Rohit Sharma
Axar Patel (left), Suryakumar Yadav (right) and Rohit Sharma of India celebrate during the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024 semifinal against England in Georgetown, Guyana, on June 27, 2024. India won by 68 runs. Image Credit: AFP

After routing Australia and thrashing England, India now turn their sights on South Africa, the maiden finalists in the T20 Cricket World Cup. Can India win Saturday’s game in Bridgetown, Barbados? They can, but it’s not so straightforward.

Like India, South Africa are unbeaten in the tournament. Having survived several close encounters in the league and the Super Eight, the Proteas had ramped up their game against Afghanistan. South Africa bowled well, but their task was made easier by the jitters of first-time semifinalists and the tricky pitch in Trinidad.

The pitch does hold the key to the final. The Kensington Oval has seen runs, an aberration in an event where low scores were the norm. Over 150 runs have been scored in all four World Cup matches in Bridgetown, and the highest was Australia’s 201/7 against England. India’s best was 181/8 against Afghanistan.

The pitch factor

The Barbados pitch is expected to be balanced with early seam movement and bounce for the fast bowlers, and batters can take control if they dig in after the early scare. That should be a morale-booster for South Africa, considering how Marco Jansen sliced through the Afghan batting with his steep bounce and movement.

India wouldn’t worry too much since skipper Rohit Sharma has been in wonderful touch in the last couple of games. They should be more concerned about the wily Kagiso Rabada, who is quick and possesses a range of variations.

Jasprit Bumrah and Arshdeep Singh can pay back in the same coin, which would be a source of anxiety for South Africa, whose batting has been inconsistent. India may be tempted to bring Mohammad Siraj back, but they would refrain since Hardik Pandya has been effective in the third seamer role.

The spin riddle

India will continue with a three-pronged spin attack, even though there will hardly be any turn. Since Kuldeep Yadav and Axar Patel aren’t big turners and rely more on accuracy, they would be unperturbed by the lack of bite in the wicket. Ravindra Jadeja hasn’t had a great tournament but is still a fine spin option.

Kuldeep Yadav
The enforcer in the middle overs. India’s left-arm leg-spinner Kuldeep Yadav (centre) celebrates a wicket with captain Rohit Sharma (left) and Rishabh Pant during the ICC men’s T20 World Cup semifinal against England in Bridgetown, Guyana, on June 27, 2024. Yadav claimed three vital wickets. Image Credit: ANI

South Africa may drop a spinner to accommodate a pacer. Tabraiz Shamsi has been a matchwinner, which means the axe would fall on Keshav Maharaj. That would be a shame since the left-arm spinner is very accurate, a virtue on a pitch that offers no turn. Right there is a dilemma for the Proteas.

The batsmen could decide the final. Here’s where India wields the upperhand. Their batting has been top-notch even on unfavourable pitches. They may not have amassed big totals in the early games but posted above-par scores to put pressure on their rivals in crunch games. Ask Australia and England.

Rohit Sharma leads the way

Sharma’s aggression in the powerplay has been a critical factor, and it even helped to make light of Virat Kohli’s string of poor scores. Rishabh Pant, Suryakumar Yadav and Pandya have weighed in well, barring the designated spin basher Shivam Dube. India are unlikely to alter a winning combination, so Dube will retain his place despite a first-ball duck in the semis.

Barring Quinton de Kock, no South African batsmen have consistently scored. Therein lies the problem and solution to their batting. In every game, some of their batsmen have struck twenties to lift them to scores that allowed the bowlers to defend. Heinrich Klassen and Tristan Stubbs have been the standouts, so India must remove them quickly, along with De Kock.

India’s batting has been solid, and the bowling incisive, which should make them world champions. But cricket is a funny game. The law of averages will catch up with one of the teams, as both are undefeated in the tournament.

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The big question is: Will South Africa choke again? The final is a chance to bury the chokers’ tag and win their first World Cup in history. It’s not easy against India, who aim to recapture the title after 17 years. Teams choke in a high-voltage clash, so don’t be surprised.

Tune into Kensington Oval on Saturday (June 29). Keep an eye out for the weather: a tropical storm is expected to lash Barbados, bringing plenty of rainfall to Bridgetown. Fortunately, there is a reserve day on Sunday.

A billion prayers go out to India. This is India’s World Cup.