It has been a T20 World Cup of upsets. Zimbabwe registered a win over Pakistan, and the Netherlands knocked South Africa out of the tournament. The rains washed out a few crucial games that proved costly for defending champion Australia as they fell short of New Zealand and England in the net run rate calculations.
Amid the sound and fury, India remained unscathed as they lost only to South Africa in the Super 12 stage and will now face England in the semi-final in Adelaide on Thursday, 10 November.
Rohit Sharma's side is now a favourite to win the trophy. Despite being strong on paper, India missed out on the knockout berth last year and did not qualify for the Asia Cup 2022 final either. They will be keen to scale up Down Under.
The loose ends seem to have tightened with KL Rahul's return to form, Suryakumar Yadav's manufactured 360-degree shots, Ravichandran Ashwin being among the wickets (3/22 versus Zimbabwe) and Hardik Pandya's consistent delivery with the ball (eight wickets in five outings). There is, of course, left-arm pacer Arshdeep Singh who made the new ball talk throughout the league stage to claim 10 wickets.
The Return of KL Rahul
Rahul failed against Pakistan, Netherlands and South Africa — with scores of 4,9,9 — but changed gears from the game against Bangladesh with a 32-ball 50. The right-hander followed it up with a 35-ball 51 versus Zimbabwe.
The Indian opener got dismissed cheaply in the first three games. Naseem Shah cleaned him up in Melbourne, Dutch seamer Paul Adriaan van Meekeren trapped the batter LBW in Sydney, while Lungi Ngidi stole a nick off his bat that went to Aiden Markram at the slips in Perth.
The stylish batter took his time against Bangladesh and unleashed his brutal side on young pacer Shoriful Islam. His knock included three fours and four sixes.
Rahul looked more in control against Zimbabwe as he started hammering from the second over. The twin fifties will give him confidence in the knockouts. "I was confident coming into the tournament. I had a few good knocks in the warm-up games. I was hitting the ball well. So I didn't start doubting myself after I didn't perform in the first three games. It's T20 cricket, and you have to take chances early on. Once you get a good start, it's important to make it count," he told the broadcasters during the mid-innings break.
While fielding in the rain-truncated match against Bangladesh, Rahul''s long-range direct hit dismissed Litton Das, who threatened to walk away with the game.
SKY and His Range of Shots
Suryakumar Yadav, alias SKY, has taken his initials too seriously. His aerial shot-making is straight out of the AB de Villiers stylebook. The ball is barely on the ground when he is batting.
Yadav, who came up through the ranks for his IPL performances with Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians, is now a seasoned T20 batter with 12 T20I fifties in less than two years. He has the skills to execute the unorthodox scoop shots, plus he can pick a fast bowler's full-length delivery on the off and sweep it for a six.
He is already the No. 1 T20I batter in the latest ICC rankings, and the three fifties in the tournament, including the unbeaten 61 off 25 against Zimbabwe, augurs well for the Men in Blue.
The Importance of R Ashwin
Off-spinner R. Ashwin played in all five league games and kept the scoreboard tight except against the Proteas when David Miller sent him on a leather hunt.
Ashwin was wicketless against Pakistan (0/23) in his three overs. He returned 2/23 against the Netherlands, and an expensive 1/43 versus South Africa, before claiming 3/23 against Zimbabwe.
Though the spin-bowling all-rounder did not produce a mirror-cracking performance with the ball, he has stolen crucial moments, including the last-ball finish against Pakistan with the bat in the first game. Not to forget, Ashwin is a World Cup and a Champions Trophy winner.
The Hardik Pandya Show
India missed Pandya, the all-rounder, for the longest time. He played the last World Cup with an injury and could not bowl with full intensity.
Pandya made a strong comeback and led Gujarat Titans to their maiden IPL title in the first season. The 4/33 and 33-ball 51 against England in Southampton lifted his spirits.
And in the ongoing World Cup, he has delivered with bat and ball; Pandya's economy reads 7.46 after eight wickets in five games, which is lower than the usual 8.27. The seamer's best show came against arch-rivals Pakistan where he ended with 3/30.
England has delivered in bits and pieces in the tournament. Sam Curran (10 wickets in four outings) and Mark Wood (nine wickets in four outings) have been exceptional with the ball, but the batting department has lacked sting. Alex Hales is the top-scorer with 125 runs in four games.
India will be looking to reach the final, with Virat Kohli - the leading run-getter of the tournament with 246 runs in five games - showing the way.