Virat Kohli has left many in the cricketing fraternity spellbound with his stupendous 82* (51) on Sunday night against Australia, who India beat by six wickets in the quasi quarterfinal to set up a semifinal clash with the West Indies at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Thursday night.
The Delhi Dazzler had to overcome many challenges during his knock. Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina, Kohli’s first two batting partners, threw away their wickets at critical stages in the game, leaving India’s No. 3 with a huge rebuilding job to do. Yuvraj Singh, rather unfortunately, tweaked his ankle very early on in his innings and became a quarter of the batsman he usually is. Yuvraj’s ankle troubles made it a difficult situation to handle for Kohli, as the left-hander could not run hard between the wickets and had to resort to big hits. The required run-rate kept climbing and despite having to find at least a boundary in an over, the Kohli-Yuvraj duo hardly managed to score six runs-per-over.
Australia knew that dislodging Kohli would invariably seal their place in the semifinals, but Kohli, who transcends his game by at least a couple of notches when chasing targets, was out-thinking the Australians too. His first 10 balls yielded just 13 runs, seven runs came off the next 10 and 30 off the next 20 balls Kohli faced. Though the required run-rate touched 10, 11 and 12 runs-per-over, Kohli was unperturbed by the situation. And, in truth, it was by no means an unchartered territory for him. The last 11 balls of Kohli’s innings saw him wreak havoc by notching up 32 runs, to help India get over the line with five balls to spare. Kohli’s knock was a treat to the eye for most people, barring the Australians.
Having thumped the Kangaroos, it is easier to presume that West Indies are there for the taking. But the Windies, led by Darren Sammy, are a totally different proposition to Australia. What are the facets of this West Indian side, that make them different to Australia?
India v West Indies
For a start, West Indies are a far more settled side than Australia, who, throughout their world T20 2016 campaign, were unsure of their batting lineup and their bowling attack was not suited to the prevalent conditions.
The Windies, on the other hand, have a batting lineup studded with plenty of power-hitters. Needless to say, it starts with Christopher Henry Gayle, who notched up his second Twenty20 International (T20I) century against England at the very venue where the second semifinal of the ICC World Twenty20 2016 will be played on Thursday night. The likes of Dwayne Bravo, Johnson Charles, Marlon Samuels and captain Sammy himself, are capable of clearing the boundary at will and therefore, can cause significant damage even if they face very few balls. And the Wankhede is not even as big a ground as the PCA IS Bindra Stadium in Mohali is. Mis-hits carry to the boundary and the ball usually comes onto the bat, too.
West Indies’ bowling attack is not one to be fearful of, though someone like Samuel Badree can be hard to get runs off. He bowls an extremely flatter trajectory, a stump-to-stump line and hurries the batsman. Russell will be another one of the bowlers who Sammy will bank on to bowl four overs and the all-rounder knows what lengths to bowl on Indian pitches. Jerome Taylor has not played since the England game, but I just wonder if the Wankhede pitch will make the Windies bring back the leader of their attack for the game against India.
India’s problems are well documented. Other than Kohli and to an extent MS Dhoni, they have not been able to rely on the other batting mainstays to deliver so far in the world T20 2016. Someone like Rohit, who started this calendar year by scoring two back-to-back centuries – in the 50-over format – against Australia in Australia, has rediscovered his lackadaisical self and the hunger for runs seems to have gotten out of his system. Shikhar Dhawan, well, has failed to repay the excessive faith placed on him by the team management. Not only that, he gives me the feeling that he does not put a price on his wicket, a dangerous trait to have for any batsman.
It is difficult to say, at the time of writing this article, if Yuvraj will be fit to play the semifinal. But, if he does not recover from the injury he sustained while batting on Sunday, India will be forced to inject Ajinkya Rahane in the middle order. Raina is extremely low on confidence too, but might keep his place in the side for the semifinal.
With a whole lot of ambiguity surrounding the Indian batting lineup, the onus will once again be on the Indian bowlers to deliver the goods. Their performances have been metronomic since the start of the sixth edition of the world T20 and India will rely on their bowlers’ rhythm to stymie the powerful West Indian batting lineup.
Come Thursday, it will be the mercurial West Indies taking on an equally mercurial Indian side at the Wankhede. The hosts head into the game on the back of an important win. West Indies, on the other hand, lost by six runs to Afghanistan on Sunday, when they could not even chase down a measly target of 124. However, this West Indian side packed with T20 specialists is not one to be taken lightly.
From India’s perspective, they need almost 54% (6/11) of their players to raise their game, because it has all been about the Kohlis, the Ashish Nehras and the Ravichandran Ashwins so far in this world T20. And even if one of them has an off-day on Thursday, India could well find themselves in a huge hole.