T20 World Cup’s form batters Suryakumar Yadav and Virat Kohli stand between England and final

T20 World Cup’s form batters Suryakumar Yadav and Virat Kohli stand between England and final

And then there were four. The T20 World Cup’s ruthless Super 12 stage has chewed up and spat out the also-rans, among them the defending champions and hosts, to leave a quartet of contenders heading into this week’s semi-finals.

Pakistan are the unexpected survivors, spared by a sensational Netherlands upset of South Africa on Sunday, while New Zealand and England, the two most recent losing finalists, are a presence at the business end once again.

And then there’s India. England’s last-four opponents are the game’s great modern superpower and the modern format’s great underachievers, a nation almost single-handedly responsible for cricket’s multi-billion-dollar surge towards T20, but bafflingly without a title in this tournament since claiming the inaugural edition 15 years ago.

Things seemed perfectly set up for that drought to end in the United Arab Emirates last year, in conditions due to be both favourable and familiar after staging most of two Covid-bubble IPL seasons, but instead they provided the setting for a new low. A tentative brand of cricket and successive dismantlings at the hands of Pakistan and New Zealand had Virat Kohli’s side all-but out of the tournament after two games. Kohli - as had already been planned - stepped down, his tenure as captain ending without a global title in any format, and India went home humiliated.

Why the struggle? There is pressure that comes with favouritism wherever you come from but it is turbocharged if you happen to be carrying the hopes of more than a billion people representing India at a World Cup, a burden perhaps only comparable to wearing a Brazil shirt at football’s equivalent. Exploiting a limitless talent pool is clearly no mean feat either, with balance tough to strike and every selection a potential firestorm, each decision political. After all, you can only pick eleven.

It is that level of competition that partly explains why a talent like Suryakumar Yadav is only now, at the age of 32, coming to the fore in the international arena. Suryakumar only debuted in March last year but has been the world’s best batter for much of the period since and has formally surpassed Mohammad Rizwan at the top of the ICC rankings during a World Cup campaign that has so far brought 225 runs at a ridiculous strike rate of 193.96 in a role where consistency is supposed to be hard to come by. Right now, there is simply nowhere, no way to bowl to him.

Having handed the captaincy on to serial franchise winner and shrewd tactician Rohit Sharma, Kohli’s return to form with the bat has made him the spiritual leader of this team once more, the tournament’s leading runscorer (246 at an average of 123) and, whatever happens from here on in, surely already the owner of its defining innings in the sensational finish against Pakistan.

Batting firepower though, has never been a concern (utilising it is a different matter), nor the spin reserves, but Jasprit Bumrah’s injury made the seam attack appear an obvious weakness coming into this tournament. So far, though, Arshdeep Singh has filled the void magnificently, the 23-year-old left-armer leading the way with ten wickets, a gun at the death and enjoying swing-friendly conditions up top.

As a collective, India look just about the tournament’s form side, but go into the semi-finals all too aware just how fickle that mantle can be: South Africa, the only team to beat them so far, had a claim on it only days ago and are out already.