Mumbai: Virat Kohli’s sublime form will be up against the brute force of Chris Gayle when title contenders India clash against a flamboyant West Indies in what promises to be a battle of nerves in the second semifinal match of the ICC World Twenty20 here on Thursday.
The no-holds barred battle between the 2007 champions India and the 2012 title-winners West Indies is expected to ultimately be decided by the ability of the players to handle the pressure in front of a full house at a venue where the hosts captured their second ODI World Cup crown almost five years ago.
Both teams go into the clash after getting beaten once each in the Super 10 stage and as such the team that grabs its chances is expected to come out triumphant.
The head-to-head record between the two rivals in past World Twenty20s is 2-1 in favour of the West Indies.
However, India, with a strong team on paper, seem to have the edge although quite a few players have not lived up to the expectations.
But the crowd favourites would be wary of being upstaged by the Caribbeans, who have quite a few match-winners of their own.
Kohli has been the biggest galvanising factor in India’s progress this far. With his consistently excellent display in an otherwise misfiring top-order, he is the batsman that Windies will be wary of the most, apart from ever-reliable skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
India suffered a shock opening game defeat at Nagpur against New Zealand but then picked up pace to get the better of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Australia to be one victory away from entering their third summit clash in six editions.
Windies, powered by Gayle force, ensured their entry into the last four with creditable victories over England, South Africa and Sri Lanka before coming a cropper against minnows Afghanistan in their previous game.
The Caribbean charmers would be hoping to put the shock loss against Afghanistan behind them.
The home team, on the other hand, will be hoping that Kohli’s brilliant run, which included a master-class of 82 not out against Australia in the do-or-die game, continues unabated.
They would also be eager to see that the under-performing opening duo of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan — who are averaging around 10 after four games — come good at a venue considered ideal for stroke-making.
Also under the pump has been Suresh Raina at no. 4 while Yuvraj Singh, who has not got big runs but has been involved in crucial stands with Kohli, remains in doubt with the ankle injury that he sustained in the Mohali game when batting.
The home team has kept Manish Pandey, not in the 15 named for the squad, on standby in case Yuvraj needs to be replaced in the squad although Ajinkya Rahane is also present as part of the original squad.
It’s imperative for India’s chances against the varied attack of the Windies, in which leg-spinner Samuel Badree has emerged as the highest wicket-taker, that the top order fires in unison and does not depend only on the brilliance of Kohli to lead the way.
One of the key battles to watch out for will be Ravichandran Ashwin against the left-handed Gayle who lit up this venue with 11 towering sixes in the game against England in which the Windies chased a 180-plus total successfully by riding on the Jamaican’s swashbuckling 100 not out.
Ashwin has had a fair measure of success too, claiming Gayle four times out of nine in T20 Internationals, but the world stage is a different proposition altogether.
Including Ashwin, India has a settled bowling combination at its command with senior pro Ashish Nehra leading the seam attack.
Spin, in the form of Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, has been another important cog in the Indian success wheel and the hosts would be hoping it continues to be the case.
West Indies had also been plagued by injuries and were forced to replace batsman Andre Fletcher with Lendl Simmons. Simmons has the experience of playing at the Wankhede with a fair amount of success too, as he was part of last year’s IPL champions Mumbai Indians’ campaign.
Simmons, who was named in the original squad before picking up an injury and dropping out, now needs to adapt quickly to the challenge and the conditions.
The Caribbean batting has been led by Gayle and Fletcher and the latter’s injury-forced absence has made the side that much more vulnerable. The team will be looking towards someone like Marlon Samuels to step up his game for the occasion.
In bowling, Badree, Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell have been the more successful ones in terms of wickets taken.
The pitch has produced three high-scoring games so far with South Africa, already eliminated, notching up back to back 200-plus totals.
But indications are that the track for tomorrow’s high-pressure game would not be as good for batting as the previous ones.
It’s expected to be a tad slow, which should help India more than the Windies.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Ashish Nehra, Harbhajan Singh, Pawan Negi, Ajinkya Rahane, Mohammed Shami.
West Indies: Darren Sammy (Captain), Samuel Badree, Sulieman Benn, Carlos Brathwaite, Dwayne Bravo, Johnson Charles, Lendl Simmons, Chris Gayle, Jason Holder, Evin Lewis, Ashley Nurse, Denesh Ramdin, Andre Russell, Marlon Samuels, Jerome Taylor.
Match to start at 7.00 PM.