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MARCHING IN TANDEM Team India looks Peerless as they take on SA

The cricketing fraternity is running out of superlatives to describe the Indian team’s remarkable performances in ICC World Cup 2023. Though batsmen have received lavish praises most often, this time Indian bowlers too have been exceptional. Their fearsome hunting as a pack has put India into the semifinals without a single defeat and in the last match too, they enabled Team India to crush Sri Lanka by a massive 302 runs.

As India heads to Eden Gardens in Kolkata for its encounter with an in-form South African team, it is heartening to note the aggression of Indian fast bowlers. Their control over swing and seam is like poetry in motion, dictating the ball as per their whims. Excelling with each passing match and topping their previous performances one after the other, the trio of Bumrah, Siraj and Shami have been brutal especially in the last two matches. Bundling out England and Lanka for paltry 129 and 55 respectively, Indian spearheads have sent a deadly signal to the rest of the teams!

So severe was the thrashing to Sri Lanka that it seemed like a repeat of the Asia Cup final when India had bowled them out for 50 runs! Sri Lankan captain Kusal Mendis’ decision to bowl first took most experts by surprise as the conditions were suited to bat first. His decision seemed justified as Dilshan Madhushaka removed Indian captain Rohit Sharma off just the second ball of the innings with a beautiful out swinger. Both Kohli and Shubman Gill found the going tough in the first 5-6 overs but once they settled down, owing to a few missed chances in the field by the Lankan fielders, runs came freely.

It was yet another evening when fans expected a record equalling century from Kohli but it wasn’t to be so. He fell just 12 runs short of the landmark but along with Gill, who also missed his century falling for 92, laid a solid foundation for a massive score. It was also a moment of reckoning for Shreyas who has been under scrutiny for getting out to short pitch bowling but he let his bat do the talking by hitting a 56 ball 82 that was studded with 6 humongous sixes. India’s 357 looked like a mountain to climb for the Lankans against Indian bowlers.

The very first ball by Bumrah scalped Pathum Nissanka and it was a sorry tale for the Sri Lankan batsmen thereafter. They were reduced to 4 wickets of just 3 runs, raising the ghosts of their Asia Cup final massacre! This performance was no different as Indian seamers reduced them to 8 for 29, and ultimately bowled them out for 55. Siraj was back to his best after a couple of off-colour performances. He picked up 3 wickets before Shami came in to bag another 5-wicket haul, his second in this World Cup. In the process, Shami also became India’s leading wicket taker in ODI World Cups with 45 wickets in 14 matches.

At the moment, India is ticking all boxes, whether batting, bowling or fielding but would like a tougher challenge to prepare for the knockouts. South Africa might just present it to them since their batsmen are leading run scorers in the tournament and in phenomenal hitting form. As a team, SA has surpassed the 350 plus score 4 times, becoming the first team to do so in a single edition.

The South African batting has been led by Quinton de Kock as the top run scorer with 545 runs and 4 centuries. His calmness is the right mix to go with the aggressive hitting by Aiden Markram, Heinrich Klaasen and David Miller. Together they have been the tequila that has intoxicated all top teams till now. But it is worth to remember that they were bamboozled by Netherlands and this blip exposes the chinks in their armour.

The Proteas need to be wary of the Indian bowling line up as Shami has brought an edge to the Indian attack. It just seems like the cricketing Gods have finally showered their blessings on him since being kept out of Playing XI in the first few matches appears to have given him greater motivation to do well. Proteas will have to deal with him after the opening burst of Bumrah and Siraj and that is a tall order in itself! Fans at the Eden Gardens will be treated to a match between the best batting and bowling lineups against each other, but there is no doubt that they would be vociferously cheering for the Men in Blue to continue their winning momentum!

THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR ARE PERSONAL

Siddhaarth Mahan The writer is a specialist on Sports and Cinema who works as an actor in the Hindi film industry

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