Marauding India up against resolute South Africa in epic T20 World Cup finale

Labelled chokers for the better of their international cricket journey, the Proteas will be determined to shed that dubious tag for good at the Kensington Oval.
Indian skipper Rohit Sharma (L) and his South African counterpart Aiden Markram
Indian skipper Rohit Sharma (L) and his South African counterpart Aiden Markram(Photo | AP)

BRIDGETOWN: A firm grip on emotions will be crucial when the formidable Indian team, desperate to end its lengthy title drought, makes another attempt at getting the monkey off its back against a South African side, which is unfamiliar with the winning feeling, in the T20 World Cup final here on Saturday.

India's campaign in the tournament has been remarkably similar to the one in the ODI World Cup at home last year where they breezed into the final only to be bettered by Australia on the big stage.

They are unbeaten here too and have been the best of the tournament by far. More importantly, they don't have the battle-hardened Australia in their way of an elusive trophy this time around.

South Africa, whose only triumph in ICC events came way back in the Champions Trophy (then named ICC Knock-Out Trophy) in 1998, head into the final with hopes and dreams of their own.

Labelled chokers for the better of their international cricket journey, the Proteas will be determined to shed that dubious tag for good at the Kensington Oval.

For some of their players, who list IPL titles as their biggest achievement, a World Cup trophy in their hands will be the ultimate prize.

If one went by the mood seen among fans and experts after India's rout of England in the semifinal in Guyana, Rohit Sharma and his men are the overwhelming favourites.

It is a fair observation considering the make up of India's squad and the conditions in the Caribbean.

They would be expected to wipe off the heartbreak of November 19, 2023 when over a lakh fans in Ahmedabad were silenced by Pat Cummins' Australia in the all-important final.

"I know India have had their issues in the ICC finals for a long time but I just don't see South Africa posing a challenge. India have been the best team of the tournament so far and man to man South Africa are a weaker side," a World Cup winning former captain told PTI on the flight from Guyana to Barbados.

It would also be a perfect send-off for outgoing coach Rahul Dravid, who was crestfallen man in the Caribbean back in the 2007 ODI World Cup as India captain after the team's early exit but is on the cusp of a remarkable farewell as coach.

The way India, who are in their first T20 World Cup final in 10 years, have adapted to conditions in the competition has gone a long way in securing the final berth.

The team management has been crystal clear about its plans for the event. They utilised three specialist pacers on the untested pitches in New York before bringing trump card Kuldeep Yadav into play on the spin friendly surfaces in the Caribbean.

India are certain to stick to the same playing eleven but would be hoping two of its key players to deliver in the winner-takes-all contest.

Superstar Virat Kohli has had a quiet tournament, something that was not not expected after his prolific season in the preceding IPL. However, on pitches where hitting through the line has been a challenge, the former Indian captain has not been able to dominate the bowlers despite clear attempts to do so.

"He is it saving it for the final," said his opening partner and skipper Rohit Sharma, backing an undisputed great of the game who could be playing his last innings in the T20 showpiece.

Rohit, on the contrary, has shown the way to other batters in the side and his innings will hold massive importance in the final.

The captain would also like to see Shivam Dube excel in the high pressure game, having given middling returns in the tournament so far. His battles against spinners Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi could make a big impact.

On the bowling front, India have nothing to worry about with both pacers and spinners performing their roles to perfection.

Arriving here right after the semi-final against England leaves them with only a day to recover, which has been the case since the start of Super 8s campaign at this very ground.

South Africa, on the other hand, got an extra day between the final and will be training on Friday.

Unlike India, they have nothing to lose as they have never been part of a World Cup final before but after a resounding win over Afghanistan in Trinidad, the Proteas are smelling the taste of victory.

They would be expecting runs from the opening pair of Quinton de Kock and Reeza Hendricks, especially the wicket-keeper who can put serious pressure on the opposition when on song.

Skipper Aiden Markram could not fire against the bigger teams in the Super 8s and is due for a big one.

Heinrich Klaasen, one of the most destructive hitters in the game, too needs runs and for that, he will have to negotiate the spin threat in the middle overs.

South Africa's pace department has been on fire but it remains to be seen what kind of impact it can have in a day game here.

Shamsi and Maharaj are effective but Indian batters will not be wary of them.

There is a high chance of rain on Saturday but the ICC has kept a reserve day for the all-important fixture.

Squads:

India: Rohit Sharma (c), Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant (wk), Suryakumar Yadav, Shivam Dube, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Arshdeep Singh, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal, Sanju Samson, Mohammed Siraj, Yashasvi Jaiswal.

South Africa: Quinton de Kock (wk), Reeza Hendricks, Aiden Markram (c), Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Tristan Stubbs, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Tabraiz Shamsi, Ottneil Baartman, Gerald Coetzee, Bjorn Fortuin, Ryan Rickelton.

Match starts: 8pm IST.

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