And then there were four!
Mumbai and Delhi will host the two semifinals of the 2016 World T20 Championship. Three of the four teams, however, that made it through weren’t exactly the teams on everybody’s list before the tournament. Looking back though, what were the experts thinking?
No South Africa, no Australia, no Pakistan and no defending champions Sri Lanka or rising tigers Bangladesh.
Instead, England – traditionally a team that struggles in limited over formats as well as sub-continental conditions – stole a coveted spot in the final four. As good as West Indies has been in T20 internationals, not many expected them to reach the knockouts without the services of Sunil Narine and Kieron Pollard. But one batsman stepped up every game for them – from Chris Gayle to Andre Fletcher to Marlon Samuels – and here they are, topping their group despite losing to Afghanistan. Only West Indies does that; they beat the top teams and lost to an associate nation, and find themselves playing the hosts, India, who were favorites to win before the World Cup. New Zealand has been a pleasant and inspirational surprise for everyone, just like they were in the ODI World Cup last year. Without Brendon McCullum, they have adapted to the turning pitches and alien conditions better than any other team (including India), and are the only unbeaten team in the semis. As a reward, they face a young, unpredictable and unconvincing English team – who have a lot of work to do on their bowling. India, meanwhile, became the only sub-continental team to make it to the last four.
This is the first time only one Asian team has made it through in six editions of the World Cup. Perhaps a telltale sign of fading Asian giants – with Lanka in transition forever, Pakistan forever disappointing and Bangladesh refusing to ever win a tournament game in this format.
This is England’s second semifinal, the first after their 2010 winning campaign in the Caribbean. This is New Zealand’s second semifinal after their 2007 run to the semis. This is India’s third (after 2007 and 2014), and this is West Indies’ fourth semifinal.
SEMI 1: New Zealand v/s England (at Delhi)
The best bowlers in the tournament, the Kiwis, will face the most dynamic batting side (they chased down 230 against South Africa). The fact that they’re playing in Delhi will only add to England woes – so far, they’ve played on the flat batting pitches of the Wankhede in Mumbai, and finishing second in the group means that they will face the trio of merciless Kiwi spinners on a turning pitch. New Zealand are masters of defending moderate scores, and they will want to do that again, by keeping quiet some misfiring English batsman in the top order.
England’s Alex Hales hasn’t fired, and neither has captain Eoin Morgan. They depend far too much on Joe Root and Joss Buttler to shore them through repeatedly, and at times, on Moeen Ali’s all-around abilities. They will rue their lack of quality frontline spinners though, because despite pacers Chris Jordan and David Willey doing the job against Sri Lanka, this Delhi pitch will demand a different set of strengths altogether. How they wish for the days of Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar back in 2012.
New Zealand has no real weaknesses, but it will help if the out-of-sorts Corey Anderson fires with either ball or bat in hand. He has played no part so far, and will need to step up on a slow pitch. Their vast assortment of bowling options has hidden his failures so far.
Joss Buttler for England, Ish Sodhi for New Zealand.
New Zealand will make their second ICC final in a row.
SEMI 2: India v/s West Indies (at Mumbai)
Chris Gayle scored the tournament’s only century (as usual) at the Wankhede against a shell-shocked English attack back in the first match. It was on the tournament’s most batting-friendly pitch, a belter that has given nightmares to bowlers through the two weeks. The Indians, including spinners R Ashwin (Gayle’s bogeyman) and Ravindra Jadeja (who will definitely not bowl with Gayle at the crease), will be wary of his monstrousness, and hope that he is still rusty after a hamstring injury, which didn’t allow him to bat against Sri Lanka and play against Afghanistan. India’s last memory at the Wankhede was conceding 439 to South Africa in the fifth ODI not too long ago, and they will want to banish those demons by hoping that their hitters Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni show some form.
For West Indies, their middle order batsmen have not been the most reliable. Their spin duo of Samuel Badree and Sulieman Benn have helped them through, but their virtual no-pace attack may hurt them if one of the Indian batsmen take a fancy to Badree’s leg spinners. Also, when Gayle fails, they struggle to put up a huge score, which is why they will want to chase down a moderate Indian score instead. India has plenty of weaknesses – their openers, Suresh Raina, Jasprit Bumrah’s opening overs, Hardik Pandya’s death overs and their over-dependence on Virat Kohli. But a blessing in disguise is the injury of Yuvraj Singh, who hasn’t looked his best at all throughout the T20 season, and has seemed a shadow of the champion he once was. He has shown admirable grit to accompany Kohli on tough occasions, but he isn’t the finisher or in-form hitter that India needs. The arrival of Manish Pandey will add some much needed muscle to that middle order.
Marlon Samuels, the big-match player for West Indies. Virat Kohli, the perpetual savior for India.
The Indian players have got themselves out of sticky situations too often this month. They need an easier game. They are the more skilled lot, but also the more predictable lot. Here’s where youngsters like Pandya and Bumrah help upsetting the opposition plans. They are in the semis, only the third time (out of six) they’ve done so. They look like favorites to chug through to the final in conditions that they are very familiar with.
Expect an India v/s New Zealand final.