India have exceeded expectations, but can they go the distance?

Team India hurdle at net session ahead of ICC T20 WC Semi-final vs England
Team India hurdle at net session ahead of ICC T20 WC Semi-final vs England (PC: Debasis Sen)

I was sceptical of this team ahead of the World Cup. Time and again, I have said that I felt India would find it hard to progress beyond the semi-final. I felt that England and Australia were better T20 teams, and India is a better 50-overs and Test side. So far, they have proved me wrong. And never can you be as happy as when your national team exceeds expectations and proves you wrong. Yes, they have already exceeded expectations for me. But now, can they go the distance? Can they make it the perfect farewell for Rahul Dravid, and script the moment that will define Rohit Sharma as skipper? Can they end the 11-year-long curse and add to India’s ICC title list? 

South Africa are no pushovers. They have all bases covered. With a bowling attack led by Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje, pace was never an issue. Marco Jansen brings the left-arm variety and Keshav Maharaj is one of the best left-arm spinners around. Finally, in Tabraiz Shamsi, South Africa have someone who can pick up wickets in the middle overs and push the opposition back. 

On the batting side, David Miller and Heinrich Klaasen are two of the best finishers in the business and perhaps give South Africa that extra edge. Against such a side which is also on the cusp of history, it won’t be an easy final. Finals never are. But it is also true that most finals are defined by nerve. The ability to soak in pressure. That little extra belief and that little additional desire to win the big title. To not become desperate and forget the process, like Afghanistan did.

Maybe that’s the difference between the winner and second best. And you don’t win the silver. Rather, you always lose the gold. The Indians will know that. They will know that November 19 continues to haunt millions, and June 29 is an opportunity for redemption. It is a chance to start a new chapter in India’s cricket history, and inspire millions who will pick up a cricket bat or ball in the next few years.

Indian sport needs this moment, just to remind itself that we aren’t just the financial powerhouse in world cricket. We are also the best cricket-playing nation in the shortest format, the one that is watched and consumed the most. It will mean that Dravid walks into his next innings having won a World Cup as coach, to add to the runner-up medal from November 2023. 

Two final points before I conclude this piece. First, India have played this tournament as a collective and that’s what has defined this team. It is no longer about Virat Kohli playing a lone hand, and others not stepping up. It is not about Rohit or Jasprit Bumrah. Rather, every player at some point has made a telling contribution. Even Shivam Dube, for that matter, in a couple of games. While I don’t agree with the Dube selection, the team management has persisted with him and backed him right through. Will they continue to do so or will they make a change for the final? Can it be called obstinacy at a certain level? 

Second, it will be a battle of spin as well. Kuldeep Yadav v Shamsi and Axar Patel or Ravindra Jadeja v Maharaj. While the Indians will fancy their chances in these match-ups, the South Africans aren’t pushovers and these few overs could very much define the outcome of the match. 

Whatever it is, I want to be proved wrong. For, as I said at the very start of this column, there is no better feeling than to be proved wrong by your national team when they go on and win the World Cup. Maybe in future, I will always say we don’t have a team to go beyond the semi-final, and I will be proved wrong again! To June 29, and to Rohit and Dravid, with the boys, holding the trophy in Barbados.

Also Read: Axar Patel – From Support Cast to Star Turn