COLOMBO (TIP): India is out of the ICC World Twenty20 tournament despite beating South Africa in the final match of the Super Eights stage. Compounding India’s misery, its exit ensured that great rival Pakistan qualified for the semifinal.
In hindsight, Tuesday night’s match in Colombo was a classic, going right down to the final over with India snatching a victory by just one run. But neither team was in the mood to celebrate, as by then both had been knocked out of the competition. Pakistan’s victory over Australia in Tuesday’s earlier game meant that South Africa was already out of the tournament before the teams even took to the pitch for the national anthems.
The Proteas looked downbeat, but there was no way they would leave Sri Lanka without a fight. India, meanwhile, had to win convincingly enough to lift its net run-rate above Pakistan’s in order to qualify for the semifinal. That goal became a little tougher after Mahendra Singh Dhoni lost the toss and his team was put in to bat – it would’ve been better to bat second under the circumstances, the Indian captain admitted. And so it proved.
Gautam Gambhir has been about as useful as a sunroof during the monsoon, and his horrible tournament continued when he was first man out, bowled by Morne Morkel for eight. The Indian opener ended the tournament with 80 runs from five innings. And so much for the steady hand of Virat Kohli, India’s “Mr. Reliable” for the past year or more. The 23-year-old was out for just two runs after being smartly caught by A.B. de Villiers off the bowling of Jacques Kallis.
Danger man Virender Sehwag went shortly after, following up a six with a wild slog at a Robin Peterson delivery. He missed, and was bowled for 17. India was in trouble on 36 for 3, with the demand for a high run-rate perhaps toying with the players’ minds. Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh helped right the ship, scoring 25 and 21, respectively. But it was Suresh Raina, who scored 45, and Dhoni who accelerated India’s run-rate. The Indian captain has been criticized for underperforming in T20 cricket, scoring too slowly for the format, but he scored a quick 23 from 13 deliveries Tuesday night. With a total of 152 for 6, India needed to restrict South Africa to 121 runs or fewer in order to progress to the semifinal and knock Pakistan out. But South Africa eased past that target in the 17th over. The moment was greeted by huge cheers at the R. Premadasa Stadium, apparently still full of nervous Pakistani fans from the earlier game. There were moments of hope for India when South Africa came in to bat. Zaheer Khan, who hadn’t taken a single wicket so far this tournament, got off to a terrific start, claiming the scalp of the supremely talented Hashim Amla for 0 – caught Sehwag – on the second delivery of the innings. Jacques Kallis didn’t last much longer, and with South Africa on 16 for 2 there was a sense that India could do this. But Faf du Plessis soon put an end to that optimism as he smashed 65 runs off 38 balls. South Africa will surely rue not using him more at this tournament. India, meanwhile, will rue the lack of consistency that plagued its WorldT20 campaign.
The thrashing by Australia proved decisive in spoiling its net runrate. There was another period of hope for India when South Africa was still short of the 121-run deadline. On 109 for 5, Robin Peterson was caught by Lakshmipathy Balaji, prompting wild celebrations among the Indian players. But it was not out, as Ravichandran Ashwin had bowled a noball – pretty much unforgivable for a spinner coming in on such a short run up. He bowled Peterson next delivery, but that didn’t matter either as he had a free hit. In truth, it was too late anyway. India wasn’t going to take five more South African wickets for just 12 runs. It then became a simple matter of pride. Both teams were out of the tournament, but the players were still representing their countries so would surely want to come away with a win.
It went to the final over, with South Africa needing 14 to win with two wickets in hand. Balaji was a risky choice of bowler, and his nerves wouldn’t have been helped when Albie Morkel thumped his first delivery for six. But he bowled him next delivery, and then dismissed his younger brother Morne too, though not before he’d thrashed him for another six. South Africa came up one run short, 151 all out. There won’t be much chance for India’s fans back home to drown their sorrows, as it’s a dry day for Gandhi Jayanti, a holiday marking the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth in 1869. Perhaps the more fickle fans out there will be quick to claim not to care about T20 cricket anyway. But we do, we surely do.