WT20 : India vs West Indies Preview, World T20, 2nd Semi-Final
Dhoni’s men must reconcile to life without Yuvraj while taking on the very driven, very talented Caribbean side
When you talk West Indies cricket, the clichés come tumbling. Free-spirited. Gay abandon. Entertainers supreme. None of which is untrue, of course.
There is, however, more to West Indies cricket in the limited-overs game than just these lazy, convenient associations. You can’t be a consistently serious force sheerly on the back of free spirit, gay abandon and a high entertainment quotient. There has to be a high level of skill, and of that, there is little shortage in Darren Sammy’s ranks, no matter if the skill-sets aren’t talked about that often.
Chris Gayle is among the most destructive batsmen in this, or any, format. Dwayne Bravo is every captain’s dream, an all-round package worth his own only with the bat, only with the ball and, most likely, only on the field as well. Andre Russell is a tremendous athlete, frenetic with the bat and furious with the ball. Samuel Badree, the rolling legspinner, is the No. 1 Twenty20 International bowler. Marlon Samuels is a classical batsman capable, if the mood so seizes him, of going from careful accumulation to supersonic jet in less time than it takes to bat an eyelid. And just to put things in perspective, Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine are not even here.
This West Indian T20 unit is awe-inspiring, muscular if occasionally one-dimensional batting – why run when I can hit boundaries? – married to a wonderful amalgam of pace and spin, and an athleticism that comes naturally but that has also been honed by hours of practice.
It is this rolling, thundering, formidable juggernaut that India must overcome in the second semifinal of the ICC World Twenty20 at the Wankhede Stadium on Thursday (March 31). Firing at no more than 70% throughout their Group 2 Super 10 campaign, India made every game a knockout game for itself after wiping the floor in the opening match against New Zealand. Each of its three subsequent wins has been attained nervily, two of them stemming almost exclusively from the brilliance of Virat Kohli.
In both those Kohli-inspired triumphs, India was well served by the young man’s association with original hero Yuvraj Singh. In Kolkata, Yuvraj was an almost equal partner in the match-turning fourth-wicket association of 61 against Pakistan; in Mohali three nights ago, hampered by a twisted ankle, Yuvraj limped and hobbled along during a stabilising fourth-wicket stand worth 45, which set the base for the final Kohli flourish that settled the contest emphatically.
India must reconcile to life without Yuvraj for the rest of their campaign – which could end on Thursday or extend to Sunday’s title clash at the Eden Gardens. The once-mercurial left-hand batsman whose role has since been redefined by the passage of time, a plethora of injuries and the infusion of new blood, was ruled out of the tournament on Wednesday, forcing Mahendra Singh Dhoni to break from the pattern of continuity that India has fallen into since the three-match T20I series in Australia in late January.
Manish Pandey has been drafted into the squad as Yuvraj’s replacement. He should also be the logical choice as Yuvraj’s replacement in the playing XI too, despite the long-standing presence in the squad of Ajinkya Rahane and Pawan Negi, whose all-round skills offer an additional bowling option, but that might be self-defeating, considering how the top order, Kohli apart, has been misfiring.
Pandey can easily slot into the No. 5 position – Rahane’s inclusion will most certainly mean a demotion to that spot of Suresh Raina, who like Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma has been desperately short on runs all tournament long. As he has shown in domestic cricket, the IPL and during the Sydney ODI in January, Pandey can hold his own with the bat, both in an accumulatory and in an aggressive role. India would have been happy not to have had to face this conundrum in a crunch game, but then again, who is to say that every game is not a crunch game in a tournament as full of stakes as the World T20?
India has always been a strong believer in focussing on its strengths and not worrying too much about the opposition, but the team managament will have taken note of the West Indian meltdown in Nagpur against Afghanistan. Admittedly, the 2012 champion was without Gayle and had already qualified for the semifinal, but the manner in which the team capitulated against an inexperienced side when confronted with decent spin bowling must have heartened R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in particular.
West Indies’ travails against the turning ball are well documented, and last Sunday, Afghanistan reopened old wounds on the way to the team’s most famous victory to date. The Rashid Khan-led spin component was aided by a slow turner at the VCA Stadium in Jamtha. India’s spinners won’t quite get a similar track on which to ply their wares, but this is unlikely to be the belter where Gayle smashed England into submission a fortnight ago, or where England hunted down South Africa’s 229 with ridiculous ease.
That this will be the second game of the evening on the same track – the West Indies-New Zealand Women’s semifinal will precede the men’s game – should also contribute to the slowing up of a surface that has been worked on with great diligence over the last two days. India will therefore hope that Dhoni’s luck with the coin changes, but more importantly, it will hope for something that is in the team’s control – runs from the top order so that Kohli isn’t always under pressure at No. 3, or Dhoni at No. 6.
Two former champions, two crack T20 sides, two teams that covet the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the same, and different, reasons. East v West. What does Thursday night have in store?
India: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Manish Pandey, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt, wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Ashish Nehra, Ajinkya Rahane, Pawan Negi, Harbhajan Singh, Mohammed Shami.
West Indies: Chris Gayle, Lendl Simmons, Johnson Charles, Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Bravo, Denesh Ramdin (wk), Andre Russell, Darren Sammy (capt), Carlos Brathwaite, Samuel Badree, Sulieman Benn, Evin Lewis, Jason Holder, Ashley Nurse, Jerome Taylor.