A place in the semifinals of the World Twenty20 will be on the line when hosts and pre-tournament favorites India take on 50-over world champions Australia in the final match of Group 2 in Mohali. The scenario could not have been set up anymore tantalizingly. The two giants of world cricket sit level on four points and will now go head-to-head in a winner-take-all contest for the right to join New Zealand in the last four.
The two sides have enjoyed similar paths to this point. Both began with disappointing defeats to New Zealand to immediately put themselves in a hole, while they each recorded their most impressive performance of the competition against Pakistan. Against Bangladesh, while both secured victories, there were plenty of nerves involved.
That was particularly true for India. Needing to defeat Bangladesh on Wednesday to maintain a realistic chance of progress, India stood right on the precipice of disaster in front of their expectant public. Bangladesh needed just two wins from three balls for victory, but a combination of calamitous batting, fine death bowling from Hardik Pandya and supreme decision making under incredible pressure by captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni somehow rescued India in remarkable circumstances.
Still, the performance was a far cry from the team’s displays coming into the tournament. India had kick-started their preparations for the World T20 by sweeping Australia 3-0 in a series Down Under, before beating Sri Lanka and lifting the Asia Cup, all while losing just one match.
Virat Kohli was a key part of that strong form, and the batsman believes that they can take plenty of useful lessons from those recent wins over Australia.
“If you look at how we've played this season, that’s sort of the catalyst for our consistent performances in this Twenty20 season so far,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “So obviously we can focus on the positives things that we did there against Australia, but we cannot take anything for granted.
“It’s a virtual quarterfinal for us, we all know that, and it’s very important to stay in the moment, stay focused on what we have to do. Why we were able to beat them in Australia is important to remember, it’s not so much that we beat them so we can go out there and do it again. If we play to our potential we have the ability to repeat that, but to play to your potential you have to focus on why that happened.”
Kohli can also call upon memories of triumphing over Australia in similar circumstances. He was part of the team that defeated Australia in the quarterfinals en route to victory at the 2011 50-over World Cup, also played in India.
It was Australia who triumphed in the semifinal stage last year, and the feeling within the Australia camp is that they are now coming into form in cricket’s shortest format. Unlike India, which has retained the same lineup from the tour of Australia and throughout the World T20, Australia have chopped and changed significantly.
Following much debate about the makeup of a struggling batting order through the first two games, significant alterations were made for the close to must-win match with Pakistan, also in Mohali, on Friday. Aaron Finch returned to open the batting, with another opener, David Warner, moving up a place to No. 3.
It was the middle-order, and particularly captain Steve Smith and veteran all-rounder Shane Watson, who proved pivotal in Australia’s eventually comfortable 21-run win. And Watson, who could be playing his final game for his country after announcing in recent days that he will retire from international cricket following the tournament, believes Australia will pose a very different test for India on Sunday than when the teams last faced off.
“We've got a very different team from those games we played,” he said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “We went through quite a few players throughout those three games so now we've been a bit more settled any way as a unit. That's a great starting point for us compared with India, who have been just about the same team all the way through.”
Match time: 10 a.m. EDT
TV channel: Willow TV