India hold nerve to win T20 World Cup, SA choke

Team India with the ICC T20 WC 2024
Team India with the ICC T20 WC 2024 (PC: Debasis Sen)

Sixteen runs were needed off the final over, Hardik Pandya had the ball and David Miller was on strike. As long as Miller was there, South Africa hoped. He swung at a wide full-toss and it was going for a six, until Suryakumar Yadav intervened.

Surya ran around from wide long-off, clawed down the ball, toppled over the rope but kept his feet inside it. He lobbed the ball back into play before completing the grab. It was an astounding catch that put the final nail in South Africa’s coffin. India were winning the T20 World Cup. The monkey was off their back.

In the end, Rohit Sharma fell on the turf and kissed it. In the dressing room, Rahul Dravid participated in a no-holds-barred celebration. Under intense pressure, India held their nerve. South Africa lost it.

The trophy sat on the South Africa’s dug-out after Heinrich Klaasen took Axar Patel to the cleaners and hammered 24 runs off the 15th over. The equation came down to run-a-ball for the Proteas. They lost the game from there. This was the mother of all chokes.

India hoped against hope. They badly needed a breakthrough and Pandya (3/20) provided one by removing Klaasen. Like a champion side, once given an inch, India took a mile. The excellent Jasprit Bumrah (2/18) removed Marco Jansen with a beauty. Arshdeep Singh (2/20) bowled a superb 19th over and then, there was Surya’s catch to seal the deal. India ended their decade-long ICC trophy drought. On a day, when the spinners went for plenty, the fast bowlers stood up to be counted.

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Rahul Dravid and Rohit Sharma
Rahul Dravid and Rohit Sharma (PC: Debasis Sen)

Earlier, the first round went to South Africa. India responded via Axar. It was like a boxing bout where punches were thrown. In the end, Axar’s 47 off 31 balls and his 72-run fourth wicket partnership with Virat Kohli proved to be final-defining.

India threatened to run away with the game in the first one-and-a-half overs after winning the toss. Jansen bowled in the slot and the ball flew off Kohli’s bat. Three gorgeous fours were hit in the first over. Aiden Markram, the South Africa captain, brought on Keshav Maharaj to bowl the second and eyebrows were raised.

When Rohit took back-to-back fours of Maharaj, it felt like a wrong bowling choice was made. But Markram had gone with his instinct, expecting the Indian batters to err on the side of aggression. It happened.

Rohit continued to try and put pressure on Maharaj, but the bowler had changed his line a bit and varied his pace. The opener had to stretch to play the sweep. He couldn’t keep it down. Klaasen took a brilliant diving catch at square-leg.

Virat Kohli with the ICC T20 WC Trophy
Virat Kohli with the ICC T20 WC Trophy (PC: Debasis Sen)

Rishabh Pant departed two balls later, going for the sweep against a full ball and top-edging it to Quinton de Kock behind the stumps. Pant has now gone 27 T20I innings without a half-century, but from South Africa’s point of view, it was about coming back into the game.

From 23/2, India slipped to 34/3 when Surya played a poor shot against Kagiso Rabada and perished. India’s counter-move was to send Axar at No. 5. Throughout this T20 World Cup, he has been the team’s all-purpose man and he played a fantastic innings under pressure.

The situation allowed Kohli to play his natural game, as he had to hold the innings together. Axar took the lead. When he was run-out by a brilliant De Kock throw, India were on course for a 170-plus total. Eventually they finished on 176/7, which proved to be enough. South Africa could only manage 169/8 to lose by seven runs. They were playing the final of a World Cup for the first time, and Markram’s men were so close. This will hit them hard.

India refused to be defeated, through Kohli’s 59-ball 76, a couple of important middle-over partnerships, Bumrah’s delivery to Reeza Hendricks – the ball of the tournament – and their death-overs comeback. It was also atonement for Dravid. As a player, he could never get his hands on a World Cup. As a coach, he would leave with the satisfaction of filling the void. The great man deserved it.

India thoroughly deserved their title. They were the best team in this tournament by a distance. The trophy is coming to the game’s spiritual home and as former England captain Michael Vaughan said, this might trigger a title-winning spree for the Men in Blue.

Also Read: Indian bowling has what it takes to win the T20 World Cup