Board of Control for Cricket in India has thankfully not affected Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his boys. Or even if it has worried them, they have successfully put on a mask. Their approach has been like Fletcher’s face, you don’t really understand if it’s rain or shine.
It seems the Dhonis have imbibed that quality from their coach. They have shouldered arms to all the controversies that came their way and look absolutely focused on trying to win their second World T20 crown. They want to better their best. They are fighting it out, but it’s on the field, not in the court.
Ravichandran Ashwin said on Thursday that they didn’t start the tournament as the favourites and wouldn’t like that tag for Friday’s match as well. But Ashwin’s, or the team management’s, way of looking at things won’t change the reality which says India are the favourites to cross the semis hurdle and make the final.
India’s batting in this tournament has been sensible, but it’s the spinners who have made the real difference. Ashwin and Amit Mishra have not only turned balls, they have turned matches.
Yuvraj Singh, who had skipped training the day before, was back batting at the nets. He slapped all speculations about his fitness out of the ground when his monstrous shot off the very first ball he faced cleared the ground.
Yuvraj looked ready for the game, but will the ground be ready? To ‘hail’ with ifs and buts, let’s wait patiently for a few hours more.
India (likely): Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami
South Africa (likely): Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, David Miller, Albie Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Dale Steyn, Beuran Hendricks/Aaron Phangiso, Imran Tahir
Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena, Ian Gould. TV: Bruce Oxenford
Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle
Match starts: 6.30 (IST)