The West Indies are aiming to thrive in the underdog role when they take on hosts and tournament favorites India for the right to meet England in the final of cricket’s World Twenty20. In front of their own fans at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Thursday, all the pressure will be on India to deliver, but the West Indies will be out to spoil the party.
Champions in 2012, little was spoken of the West Indies’ chances heading into the competition this time around. There was good reason for that, too. The latest in a long line of contract disputes with their association’s cricket board hardly helped preparations, neither did not playing a single Twenty20 international this year in the buildup to the tournament.
But the West Indies’ veteran group of players, many of whom now only play in T20 cricket, rather than the longer forms of the game, exceeded expectations in topping Group 1. To do so, they recorded impressive wins over England, Sri Lanka and South Africa before they provided a reminder of their unpredictability with a defeat against Afghanistan. Still, captain Darren Sammy insists they are not done yet and will be out to prove a point in the semifinals.
"The issues before the tournament, the lack of respect for our T20 team... a lot has been said about this team and we as a group that brought us closer together," he said on the eve of the match with India, reports Reuters.
"We saw a lot was against us... we think it's us against the world. It's only us in our own little circle and that's the way we have gone out and played. Tomorrow is no bigger day to express that.
"The guys who predict the results and stuff I think say it's 80:20 in favor of India. So it feels like David versus Goliath but people tend to forget David won the fight."
The West Indies’ chief weapon is unquestionably opening batsman Chris Gayle. The 36-year-old has embodied the explosiveness of the Twenty20 format, a fact he reinforced by firing a stunning 47-ball century—the third fastest in T20 international history—in the West Indies’ opening match of the competition against England.
He should be well rested for the semifinals, having only played one innings since that century because of a hamstring injury. And he also knows plenty about the conditions. Gayle has been a fixture in the Indian Premier League (IPL) for several years, and has enjoyed plenty of support from the Indian public during this World T20.
On Thursday, though, Gayle will be the biggest threat to India’s hopes of landing the title on home soil. The fact that India are still alive in the competition has owed much to Gayle’s captain at IPL side Royal Challengers Bangalore for the past four seasons, Virat Kohli. India’s star batsman struck a superb 82 off 51 deliveries in a winner-take-all clash with Australia on Sunday to reach the semifinals.
Having lost their opening match to New Zealand, the win over Australia was India’s third consecutive victory in a high-pressure must-win encounter, following on from victory over Pakistan and an improbable fight back against Bangladesh. While they have started the competition slowly, iIndia are now within two wins of equaling their success in 2011, when lifting the 50-over World Cup in front of a jubilant home support.
"We've played good cricket overall and to be coming here and playing in front of my home crowd will be excellent, we're looking forward to it,” India and Mumbai batsman Rohit Sharma told the International Cricket Council website ahead of the semifinal. I'm sure it's just going to be what people of India will be expecting us to do.
"People follow the sport like crazy. They want their team to win, they want to come out and support all the way no matter what happens out on the field, which is good to see. All the venues we've played at we've got tremendous support. It's our responsibility to [win] for them and make them happy."
India haven’t made any changes to their lineup through the competition so far, but will have to do so in the semifinal, with Yuvraj Singh ruled out with an ankle injury suffered against Australia. Manish Pandey has been called into the squad as a replacement and will now battle with Pawan Negi and Ajinkya Rahane for a spot in the middle order.
The West Indies will also be forced into a change, with Andre Fletcher sidelined with a hamstring injury. Lendl Simmons is likely to be his replacement.
Match time: 9:30 a.m. EDT
TV channel: Willow TV (USA), Star Sports 1 (India), ESPN (Caribbean)