T20 World Cup: India takes on Zimbabwe in banana peel match before clinching semi-final berth

Despite being on the cusp of a semi-final spot, the Indian team’s campaign in the T20 World Cup has been anything but easy. They have won three of their four games so far, but could have easily lost two. On the other hand, they almost managed to defend a modest score against South Africa in Perth. It certainly hasn’t been easy for Rohit Sharma & Co Down Under.

Their path has so far not been dominant, but full clean-shaven. India’s final league game against Zimbabwe on Sunday gives them the opportunity to tick all the boxes for a potential semi-final. A convincing win will boost the team’s confidence in the belief that all engines are running smoothly.

On Saturday, the Indian team had a light practice session at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Medium pacers Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Arshdeep Singh decided to rest while the leading hitter hit the net. Hardik Pandya and Virat Kohli continued to beat each other as some fans sang birthday songs for the former India captain, who turned 34 on Saturday.

Adelaide

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If recent trends are anything to go by, then the Indian team shouldn’t change the playing XI too much. The think tank has supported players even in their low stages. In the nets, Harshal Patel and Yuzuvendra Chahal had a long run with the bat and later with the ball. It will be interesting to see if Patel and Chahal get a match on Sunday, especially the leg spinner who has been warming the bench throughout the tournament. In a large area like the MCG he could come in handy.

Off spinner Ravichandran Ashwin believes it has been a unique World Cup for the Indian side so far. They have played most of their cricket in Australia over the summer and this is their first time in action over the winter. Ashwin joked that he thought his entire stash of sunscreen would be used, but it wasn’t necessary.

“If you play a test match, you can warm up all day or get better, but if you play T20 cricket in this weather, not to know what the surface will be like, how it will react, what the weather is like, it’s coming to Australia was a new experience,” says Ashwin.

As for their final league game, the Indian team will probably not treat Zimbabwe like minnows. The African team upset Pakistan in a thrilling match in Perth and nearly cut it across Bangladesh in Brisbane. Sharma’s team needs a win to secure a final four berth and is eager to do a professional job.

“Good teams will be clinical and put the pressure on those days, and it’s a game you have to win. We know that. As with any other match in this T20 World Cup, it’s a meeting you have to win,” Ashwin said.

“So we’re looking forward to the game. Zimbabwe has played great cricket, so we can’t go in and expect them to crumble. They bowled well and batted well, so we expect that too.”

Focus on Sharma

While all is looking good, the Indian team is hoping for their captain to get some big runs against Zimbabwe. Sharma scored 53 against the Netherlands but his scores from the other three games were 4, 15 and 2. Sharma’s return to form will be a morale booster, especially as India needs their top order in top condition to reach the knockout stages of the tournament.

Sharma hasn’t had a hard time. He hit the sweet spot in the nets, but somehow in the middle he failed to get the team off to a smooth start. The team management would have been very relieved after Sharma’s opening partner KL Rahul struck against Bangladesh for half a century. With Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav looking flawless and Pandya expecting to improve his game in the crunch matches, the team has a stable middle class.

In terms of bowling, Bhuvneshwar and Arshdeep have been a reliable combination of new balls, while Shami poses a powerful threat as the first-change bowler. Pandya’s evolution as a bowler has added a new dimension to Indian attack.

The relentless schedule, constant traveling and adjusting to different time zones often takes a toll on players as they barely get time to relax and recover. Team management will be wary of this threat going into the business end of the tournament.

As far as the Zimbabweans are concerned, the Zimbabweans will go into Sunday’s game with an open mind. Their skipper Craig Ervine said the team has not even made any special plans to counteract the threat Kohli poses.

“I don’t think we have any plans against Virat. I think he’s just too good a player. But look, I think for a lot of the guys you can dissect so many different theories, and at the end of the day, when you come out and hit a good area, you use changes, all that sort of thing, I don’t think special plans really work for these guys because they can adapt so well to different circumstances and different situations,” Ervine opined.

In addition to the 11 Indians on the field, the brave Zimbabweans – who themselves hoped to reach the semi-finals after beating Pakistan – will also face the majority of the 100,000 spectators expected in the massive MCG supporting the Indians.

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