Dhaka: India are within a match of becoming the first team to hold all three international titles simultaneously.
On Friday, the World Cup and Champions Trophy holders overcame South Africa in a pressure match to march into Sunday’s World T20 final, against Sri Lanka.
The Champions Trophy win, last June, came weeks after scandals struck the IPL. Now, India have made the World T20 final at a time there’s universal attention on the Board and key individuals.
Being under the scanner in such a manner isn’t comforting.
At the break, it seemed India would need 21 overs to get to 173. But so classy was vice-captain and MoM Virat Kohli’s effort (72 not out from 44 balls) that the winning runs could have come with an over to spare.
Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, however, decided against smacking the last delivery of the 19th over, from Beuran Hendricks, allowing Virat the chance to get that “special feeling.”
Virat, who has been in the form of his life, needed one ball to bring the India dug out over the rope. Talking of his T20 career, he placed the innings at “the top.”
Of course, Virat didn’t forget to thank his captain for enabling him get that “special feeling.”
That apart, Virat highlighted three things: (I) Cricket is played “more between the ears;” (II) That even if one feels the pressure, never show it to the “opposition;” (III) It’s important to stay in a “calm zone” and respect opponents.
Virat is much, much more than the newest poster boy of our cricket. Which is why the accolades don’t stop.
“Under pressure, a great innings from Virat... He’s been batting unbelievably... I didn’t think 173 was too stiff, as South Africa didn’t have the attack (one specialist spinner) for the conditions,” former India captain Sourav Ganguly told The Telegraph.
Looking ahead, to the final, Sourav said: “In this form, India will start favourites.”
Dhoni, who continues to treat success and setbacks equanimously, made the point that a “sense of calmness” prevailed at the break and the thoughts had been “positive.”
Bank on Dhoni, who lifted the inaugural World T20 trophy, in 2007, to keep panic out of the dressing room/dug out.
Dhoni made two big calls. He neither brought back Shikhar Dhawan nor Mohammed Shami. Ajinkya Rahane justified his faith somewhat, but Mohit Sharma didn’t.
Shami should return for the final.
South Africa sent down nine wides, absolutely criminal in the T20 format, forcing captain Faf du Plessis to be blunt. “If we’re looking to win a World cup, then we have to do the small things right.”
Faf didn’t agree, but a change in strategy, which led to Wayne Parnell and not spearhead Dale Steyn getting the 17th over, turned the semi-final India’s way.
Parnell went for 17 runs, with Suresh Raina getting 16 of those. The pressure was quickly off India and, by the time Steyn started the 18th over, only 23 were required from 24 deliveries.
At times, 21 runs off 10 balls, could make a telling difference. Raina’s innings did, this evening.
Steyn went wicketless. When that happens, clearly, South Africa have had a bad day. “He’s human,” Faf reasoned, adding that Steyn couldn’t be a match-winner every single day.
A fair comment.
Faf didn’t moan, Instead, he listed the shortcomings and praised India’s batsmen, Virat in particular, for having “outskilled” his team.
For India, Amit Mishra didn’t get a wicket, but Ravichandran Ashwin was “brilliant,” as both Dhoni and Virat put it. Had Ashwin not choked the batsmen, South Africa would have got far more.
Ashwin, in fact, bowled an astonishing first delivery (a carrom ball) which got rid of Hashim Amla. Via a tweet, Adam Gilchrist promptly hailed it as the T20 delivery “of the century.”
Dhoni’s go-to bowler has worked on his game and come back a more potent option.
Obviously, Dhoni’s backing has helped Ashwin, who has kept Harbhajan Singh out for ages now.