The Indian team were travelling to Fatullah, more than an hour’s drive from Mirpur, where South Africa, their opponents for Friday’s semifinal, were training. The two teams have not criss-crossed paths during practice since the Proteas landed in Dhaka from the port city of Chittagong. If they had been training on the same ground at the same time, the Indians would perhaps have let out a chuckle.
The South Africans have been taking extra precaution to deal with the spin threat ahead, so much so that even fast bowler Dale Steyn was affected. On Thursday he started off by giving his openers, especially Quinton de Kock, some much needed spin practice by bowling off-spin at the start of the training session.
Over the past two days, the South Africans have used the driest pitch at the Dhaka Academy grounds, the one in the middle, to simulate the conditions of the eight pitches at the centre of Sher-e-Bangla Stadium. Hashim Alma, a wristy and correct batsman, has played more reverse sweeps than copy-book strokes over the past 48 hours. When asked about leg-spinner Shane Warne’s presence at the practice session on Wednesday, the South African preferred to look the other way.
The last time these two teams played each other — during the two Tests and three ODIs tour of SA earlier this year – the Indians failed to register a win. Mirpur, though, is another world compared to Johannesburg or Durban. In Twenty20, it has been established that there are no favourites. In this tournament, the Netherlands beat England and Hong Kong beat Bangladesh. The Indians will shy away from saying it but they head into the semifinals as favourites. The South African’s weakness against spin and the fact that they haven’t won a knock-out match of an ICC event since 1998 will stack the odds heavily against Faf du Plessis’s team.
What also makes them underdogs is that they are up against a side that has been unbeaten in this tournament, is led by a skipper who has won three ICC world titles, including the Champions Trophy, and will have to face bowlers who have not collectively bowled this well in a long time.
The Indian spinners — Ravichandran Ashwin, Amit Mishra and Ravindra Jadeja — have been effective on the wickets which have offered them assistance. The troika have played a huge part in successfully restricting Pakistan, West Indies and Bangladesh to modest totals and bowling out Australia for less than hundred runs.
This tournament has seen a turnaround in the fortunes of MS Dhoni’s side that hadn’t beaten a Test nation, other than Bangladesh or Afghanistan, in over three months in any format. Earlier this week, Dhoni spoke about how and why his bowlers have collectively made in impact in the World T20.
“Where we have struggled in limited overs format, both T20 and 50 overs cricket, it’s because the wickets are good to bat on and don’t support the spinners. That means even the part-timers have struggled in those few overs even in sub-continental conditions. In this tournament particularly, I think, there is a bit of purchase for the spinners. We are playing with three spinners and the part-timers. When the conditions favour us, I think our bowlers become very exciting and they make the most out of it,” Dhoni said.
Du Plessis acknowledged that the conditions and the form of the Indian spinners would make life difficult for his side. “It’s a huge thing. The wicket at Dhaka is completely different to Chittagong. We have played all our games there (Chittagong) and India have played all their games here. From a conditions point of view, they are much more used to them than we are. We have put in some really hard practice on really abrasive surfaces making sure that we almost over-practised against the ball that is turning too much,” the South African skipper said.
More showers friday?
The first semi-final was severely affected by rain and thunder storms and it seems a similar fate might await the other contest on Friday. Though sunny weather is predicted for Friday morning, which would probably help in drying the outfield, “Moderate or heavy rain with thunder” is predicted for the evening, right in time for the start of the game.
It is not likely to get better, with “Patchy, light rain with thunder” predicted for the night. It might well be another truncated game on Friday. If, however, the game is washed out, India will go through by virtue of having topped their group. If the final is washed out, both teams will share the trophy.
Live on Star Sports 1@ 6:30 pm