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Is this the 2007 World Cup all over again? India could play Pakistan in final at MCG

South Africa's unexpected loss to the Netherlands changes equation, can see arch rivals face-off in the title contest.

For both India and Pakistan, the last day of the Super 12s was supposed to be filled with tension and suspense. It turned out to be anti-climatic. (AP)

On Sunday morning, India and Pakistan woke up to the news of the Netherlands pulling off the upset of the tournament, beating South Africa by 13 runs on a crisp afternoon in Adelaide. This was good news for both countries. The loss meant that India qualified for the semifinals hours before their last group game against Zimbabwe. It also meant that Pakistan’s fate was in their own hands, they just had to beat Bangladesh.

They did, nudging home by five wickets. But who would have thought that the teams would have to wait till the last day of the Super 12s to determine the semifinalists. But it has been that kind of a tournament, unpredictable and uncertain, the most thrilling T20 World Cup in recent times, replete with shock defeats, close finishes and some high-class cricketing skills.

The Zimbabwe game, though watched by a sellout MCG crowd, was a mere formality. Eased off the pressure a must-win game would have produced, they crushed Zimbabwe by 71 runs, without enduring tense moments, and churning out their most clinical performance of the tournament. Moments before the game, Pakistan ensured that they would join them in the last four by beating Bangladesh by five wickets. For both India and Pakistan, the last day of the Super 12s was supposed to be filled with tension and suspense. It turned out to be anti-climatic.

 

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Both the countries, neither billed as outright favourites to win the tournament, have gone from strength to strength. India’s fast bowling firm, without Jasprit Bumrah, was considered less dangerous. But the quartet of Arshdeep Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Hardik Pandya and Mohammed Shami, have shown both bark and bite, steel and skill. Virat Kohli regained his imperious touch; KL Rahul had roared back to form; Rohit Sharma has shown signs of inching closer to his best.

But the heartbeat of this batting line-up is Suryakumar Yadav. With every game, he seems to redefine the boundaries of the batting in this format, elevating T20 batting to a genuine art form, an unscalable peak that most could just enjoy from a distance. His array of strokes this World Cup has been truly breathtaking, be it the calm counterpunching of the fearsome South African hard-length bowlers or ruthless dismembering of Zimbabwe’s bowlers.

 

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If Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada could not contain him, how could Blessing Muzarbani and Richard Ngarava. He handed Ngarava a masterclass on sweep shots. One of the shots he executed in the last over was simply outrageous, wherein he shuffled outside the off-stump, bent low, his front leg almost touching the wide-line and scooped Ngarava, a left-arm seamer over deep square-leg. His batting mocks at the geometry of batting as well as spoils the best-laid schemes of mice and men.

As always, he fuelled the impetus for a daunting total. His 61 came off merely 25 balls. This World Cup, his 225 runs, second only to Kohli, have come at a strike rate of 193.96. What makes those even more sparkling is that they were blasted in the death overs or when the team has been in trouble. So much so that former India coach Ravi Shastri rates his 68 against South Africa on a fast and bouncy surface as the finest T20 knock he has seen. Suffice it to say that England, India’s semi-final opponents, would have already started pulling their hair wondering how to dismiss him. They have, as recently as last June, bore the brunt of his geometry-defying stroke-play.

Into the semifinal, India look one of the better teams to launch a title tilt. Barring the wicket-keeper’s spot, there is no strand of concern, and they are gradually peaking, after stuttering and stumbling in the group stage. Three of their five games were decided as late as the last over. But they have shown remarkable character and composure to seize onto the defining moments. Tournaments, often, are not won by the best teams, but those that hold their nerves in the big moment, those that refuse to give up in the face of adversity. So has been India, and so to an extent has been Pakistan.

 

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Written off after their defeat to Zimbabwe, they have bounced back with renewed hunger. The introduction of Mohammad Haris has rejuvenated the middle-order, and more significantly, Shaheen Afridi had rediscovered his rhythm that was missing against India. In the last two games, he has picked seven wickets for just 36 runs. Together with his colleagues Naseem Shah, Haris Rauf and Mohammad Wasim Junior, Pakistan have a tournament-winning pace-bowling group. Not to forget the spin-all-round pair of Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz.

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Though it’s a week more for the final, and the semifinals to be played against two strong sides, fans of these subcontinental powerhouses would have already started dreaming of the dream match-up. The 2007 World Cup all over again? An India-Pakistan final at the MCG. This week can’t rush by faster.

First published on: 06-11-2022 at 18:18 IST
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