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Afghanistan players celebrate the dismissal of Bangladesh vice-captain Taskin Ahmed during their final Super Eight clash on Saturday. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: The 2007 World Cup in the West Indies caused a stir in world cricket with both Asian giants India and Pakistan failing to qualify for the Super Eight. India, led by Rahul Dravid, suffered a humiliating loss to Bangladesh in their opener, while Pakistan lost to Ireland by three wickets.

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After 17 years, this edition of the Twenty20 World Cup in the Caribbean Islands and the USA has thrown more surprises than ever before, shredding the ICC Twenty20 rankings to pieces. New Zealand, 2007 finalists Sri Lanka, and Pakistan were eliminated in the first round, while hosts West Indies, 2021 champions Australia and Bangladesh bowed out in the Super Eight stage.

The biggest newsmakers in this edition of the World Cup are Afghanistan. The Asian team has once again proved that they are no longer minnows in world cricket with a stunning run, defeating New Zealand and Australia on their way to booking their rightful place in the last four.

Afghanistan’s talisman Rashid Khan has developed into a leader who can take their team out of trouble. In head coach Jonathan Trott and Rashid Khan, the Afghanistan team management has some smart minds and strong heart to ensure that they don’t buckle under pressure. Rashid Khan even was critical when Gulbadin Naib suffered "cramps" just before the rain interruption against Bangladesh.

Afghanistan vs South Africa: A clash of titans

Afghanistan will face another big test against South Africa on Thursday at 4:30am (UAE), but the Proteas will find it difficult to stop the juggernaut that has been mowing ahead at a ruthless pace after defeating the ODI world champions Australia. Afghanistan have the edge in the semi-finals against South Africa, who so far has not been convincing in their victories.

They have had several close shaves, but the good news for the Proteas fans is that they hold their nerve during those close moments. The team under Aiden Markram has shown the ability to pull off wins. The slow-paced West Indian wickets are assisting the seamers and spinners, which the Afghans have in plenty. They were able to defend a low total of 115 against Bangladesh, which shows the potency of the Afghanistan bowling.

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Tabraiz Shamsi turned the match with a three-wicket haul in the Super Eight clash against the West Indies. Image Credit: AFP

If there is one area of concern, it is the batting department. The openers have been giving Afghanistan good starts and Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran will have to play a big role in the semi-finals. Spinners Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi have been playing a big role for South Africa, but against Afghanistan, they might not be as effective. On the other hand, Noor Ahmed, Rashid Khan, and veteran Mohammad Nabi have been a potent force on these turning tracks against a South African batting line-up that is not firing on all cylinders.

This contest could be a banana skin for South Africa with Rashid Khan and his men primed to clinch their maiden spot in the final of a World Cup.

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“It’s a dream for us to be in the semi-finals. The way we started the tournament, the belief came when we beat New Zealand. It’s unbelievable. The only guy who put us in the semi-finals was Brian Lara, and we proved him right. When we met him at a welcome party, I told him we won’t let you down,” said skipper Rashid Khan after defeating Bangladesh. Playing at Brian Lara’s home turf will give Afghanistan the extra motivation to go one step further.

India vs. England: An anticipated showdown

Defending champions England survived a scare due to a washout and sneaked into the Super Eight stage, managing to stay ahead of West Indies in the race for the semi-finals. Still, they are far from their best. The Three Lions will be meeting India, who have maintained a clean record, winning all their games so far. Skipper Jos Buttler returning to form might be a good news for England, but still he needs to repeat the performance against India in the semi-finals. Incidentally, it was Buttler who led England’s thrashing of India in the 2022 World Cup semi-finals in Australia, but the conditions are different in the West Indies. The entire England batting unit has been inconsistent through out the tournament, which could be an issue against an incisive Indian bowling.

England skipper Jos Buttler raced to 83 against USA to signal his return to form in this World Cup. Image Credit: AFP

India flying high

Rohit Sharma’s men are flying high after their victory over Australia in the last Super Eight match. The Indian skipper’s stunning assault floored the Australians and several records. The Indian team is moving ahead as a well-oiled machine, but the lone concern is the lack of runs for Virat Kohli, who had two ducks in this tournament.

The Indian team will do well to move Kohli back to No 3 and pick Yashasvi Jaiswal as the opener for Rohit Sharma, with Rishabh Pant coming in at No 4 and Suryakumar Yadav and Hardik Pandya to follow. Young left-arm pacer Arshdeep Singh and Jasprit Bumrah have combined well to give the early breakthroughs and the return of Kuldeep Yadav has added a variety to the attack.

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Rohit Shama will be the main threat for England bowlers after the Indian skipper pummelled the famed Australian attack. Image Credit: Source: BCCI-X

Extra time for rain interruption

India start as the favourites in the second semi-final against England on Thursday at 6:30pm (UAE) in Antigua, which is threatened by severe rains.

The ICC has allotted an extra 250 minutes for the India-England contest, while 60 minutes have been given on the first day and an additional 190 minutes on the reserve day for the other semi-final. However, should there be a washout, the team that finished higher in the Super Eight stage will qualify for the final.

England started the World Cup with a washout and could finish in a washout as India will be declared the winner after finishing on top of Group 1 with six points. The fans would not want to see that after such an absorbing World Cup.