World T20 Semifinal: India v/s West Indies – will Kohli’s methodical approach beat Gayle’s madness?

There’s been an underlying sense of order in whatever the Indian team has done lately in the shortest format of the game. Their build-up to the World T20, stability in team combination and refusal to panic after the opening defeat to New Zealand all provide credence to that.

Even on the eve of their semifinal against the West Indies here on Wednesday afternoon, everything in the team’s training session was systematic: batsmen having a knock in their batting order, pacers and spinners splitting themselves between the two nets to roll their arms over.

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The West Indians, on the other hand, believe in anything but being organised. Their practice session in the morning was a bit haphazard, players hitting the straps when they felt right, not necessarily in their batting slots. Their run-up to the tournament would’ve left many a West Indian legend pulling their hair off in anger.

This probably encapsulates the second semifinal at the Wankhede here on Thursday. It will be India’s stability against West Indies’ unpredictability. It will be India’s smartness against West Indies’ brute force. It will be India’s polishing skills against West Indies’ raw ability.

However, India and West Indies have had threads that have bound them in this event. Both teams entered the knockouts at the back of three victories and a rather surprising loss in their league encounters: India to New Zealand and West Indies to Afghanistan.

Both teams have a larger-than-life superstar who has won matches on his own in this tournament and will have his names written in bold in opposition team meetings. If Virat Kohli’s unbeaten half-centuries against Pakistan and Australia took India over the line, Chris Gayle set the Wankhede on fire with his brutal 100* against England in West Indies’ opening game.

Both teams lost a player to injury before the semifinal. But while the West Indies were quick to name local Mumbai Indians batsman Lendl Simmons as the man to take Andre Fletcher’s place in the playing XI, India kept the cards close their chest in revealing Yuvraj Singh’s replacement. Probably the only aspect in which the Windies can boast of more order than India.

Lastly, both teams comprise a bowling attack that has performed par excellence in this tournament. For India, Jasprit Bumrah has been the stand out, firing those yorkers as if it were a walk in the park. Ashish Nehra has shown what experience can add to a team, while Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have done what they do best: spin, choke, dismiss.

The West Indians have two quality tweakers as well, with leggie Samuel Badree — the current No. 1 T20 bowler — and lanky left-arm orthodox Sulieman Benn really turning it on (pun intended). Their all-rounders Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell have given crucial breakthroughs, so much so that captain Darren Sammy has under-bowled himself.

It’s this final factor that could prove decisive during the course of Thursday’s game. The previous time the Men in Blue played an international match on this venue, the Indian bowlers were given the smacking of their lives by the unrelenting South Africans, who notched up a mammoth 438/4 in an ODI. The pitch for this semifinal might not be as flat, but batsmen will certainly call the shots.

However, the Indian team management is confident that this new-look bowling unit will continue its commendable work even on the Wankhede wicket.

“I see no reason why they can’t,” team director Ravi Shastri said on Wednesday. “This has always been a good surface, but it’s about repeating what they have been doing, and keeping things simple.”

Keeping things simple is something the West Indians love doing on the field, notwithstanding their complexities off it. They’ll never break their heads over anything, even if according to their own assessment, the odds are stacked against them.

“I think it’s 80-20 to India,” Sammy said. “So it feels like David vs Goliath, but people tend to forget David won the fight.”