This year marks the T20 as a special occasion on Indian calendars because it is the first time that it is being hosted by India since its inception in 2007. No wonder every cricket fan has his hopes high of India driving the cup home this time. The campaign began for India on march 15 with a grueling match against New Zealand at the Nagpur stadium. New Zealand was the only team against whom India had not registered a t20 win till date. It was head to head 4-0. But India has more than one reasons to gain an edge over news this time around. Firstly because their most distinguished player Brendon McCullum had just announced retirement from world cricket bidding adieu to all the three formats. Secondly, because the stadium in Nagpur where the match was being held was favorable for spinners and players like Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja had significant experience of the pitch.
Having won the toss, the new team decided to bat first, setting up a target of 127 runs. It was a small target to chase or the Indian batsmen, keeping view of the good form they had been in lately. But cricket is an unpredictable game! After 18.1 overs being bowled, India was bundled up for just 79 runs. The performance of the top 4 Indian batsmen Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh was disappointing as none of them were able to score above 10. In this stead valuable contributions of 23 and 30 runs were made by Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni respectively. The new spinners Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner proved to be a surprise package, accounting for 3 and 4 wickets of the Indian batting line up respectively.
The loss of this match was a huge let-down for both the Indian team as well as the cricket enthusiasts. What remained was to perform better in the consequent matches.
India was next up against Pakistan. Be it the ODI or the t20 world cup there is always a huge hype about any India –Pak match. This one too was no exception. India till date hadn’t lost any match against Pakistan in the world cup, while the new location of the match, the iconic Eden gardens had always been a winning ground for Pakistan , having lost just one and won five of the 11 Tests and One-Day Internationals combined against India. Pakistan clearly had the superior bowling reserves with the reintegrated Mohammad Amir, the towering Mohammad Irfan and the explosive Wahab Riaz forming an all left-arm pace core that executed technique and character.
Having won the toss, India chose to field. India having won the toss chose to field. The Pakistani opening batsmen began with a good start which was interrupted by a breakthrough given by Suresh Raina. Next in line to bat was Shahid Afridi. A good score was being anticipated by the Pakistani team captain but he too returned to the pavilion with a mere contribution of 8 runs. The partnership of Shoaib Malik and Umar Akmal were a calming effect on heightened pressure on the Pakistani team. But 40 odd runs a wicket fell and the partnership broke at a very crucial level. Luck favoured the Indian bowlers as wickets kept falling at regular intervals leading Pakistan to a total of 118 in 18 overs. Rainfall reduced to usual overs from 20 to 18. it was now time for the Indian batsmen to come out and show true calibre.
Indian openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan disappointed the audience with their performance returning early to the dugout scoring just 10 and 6 runs respectively. Next on the crease were Virat and Yuvraj . Their partnership was expected to turn the tables round. Middle order in the lights of Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and Ms Dhoni never disappointed. Both took their time at the crease putting loose balls away for boundaries. Virat Kohli stole the show with his half century and remained unbeaten at 55 while Yuvraj Singh’s priceless contribution of 24 and his partnership with Virat Kohli took India home against Pakistan making head to head 12-0 in the world cup against it.
The victory at the Eden garden rose the previously dampened spirits of the cricket fans, India would now need to beat Bangladesh and Australia to make its place in the semi-finals.
Reeling high on the victory from Eden gardens the Indian team next faced Bangladesh on 23 March,at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru.
India loss the toss and had to bat first. Openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan began with a good start, but couldn’t continue for long with Rohit Sharma returning to the pavilion at 18 runs on 16 balls and Shikhar Dhawan joining him an over later. The score was 41 runs for 2 . The reins next passed onto Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina which seemed like start of a good partnership, but that too couldn’t last for long. a shaky start by India continued in the middle order thereby restricting India to a normal score of 145. India was 20-25 runs short in giving a target of 165-170 runs which would have been a challenging one.
India bowlers didn’t start of pretty well in spite giving a blow to Bangladesh in the 3rd over. Bangladeshi batsmen we scoring well at 10 runs per over in the power play. The decision to introduce spinners was a turning point for India. Their economical bowling and quick wicket taking raised India to the front seat. India’s fielding was put to test and as expected they performed their part well by the preventing the twos threes and fours. The match was well balanced till the last over. Bangladesh was 11 runs behind the target with 6 balls remaining. Two fours were hit in the first three balls of Hardik Pandya. This left the Bangladeshi team with just 2 runs to score in 3 balls. But again! one cannot emerge victorious until the match is over. Much to the surprise of everyone the last 3 balls produced 3 wickets taking India towards victory with only 1 run. It was one of the most thrilling win to have been witnessed by India. This victory over Bangladesh not only helped India climb the points table but also increased the chances for making it to the semi-finals.
The next and last match of the group stage was against Australia. It was a deciding match since the winner of this match would progress to semis. India had previously won a 3-0 t20 series against the Aussies in Australia a month ago. In the light of this, experts viewed the chances of India’s win over Australia more in this match.
Both teams were high on confidence. Aussies won the toss and chose to bat. Both teams had a firm grip on the game . The Mohali pitch was favourable for the Aussies, with good batting conditions. They scored above 60 runs in the power play ,putting huge pressure on Indian bowlers. It appeared as if they would go on to score more than 200 runs. In the second half of the match Aussies started losing momentum as wickets kept falling. Usman Khawaja, David Warner and Captain Steve Smith had walked back to the dugout. Indian bowlers were economical as the game progressed with Yuvraj Singh being a key bowler giving away just 19 runs. He also took the important wicket of Steve Smith. with 145 runs on board in the 19th over India were extremely happy with their bowling. But the last over turned out to be surprising with . Australia finishing at 160 runs, setting a target of 161 for India.
It was comfortable target to chase on Mohali track,but the with slow start by the Indian batsmen it looked like the Aussies would win the match. Indian batsmen put pressure on themselves with a slow start and lost three wickets that of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina in quick succession. Virat Kohli was the only batsmen for the Indian side stood at the crease. Before long Kohli with his unique target chasing ability, realised the match slipping away from India taking charge on the batting front . When Virat came into bat the required run rate was well over 10 runs per over which later went upto 12.5 runs per over. as the match progressed the required rate was bought down. Yuvraj Singh stood there and built a much needed partnership of 45 runs with Kohli. Dhoni too played a crucial role building an unbeaten partnership of 67 with Kohli. But in the end it was Virat Kohli who led India into the semifinals with his knock of 82 runs in 51 balls.
India’s performance in the group stage was well over expectations. Credit goes to the whole team and especially Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Indian captain, for leading from the front. Fans hope they continue to perform well in semis the way they have in the group stage and hopefully bring the world cup home. The next match is tomorrow, march 31 at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai against West Indies. This too shall be an interesting match since both teams have a fair chance of winning.