India look to tame African lions

Form, history and familiarity with conditions make Dhoni's men favourites in semifinal clash

India look to tame African lions

South Africa will be up against history and an in-form India when the two teams clash for a spot in the World T20 final here on Friday.

Proteas’ infamous ability to implode at big stages will be playing at the back of their mind as Francois du Plessis hopes to end the chokers tag that has stuck to them like an adhesive. South Africa have had the better of exchanges against India during a short home series in December last but they do realise that MS Dhoni’s men will be a completely different proposition in conditions that suit their strengths.

One of the stronger points in the tournament for them has been their spinners that have had a major say in India’s unbeaten run to the semifinal. Barring the final group match against Australia, when they batted first, it’s the bowlers who have set up the games for India. Not once in the first three matches did the opposition manage to go past 140, setting the stage for their batsmen to complete the job without fuss.

The nature of the pitches at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium has been ideal for R Ashwin, Amit Mishra and Ravindra Jadeja. Between them the three have taken 21 wickets at a combined average economy rate of 5.51. Off-spinner Ashwin and leg-spinner Mishra have particularly been impressive, scalping 16 wickets between them at an economy rate of 4.76. It’s almost given that India would stick to their three-pronged spin strategy but they would be in a dilemma whether to retain pacer Mohit Sharma, who was impressive against Australia, or bring in the more experienced Mohammad Shami back into the mix to combine with a frugal Bhuvneshwar Kumar (economy rate of 4.33).     

On the batting front, too, India appear to have covered most of their basis. Opener Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli have been in top form while Suresh Raina has shown why exactly he is such a dangerous bat in this format. Yuvraj Singh couldn’t have returned to form at a more opportune time though the Indian camp would be hoping for his quick recovery from the ankle injury he sustained while playing football with bare feet on Monday.

 Encouragingly for the team, the southpaw took active part in team’s practice session on Thursday and looked in little discomfort. The think-tank will also be weighing in their options with regard to Rohit’s partner. Ajinkya Rahane replaced a struggling Shikhar Dhawan against Australia but the Mumbai batsman hardly inspired any confidence. It will not come as a surprise if Dhawan is included in the final 11 for the semis.

South Africa will not only have to make quick adjustments to conditions that are vastly different from the ones in Chittagong but will also have to get their combination right. With Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers in prime form, batting has looked solid but it’s the bowling unit that has been tested in difficult conditions. The Proteas have largely relied on their pacers and lone specialist spinner – Imran Tahir – to do the job for them but playing three seamers on the Dhaka surface will be fraught with danger. While JP Duminy can be effective with his off-spinners South Africa will seriously mull including left-arm spinner Aaron Phangiso.

Not since the 1998 ICC Knockout tournament at this very venue (Bangabandhu National Stadium), have South Africa managed to win a major title despite their obvious talent. Their T20 skipper Du Plessis, barely 13 then, was in school and says he has fond recollection of that triumph. It remains to be seen if he can draw some inspiration from those memories.

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