Thursday, June 20, 2024

Co-hosts USA face T20 World Cup litmus test against India

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Normally, an India v USA contest would not elicit a lot of interest but given what has happened so far at the T20 World Cup, Wednesday’s match between the two sides has become a must-watch.

The co-hosts and India are unbeaten so far in the tournament, with two wins out of two.

One of the wins for USA was by Super Over against Pakistan in Dallas. That result sent the tournament in a whole new direction as 2022 finalists Pakistan now face the possibility of an exit in the first round.

On Wednesday, if the hosts manage to tame India the way they did Pakistan – which they seem more than equipped to do – then it will prove beyond doubt that the USA are a serious threat in T20 cricket, and that Associate nations deserve a seat at the table at World Cups.

That would be a remarkable achievement because the USA are a group of mostly part-time cricketers. For them to even be in a position to consistently challenge established sides with vast resources at their disposal shows how far the game has come and what a great leveller the T20 format can be.

It will be an emotional outing for local fast bowler Saurabh Netravalkar. The left-arm seamer, who was the hero for USA against Pakistan as he kept his cool in the Super Over to script one of the biggest upsets in T20 cricket was a first-class cricketer in Mumbai and even represented India at the 2010 U19 World Cup, where he featured alongside KL Rahul.

But with limited opportunities at senior level, he decided to pursue his studies in computer engineering, moved to the US and is now working at Oracle, playing cricket in between his busy schedule.

There are other players of Indian descent in the USA team, and they will be highly motivated to give it their all against their country of origin.

What can work in the home team’s favour is the pitch in New York that will host the match. The surface at the Nassau County stadium has been a nightmare for batting, with teams struggling to cross 100 batting first or second.

What started as a borderline dangerous pitch with extreme variable bounce has turned into a low and slow surface that has kept the bowlers interested for 40 overs, resulting in some thrilling contests.

After India’s bowlers successfully defended a target of 120 against Pakistan on Sunday, the Proteas did one better by defending 114 against Bangladesh in the Big Apple.

Key players

For the home team, captain Monank Patel and Aaron Jones form the backbone of their batting. They will face their toughest challenge yet against India’s top-class bowling on a difficult pitch.

The USA, however, have the bowling to make life difficult for the Indians. Left-arm seamer Netravalkar, spinner Nosthush Kenjige and pacer Ali Khan are all in form and will fancy their chances on a pitch that has reduced the gap between teams because of its unpredictable nature.

The Indians, strangely, have more experience of playing in the purpose-built New York venue than their opponents. India played their warm-up match and opening two clashes at the same ground, meaning they know the conditions inside out by now.

Conservative batting and a score of 120 or more seem more than enough for victory in New York and both sides will be eager to eke out a win that will take one of them to three wins out of three and on the brink of qualification for the Super Eight stage.

The weather is unlikely to affect Wednesday’s match in the way it did during the India-Pakistan game.

Updated: June 11, 2024, 10:55 AM

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