India, England brace to clash in ‘final before a final’

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09 Nov 2022 | 07:05 AM
authorAnirudh Suresh

India, England brace to clash in ‘final before a final’

Two world-class teams, a handful of generational talents battling it out for a spot in the World Cup final

How often in cricket do we see two clear pre-tournament favorites lock horns with each other in a semi-final? Not very. The randomness of the draw in competitions like the Champions League (Football) and Grand Slams (Tennis) engenders the above, but more often than not in cricket, the carefully constructed structure of World Cups prevents the possibility of a ‘final before a final’.

Which is why we, as fans, need to be thanking our stars right now. For on Thursday at the Adelaide Oval, we’re set to witness a final before a final in the form of India vs England.

Two world-class teams, a handful of generational talents battling it out in front of a capacity crowd. And what is up for grabs? A spot in the final of a World Cup. 

 ̶S̶e̶m̶i̶-̶f̶i̶n̶a̶l̶s̶  Cricket matches don’t get bigger than this. 

Could the ‘used wicket’ factor be a problem for England? Numbers say yes!!

The word is out: the second semi-final between India and England will be played on a used wicket. 

In general, playing on a used wicket means two things. Firstly, toss becomes crucial. The pitch slows down exponentially with time thus it is always preferable to bat first. Put on a par score and you’re in the drivers’ seat.

Secondly, used wickets tend to increase the importance of spinners (and spin). More often than not used wickets provide decent turn, but even when they don’t, the sluggish nature makes it hard for batters to take on spin.

Toss, of course, could go either side’s way, but India will definitely be looking at England’s numbers versus spin so far this T20WC and licking their lips.

For in the Super 12 stage, no side scored slower than England against spin. The English batters faced 219 balls of spin and astonishingly scored just 220 runs. Against the tweakers, they also averaged just 22. 

The Three Lions’ scoring issue against spin was kind of laid bare in their final Super 12 encounter against Sri Lanka which, incidentally, was also played on a used wicket. 

They amassed 67 runs versus pace in just 6.4 overs, but against spin, they scored just 77 runs off 78 balls, while losing 4 wickets. They even struggled to put away the part-time spin of Dhananjaya de Silva, who finished with figures of 2/24 off his 4. 

England ultimately got over the line at SCG, but their struggles did raise a few concerns. 

Given how much England have struggled to attack spin in this T20WC, and given the used wicket factor, how Ashwin and Axar fare could go a long way in deciding the fate of the contest.

The pressure will particularly be on Axar, who thus far has had a World Cup to forget. The left-armer’s campaign started inauspiciously against Pakistan — where he conceded 21 off the only over he bowled — but after a decent response against Netherlands, he was once again taken apart by Zimbabwe, who took 40 off the 3.2 overs he bowled.

England might have struggled against spin so far, but the presence of multiple left-handers in the XI — Stokes, Moeen, Curran — could end up working against Axar. 

It won’t be an overstatement in any way to claim that, on Thursday, awaiting Axar is the biggest game of his career.

India and the fear of a SKY failure

Ask any Indian fan what they fear the most heading into Thursday’s semi-final and they’ll all reply with the same answer: the prospect of Suryakumar Yadav having an off-day.

It’s a terrifying thought because, though India have won four matches, one cannot help but feel that Suryakumar, being the outrageously good batter he is, has masked a lot of problems in the side’s batting.

In each of the 4 games in which India batted first, they were stuck at some point in their innings and threatened to post an underwhelming score: 53/1 off 9 vs Netherlands, 51/5 off 9 vs South Africa, 52/1 off 8 vs Bangladesh and 107/4 off 15 vs Zimbabwe.

But in each of the aforementioned matches, Suryakumar intervened like a god and almost single-handedly gave the team’s total a 30-run push, if not more.

Heading into the semis, the question is: what if he fails? What happens to India’s batting then? On paper, they still have a ridiculously strong line-up. But outside Kohli and SKY, it simply hasn’t clicked. 

KL Rahul accelerated exceptionally against both Bangladesh and Zimbabwe but it would be naive to pretend that his powerplay strike rate of 88.73 isn’t an issue. What if he falls after 20 balls and does not catch-up?

Rohit has been the side’s worst batter and the batting form of Hardik Pandya has also been dodgy. Hardik has been striking at 101.56 in this World Cup and has shown no signs that he could provide the team with a final flourish if required. Hardik’s poor showing has completely gone unnoticed thanks to the brilliance of Kohli and SKY, but sooner or later it could haunt the side.

And while Kohli has been outstanding, what needs to be pointed out is that he’s been aided immeasurably by the form of SKY, whose pyrotechnics have enabled Kohli to play at his own pace. Should SKY fail, chances are that Kohli might find it a bit tricky too, particularly while batting first. 

Suryakumar has failed just once in this World Cup and on that particular occasion, India needed their greatest ever T20 batter to play his best ever T20 knock to get over the line.

You suspect they’d be hoping that SKY fires in both the semis and the final. For otherwise, things could get very uncomfortable for the Men in Blue. 

Sub-plots to watch out for

Bhuvneshwar Kumar vs Jos Buttler. Bhuvi has been ALL OVER Buttler in T20Is, dismissing the England skipper 5 times in 32 balls. In the three-match series earlier this year, he dismissed Buttler twice in three balls. Bhuvneshwar clearly has the wood over Buttler, so this psychological edge the veteran seamer holds could end up benefiting the side.

In the Super 12 stages, no team had a better strike rate in overs 16-20 than India (193.3). But on Thursday, they will be up against an English bowling unit that was by far the best death-bowling side. Not only did the Three Lions maintain a remarkable ER of 6.00 at the death in the Super 12s, they took 7 more wickets (21) than any other side in this phase. 

Come Thursday, they’ll once again be banking on their trump card Sam Curran, who so far in this T20WC at the death has registered figures of 6.4-0-32-7. That’s an E.R of 4.8, with 55% of the balls proving to be dots.

Probable XIs

Both Rohit and Kohli took concerning blows in the nets, but they are fine and are expected to be fit. India will have to take a call between Pant and DK; as things stand, Pant looks like the favorite to make the final XI.

India: KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma (c), Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant (wk), Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Arshdeep Singh

England are sweating on the fitness of Dawid Malan and Mark Wood. Malan is unlikely to be fit, but the Three Lions are still hopeful of Wood recovering in time. Expect Phil Salt and Chris Jordan to walk in should both not recover in time.

England: Alex Hales, Jos Buttler (c & wk), Dawid Malan / Phil Salt, Ben Stokes, Harry Brook, Liam Livingstone, Moeen Ali, Sam Curran, Chris Woakes, Adil Rashid, Mark Wood / Chris Jordan

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India vs EnglandICC Men's T20 World Cup, Australia, 2022IndiaEngland

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