India T20 World Cup
India’s players celebrate with the trophy after beating South Africa by 7 runs in the ICC men’s T20 World Cup cricket final at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, on June 29, 2024. It was the last game for Rahul Dravid as India coach, while Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli announced their retirement from T20 internationals. Image Credit: ANI

India are the T20 cricket champions of the world. It had to happen, although 17 years elapsed after winning the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa. But then, a big win was always around the corner, especially after three near-misses in international tournaments (organised by the International Cricket Council).

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Critics always point out that India’s last major win was the 2013 Champions Trophy. That was a long time ago. In the last five years, India had assembled a team capable of winning in any conditions, at home and abroad.

The result was two appearances in the World Test Championships finals, although India were outplayed by New Zealand in 2021 and Australia last year. Hot favourites to bag the 2023 ODI World Cup at home, India won all the matches except the final. With it came the tag of chokers, despite having won the ODI World Cup in 1983 and 2011.

India baiters like the former England captain Michael Vaughan love to point out India’s inability to win ICC trophies. Even on the eve of the T20 final in Barbados, he was on social media, taunting Indian supporters. Well, that gives Vaughan plenty of traction.

How India snatched a win from defeat

With South Africa needing 30 off 30 balls, Vaughan’s forecast was in danger of coming true at the Kensington Oval, Bridgetown, on Saturday. But India refused to throw in the towel as skipper Rohit Sharma astutely shuffled his bowlers. That was an incredible sight. First Hardik Pandya and then Jasprit Bumrah, followed by Arshdeep Singh and Suryakumar Yadav, pulled the chestnuts out of the fire.

Long before that, India had stumbled into one crisis after another. But they found the man of the hour on each occasion.

Virat Kohli was the first. He justifiably won the Player of the Match award for his 76 (59 balls), which shepherded India to 176/7 after being 34/3 in under five overs. He held the Indian innings together with a matchwinning knock. Much like Ben Stokes’ innings for England in the 2022 final: abundant caution followed by some scintillating strokes. Kohli and Stokes, they are players for big occasions.

Hardik Pandya sure was a contender for the Player of the Match with his haul of 3-20, which killed off the contest. But that wouldn’t have happened if Jasprit Bumrah (2-18) hadn’t struck those crucial blows, like he’s done throughout the World Cup to win the Player of the Tournament award. But Kohli gave India a total to defend.

Axar Patel’s 47 (31) was also invaluable as he stepped up the scoring when Kohli struggled to find boundaries for 36 deliveries. Hardik Pandya should have come ahead of Shivam Dube, as he was striking the ball beautifully in the semifinal against England.

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In any case, India posted the highest score in a T20 World Cup final, but was that enough? It seemed inadequate when South Africa started the chase. Not even the dismissals of Reeza Hendricks and captain Aidan Markram altered the momentum of the pursuit.

What was the turning point? It must be during the South African innings, when they were coasting home. Tristan Stubbs was in great nick, with Quinton de Kock dropping anchor to play the Kohli role. Their exits only enhanced South Africa’s haste to reach the target, with Heinrich Klassen blazing away.

Klassen (52 off 27 balls) seemed to take the game away from India with the onslaught on Axar Patel, who yielded 24 runs from one over. It seemed like game over. His dismissal came against the run of play, breathing life into India. It wasn’t a great delivery, yet Pandya needs to be commended for keeping the ball out of Klassen’s hitting arc and inducing the nick.

The turning moment

That sure was a critical moment in the game. Yet South Africa could have won it, as the equation was 26 off 24 balls. And the dangerous David Miller was still there despite losing Marco Jansen to a Bumrah special.

My vote for the turning moment goes to the Miller catch. With 16 runs required off 6 balls, Miller smashed what would have been a certain six. Suryakumar Yadav caught it near the line, lobbed the ball, crossed the boundary and returned to catch it. Super presence of mind under tremendous pressure with the World Cup on the line. That was the biggest moment in the final. It changed the result.

The fight went out of the South Africans. The catch deflated the Proteas and ensured that India won the World Cup. It was the catch that won the World Cup — a perfect farewell gift to coach Rahul Dravid, captain Rohit Sharma and King Kohli.