India or South Africa, who will end the trophy drought?

Rohit Sharma and Aiden Markram
Rohit Sharma and Aiden Markram (PC: X)

June 23, 2013 was a great day in the history of Indian cricket. On that day, India won the Champions Trophy after beating England in a thriller. The celebrations that followed would be remembered for a long time to come — Virat Kohli, in particular, doing warm-ups and then his dance steps. At that juncture, no one could have envisaged that the Men in Blue would go empty handed for the next 11 years as far as ICC tournaments are concerned.

Last year, in the 2023 World Cup, it felt like India would finally end the drought. After all, they had bulldozed their way to the final. Unfortunately, the final turned out to be a disappointment as Pat Cummins and his band of boys from Australia walked away with the trophy. Around six months later, India are once more on the doorstep of sealing a world title. They are in the final of the T20 World Cup, to be played against South Africa, in Barbados.

Can they do it this time around? There are indicators which would give hope to the Indian camp and its millions of fans. India’s bowling line-up has been doing the job on most occasions. Jasprit Bumrah has basically created his own zone, which can be called the Bumrah-Zone. From hard length to control to yorkers to dipping slower ones or even his low full-tosses, everything seems to be working. Kuldeep Yadav, the left-arm wrist-spinner, has also showcased all his variations, alongside discipline, and picked up wickets at crucial moments.

Axar Patel has been India’s utility cricketer — contributing with the bat, ball and even in the field. Hardik Pandya balances the line-up with his all-round skills. The one small weak-link is Ravindra Jadeja. The spinning all-rounder has taken a solitary wicket in the tournament so far. Even on a low-bouncing wicket in Guyana, against England, Jadeja couldn’t make an impression, although he did make a timely contribution with the bat.

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Virat Kohli in ICC T20 WC 24 Semi-final
Virat Kohli in ICC T20 WC 24 Semi-final (PC: Debasis Sen)

There are a few other concerns, especially in the batting engine room. Shivam Dube seems to be low on confidence. Virat Kohli is probably struggling to adjust to India’s new batting template. So, would India drop Dube and pick Sanju Samson? At the moment, it looks unlikely that they would end up tinkering with the XI for a final. On the positive side, Rohit Sharma’s twin knocks against Australia and in the semi-final would have brought enough cheer to the think-tank.

Lest we forget that this is also South Africa’s first-ever senior World Cup final. The man who led them to their only World Cup title, albeit at the Under-19 level, is captaining the side. Under Aiden Markram’s leadership, South Africa haven’t lost a game yet over a couple of World Cups. It goes to show that Markram has the required nous and mental strength to lead the side with distinction. He, however, would be hoping to be among the runs and lead from the front in the final.

The rest of the South Africa batters too have somewhat struggled to make it count. Quinton de Kock is the only one to find himself in the top-10 in the batting charts in this tournament. With Eric Simons as the bowling coach, South Africa’s pace battery has been firing on all cylinders. Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi, their spin duo, has picked up vital scalps as well.

It is a contest between two sides, where one of them is yet to fill their cabinet with a senior World Cup trophy and the other has not won an ICC tournament in the last 11 years. Ultimately, it would come down to who is able to absorb the pressure of playing in a final.

South Africa celebrating after a wicket vs Afghanistan
South Africa celebrating after a wicket vs Afghanistan (PC: Proteas Men/X)

Playing XIs

India: Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant, Suryakumar Yadav, Shivam Dube, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah and Arshdeep Singh

South Africa: Quinton de Kock, Reeza Hendricks, Aiden Markram, Henrich Klaasen, Tristan Stubbs, David Miller, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anirch Nortje and Tabraiz Shamsi

Weather and pitch conditions: There could be quite a few rain showers through the day. Hopefully, rain won’t play spoilsport. The drainage system is reasonably good. The track would offer some bounce for the batters to land their shots. However, on occasions, we have seen a hint of spongy bounce in Bridgetown, in this World Cup. Both teams would prefer to bat first. Te weather factor might put a spanner in their decision-making.

Also Read: Chris Gayle Exclusive: India are the favourites to win the final | IND vs SA