Just before the ICC T20 World Cup, India were touted as favorites on their current form while West Indies in Group 1 never looked like championship contenders. There were three other teams in Group 1, which had far better credentials than West Indies. So what happened? India began by losing to New Zealand and lost so badly that their survival in the tournament depended on winning the next three games coupled with other teams’ performances. However, a huge slice of luck kept India afloat and victory against Australia on Sunday sent them to the semifinals. In their first game against England, West Indies overhauled England’s impressive 182 riding on Chris Gayle’s 48-ball 100 and won the match by 6 wickets. Subsequently they also beat Sri Lanka and South Africa without Gayle doing anything and jumped to the top of points’ table. The unexpected loss to Afghanistan didn’t affect their leadership position in their Group. After the debacle against New Zealand, India defeated Pakistan and almost exited the tournament, when they played Bangladesh. An unprecedented last-over drama rescued India and they finished second in their Group behind New Zealand, the only team to have won all 4 league matches.
As India take on the West Indies for a place in the final, several factors will work for both teams. But the most important will be Gayle’s batting. If the guy gets into his rhythm, he can single-handedly carry his side on his shoulders. Such is the muscular power of the man that he can hoist the ball into the stands with laziest of strokes. There are other West Indies batsmen too, but they can’t match Gayle’s explosive capability. If India can take out Gayle early, they don’t even need Kohli. Therefore, on paper, India is a better team on overall count. In contrast to Gayle’s hand-eye coordination game, Virat Kohli is far more technically sound and a better athlete, when it comes to running between the wickets. Gayle is lazy and likes to scores from sixes and fours rather than scoring ones or twos. Besides Kohli, India also have other batsmen capable of piling up runs and since India’s bowling has shown improvement lately, West Indies may find the going tough if Gayle gets out.
However, accurate prediction is impossible in a game full of uncertainties. In the shortest format, where time is the key, batsmen and bowlers don’t have the leeway to experiment. The game can be laden with unexpected surprises on a given day. Look at the Afghanis. They literally went after South African’s bowlers in trying to chase 210 run. They fell short by 37 runs in the end, but not before scaring the South Africans. Then on Sunday, the Afghans defeated West Indies, though Gayle didn’t play in that match. Take the case of India’s own game against Bangladesh. Who would have thought that a team could lose after needing just 2 runs in the last 3 balls? In the truest sense, India didn’t win that day but Bangladeshis dug their own grave in the last three balls to gift-wrap the most unlikely win for India. In India’s semifinal next Thursday, the Gayle-Kohli factor will be crucial besides containment of runs by fielding improvements. One lapse can cost either team an entire match. Therefore, neither India nor West Indies could afford to relax on the day of reckoning. Past history is immaterial in cricket. What if Kohli has collected 184 in his last 4 innings or Gayle destroyed England with a massive effort? It is the performance of the day that will matter and nothing else. Another factor that can benefit India will be the unstinted home support and the Mumbai wicket that is generally full of runs. It is also Rohit Sharma’s home ground and having failed so far, Rohit is already due for a good knock. Manish Pandey comes in to replace the injured Yuvraj Singh and he will certainly like to show his worth with a long-range perspective.