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Hosts India are smashing their way to World Cup victory

Hosts India are smashing their way to World Cup victory
Virat Kohli has been in top form and could be celebrating the 50th century of his career very soon. (Photo: Abhjit Adya/ Shutterstock)

India will be a tough opponent to beat when it comes down to the wire. 

India have laid the foundation to clinch the Cricket World Cup trophy on 19  November. It will be an almighty task for anyone to overcome the so-far unbeaten host nation who have struck form as a unit.

South Africa’s clash against India was billed as the match of the round robin stage. The two in-form teams. One versus two on the table. It was a bout to see who would finish at the apex.

India ended up obliterating the Proteas by 243 runs. The match stopped being a contest 10 overs into India’s innings when they had 91 runs on the board while South Africa’s ship just continued to sink.

But South Africa’s anxieties about the clash started well before the first ball was bowled.

“To be honest, I’m nervous, but I think everyone will have a bit of nerves… It’s going to be loud and the crowd is going to be buzzing,” opening bowler Marco Jansen said in a pre-match press conference before the clash.

Andile Phehlukwayo and Rassie van der Dussen

Andile Phehlukwayo and Rassie van der Dussen of South Africa celebrate their team’s win over Afghanistan during the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 match between South Africa and Afghanistan at Sardar Patel Stadium on 10 November 2023 in Ahmedabad, India. (Photo: Pankaj Nangia / Gallo Images)

Jansen, who is the third-highest wicket taker in the Cricket World Cup, displayed those nerves. His first over went for 17 runs and he conceded 94 runs in the 9.4 overs he bowled, his most expensive figures ever in the format.

Playing in India, against India, in front of thousands of passionate, screaming fans is a tough task. The host side have swept past every challenger in their way, retaining an incredible eight-match unbeaten streak in the round robin stage, with only the Netherlands left to play on Friday, with their place in the semifinals already booked.

Familiar environment

South African cricket coach Paddy Upton, who worked as mental coach for the Indian cricket team last year, has put the host team’s dominance in the World Cup down to a familiarity with the conditions as well as luck with the batters’ form.

“They’re very familiar with the environment. They’re familiar with playing in front of big crowds,” Upton told Daily Maverick.

These crowds include at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, which has a scarcely believable capacity of 132,000. It’s also the venue where the final will be played.

“They’re fortunate that they have their top-six batters on form. Any one of the top five or six can score,” Upton said.

“I put that down to luck, having your top-six batters in form and on any given day they’re in good enough form that you can trust them to score a hundred. It takes pressure off the other batters.

“Compared to when you only have two on form, when those two know that it’s their responsibility. If they don’t deliver then you can’t trust someone else. That puts increased pressure on the other batters.”

None has been more impressive than the brilliant Virat Kohli. The irresistible strokemaker is second on the run-scoring charts, only seven behind South Africa’s Quinton de Kock, with 543, having struck two centuries and four half-­centuries in the past eight weeks.

Kohli’s second ton, a sublime unbeaten 101 off 121 against South Africa, was his 49th in his career. The 35-year-old has now tied for most centuries in the format with Indian legend Sachin Tendulkar, but achieved the mark in 175 fewer matches.

Alongside Kohli is the skipper, Rohit Sharma, who has 442 runs at an average of 55.25 in the tournament, sitting fifth on the overall run-scoring charts.

Shreyas Iyer has been a stable figure in the middle-order alongside KL Rahul and the leading run-scorer in one-day international cricket this year, Shubman Gill, is beginning to find his feet in the tournament after an early injury setback.

Despite losing Hardik Pandya to an ankle injury only four matches into the World Cup, India’s all-rounder stocks are filled too, with Ravindra Jadeja playing a pivotal role in the victory over South Africa.

The cunning bowler took five wickets for 33 runs after unleashing a quickfire 15-ball 29 with the willow.

The real threat

Bowler Jasprit Bumrah has been putting fear into India’s opposition at the Cricket World Cup. Here he is in action against Pakistan at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on 14 October. (Photo: Divyakant Solanki/EPA)

India’s bowling attack is nothing to scoff at either. After all, the five-pronged attack came together to dismiss the Proteas – who up to that point had the best batting attack in the tournament – for 83 in 27.1 overs.

However, for Upton, there is one player in particular who stands out. “What’s really good for India, having Jasprit Bumrah in the team is huge. He is such a wicket taker, he is such an X-factor,” Upton said.

“Without him, with the ball, India don’t put as much fear into the opposition.

“Even the Indian batters know that, whether they’re batting first or second, they’ve got this X-factor who gives them some freedom knowing they have a gun with the ball who can do some damage to the opposition batters … It contributes to the overall team confidence.”

Bumrah has 15 wickets in the competition, the sixth best, but his threat is the pressure that he builds up from one end. The unorthodox-looking right-arm quick’s eco­nomy is 3.65 – the best out of anyone who’s played more than one match.

The final step for team India is to put all the pieces that have fallen neatly together on show on the biggest stage, the semifinal and final, and repeat the exploits they achieved at the last Cricket World Cup they hosted in 2011 – lift the trophy in front of a packed home crowd.

“The upcoming knockout stage will be very important,” Jadeja said.

“The way the team’s momentum is right now, with batting, bowling, in every department, we are clicking as a team. So, we will continue and try to make it the same in the semifinal and final.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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