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 continued…