All-round Pandya and spin doctor Kuldeep shine bright as India sniff semi-final

India beat Bangladesh by 50 runs. (PC: Debasis Sen)

Kuldeep Yadav teased Shakib Al Hasan with a tossed-up delivery. The latter was up to it. He cleared his front leg and slog-swept it straight over the bowler’s head for a six. The asking rate was still touching 15 runs per over and the former Bangladesh captain had thrown down the gauntlet to India’s best bowler on the day. Kuldeep had to respond. He resorted to change of pace.

Kuldeep bowled another looping delivery to Shakib. This time, it was wider and a lot slower. The batter tried to hit it on the leg-side, but he was deceived in the air. The ball turned away, took the leading edge and went straight to Rohit Sharma at extra-cover. Bangladesh slumped to 98/4 in the 14th over, chasing 197 for victory. Game over.

Bangladesh finished on 146/8 against India’s 196/5 to lose by 50 runs. The victory effectively sent India to the T20 World Cup semi-finals.

On a very good surface, Kuldeep dished out a mesmerising spell of left-arm wrist-spin. His first wicket was Tanzid Hasan, a googly doing the trick. The second was Towhid Hridoy, who was done in by the dip. Shakib was the third victim, as Kuldeep finished with 3/19 from four overs. For a change, Jasprit Bumrah didn’t get a wicket in his first spell, but India had another genuine wicket-taker in their ranks. If Bumrah doesn’t get you, Kuldeep will!

Before Kuldeep, there was Hardik Pandya. At 108/4 in the 12th over, the game hung in the balance. Another couple of quick wickets, and Bangladesh could have taken control of the proceedings. Pandya took the game away from them.

A bit of consolidation was needed after Rishabh Pant (36, 24 balls) perished to Rishad Hossain and for a couple of overs, Pandya dealt in singles. Then, Mahedi Hasan bowled a long-hop and the all-rounder sent it over cover for a six. A four past extra-cover followed.

Shivam Dube was getting stuck a bit at the other end. Pandya gave him confidence and allowed him to get into a groove. Dube duly sent Shakib over long-on for a six. The partnership that yielded 53 for the fifth wicket got the required momentum. After hitting two more sixes, Dube fell to Rishad, making 34 off 24 balls.

Pandya carried on. He hit the leg-spinner straight down the ground for a six, slapped Tanzim Hasan Sakib over deep mid-wicket for another maximum and collected three fours off Mustafizur Rahman in the final over to take India’s total beyond Bangladesh’s reach. Pandya remained unbeaten on 50 off 27 balls, with four fours and three sixes.

He wasn’t finished yet. Bangladesh made a steady start and upped the ante via Tanzid and Litton Das. India needed a breakthrough and got one, when Pandya removed Litton with a slower delivery. The Player of the Match award was well deserved. Not many moons ago, during the IPL, Pandya had been pilloried on social media, as Mumbai Indians continued to slip deeper in the mire. On Saturday, he was trending on social media for his match-winning effort. Moral of the story — always judge a cricketer by his international exploits.

“I have always been very fortunate to play for the country,” said Pandya at the post-match presentation, as the legendary West Indies fast bowler Andy Roberts handed him the award. “It was a freak injury which happened (in the 2023 World Cup). I tried to come back, but god had some other plans. The other day, I was speaking to Rahul sir (Dravid), and he said luck comes to people who work hard. That has stuck with me, and I just want to keep my head down and keep working hard,” the all-rounder added.

India will take a lot of positives from this game, especially the way they showed intent. Rohit (23, 11 balls) and Virat Kohli (37, 28 balls) gave their team a brisk start and both timed the ball well. They set the tone of the innings and it was maintained throughout. Every batter in the top six hit at least one six and ensured there was no drop in the run rate.

As for Bangladesh, they were tactically naive. Winning the toss and opting to bowl on a batting-friendly pitch at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in North Sound, Antigua, was a recipe for disaster.