India’s Providence: Final again

Rohit hits fifty before bowlers take charge and made the most of the conditions as India beat England by 68 runs in Guyana, set up final date with South Africa
Axar Patel (C) & Jasprit Bumrah (R) were the X-factors for India in the semifinal
Axar Patel (C) & Jasprit Bumrah (R) were the X-factors for India in the semifinal (Photo | AP)

CHENNAI: When India finished their first innings in Georgetown with 171/7 against England in the semifinal of the T20 World Cup on Thursday, it felt a little like deja vu.

Two years ago, on the same occasion - a T20 World Cup semifinal - against the same opponents, India had finished with 168/6 whilst batting first. A top-order batter in Virat Kohli had scored a fifty (50 off 40 balls) while a middle-order batter in Hardik Pandya (63 off 33) provided the kick. At the Providence Stadium, it was Rohit Sharma’s turn. The Indian captain scored 57 from 39 balls, with Suryakumar Yadav (47 from 36) and Hardik (23 off 13) doing their part to take India to 171/7. From the outset, it all felt the same so far.

Except, it wasn’t.

When they posted 168/6 in Adelaide in 2022, the conditions were different. It was a good batting surface where the Indian top-three went into a shell. How good the surface was became all the more clear when Jos Buttler and Alex Hales took down the Indian bowling attack with ease.

Guyana, however, wasn’t the same. The surface was low and slow with some grip as well. It was holding a little off the surface, making it extremely hard to hit the ball across the line. It was evident not just in the way Kohli got out but also what followed after a rain interruption. Rohit and Yadav had come back and immediately Buttler had brought back spinners from both ends — Adil Rashid and Liam Livingstone.

The difference was there to see. Both the spinners tried not to give any length for Rohit and Yadav to get under while pushing it wider on back of length. In the first two overs after the rain break, India managed 12 runs. They were trying to work around while struggling to hit them across the line. Rohit soon realised it too. He held his shape and took Livingstone down the ground for six.

Realising that they were reading the pitch, Buttler brought back Sam Curran only for Yadav and Rohit to hit the seamer for 19 runs. Rohit fell trying to take on Rashid while Yadav was deceived by a slower one of Jofra Archer, but they had done their job. It was up to the rest to take charge, but at the same time, they also knew this was no batting paradise. It was a cat and mouse game between Buttler and India but the former faltered in overusing Chris Jordan. End result, India finished with 171/7.

It not just the conditions that were different from Adelaide. There were two other factors — Jasprit Bumrah and Kuldeep Yadav. While India knew at the halfway mark their spinners were going to have fun on the surface, it was Bumrah who stood between England openers and another final.

Buttler knew it too. Which is why, after two quiet overs from Arshdeep Singh and Bumrah, he decided to go after the former. Three fours came in the third over as England raced to 26/0. Was it going to be a repeat of 2022? The question lingered as Rohit turned to Axar Patel. Knowing that Bumrah was not going to give away much, Buttler was determined to take down Axar’s first over in the powerplay.

The first ball he faced from Axar, the England captain went down on one knee to reverse sweep. But the ball took the top edge and ended in the hands of Rishabh Pant. The first big wicket. The breakthrough India needed. Of course, it was Bumrah who gave a further opening in the next over. A pace off delivery to clean up the other opener, Phil Salt. The pacer finished with just two runs off the over, pushing England behind.Axar castled Jonny Bairstow for a duck and got Moeen Ali stumped. Kuldeep trapped Curran and England had lost half their side for 49. From thereon, it was all downhill as England went on to lose by 68 runs.

Looking at India’s scores, it may have felt like a deja vu. But it really wasn’t as the Indian men’s side booked their place in a second consecutive World Cup final, another first. Unlike that 2023 final at Ahmedabad, will Barbados bring a different result?

Brief scores: India 171/7 in 20 ovs (Rohit 57, Suryakumar 47; Jordan 3/37) bt England 103 in 16.4 ovs (Kuldeep 3/19, Axar 3/23).

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