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T20 World Cup: India look to bring giantkillers USA down to earth

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Irrespective of how things unfold going forward in this T20 World Cup, the United States have already scripted one of the stories of the tournament, after the co-hosts with West Indies shocked Pakistan after a Super Over in Dallas last Thursday.

India’s Jasprit Bumrah celebrates with teammate Rohit Sharma after Pakistan’s Azam Khan was dismissed during the ICC men’s Twenty20 World Cup 2024 group A cricket match between India and Pakistan(AFP)

In the few days that have passed since that miraculous afternoon at the Grand Prairie Stadium, this motley bunch, mostly comprising expatriates from India, Pakistan, New Zealand, South Africa and Barbados, has piqued curiosity and engaged in a flurry of media activity. Understandably so; this is a potentially life-altering moment not just for these players, but for cricket itself as it tries to penetrate the American market.

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Another opportunity to break new ground awaits when they take on India in Long Island, New York, on Wednesday. This will be a far stiffer challenge and possibly beyond these players, but what is the harm in hoping for another miracle?

If there is a possibility of a tight contest between USA and India in this Group A fixture, it’s because the drop-in surfaces at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium have been antithetical to quintessential T20 cricket. The pitches across all six games (before Canada vs Pakistan) at this venue have been either slow and sluggish or very unpredictable due to variable bounce, deterring batters from shining through with fours and sixes. In a format where the gulf between teams is anyway narrower than in ODIs and Tests, such tracks bridge that gap even further.

It doesn’t mean that India won’t start as runaway favourites. Since that shock group stage defeat to Bangladesh in the 2007 ODI World Cup in the Caribbean, India have steered clear of complacency at major events, brushing aside weaker opponents. That is the mindset they will carry into this game too.

Helped by the surfaces India have played on, their bowlers have been impeccable. Led by the peerless Jasprit Bumrah, who bagged the Player-of-the-Match award in both games, they bowled out Ireland for 96 before successfully defending 119 versus Pakistan. The batting unit has been restricted by the unfriendly nature of tracks alright, but a big positive is the form of Rishabh Pant.

Back for India after more than 15 months on the sidelines due to a horrific road accident, Pant built up nicely on his IPL return with Delhi Capitals. Promoted to No.3 for this campaign, Pant used the warm-up game against Bangladesh to bed in seamlessly into his role, scoring a 32-ball 53 before retiring out. The two official games have seen Pant continue to excel. While a straightforward chase against Ireland saw him play a breezy cameo and finish proceedings with a reverse lap for six, he was the driving force behind India even making 119 against the Shaheen Afridi-led attack.

By taking just 31 balls to score 42, Pant played a big role in India reaching 81/3 after 10 overs. It’s another matter that India collapsed and lost their last seven wickets for 30 runs, but Pant’s aggression in those early overs will be reassuring to the batting group on Wednesday.

Beyond the winning team confirming its qualification for the Super Eight stage, an interesting subplot to this contest is the presence of eight Indian-origin players in the US squad. Among them is left-arm pacer Saurabh Netravalkar, the star of the Super Over victory against Pakistan. Some of the Indian players, particularly those from Mumbai, will have a degree of familiarity with Netravalkar.

Much before beginning to work as a software engineer at Oracle in San Francisco, Netravalkar was the leading wicket-taker for India in the 2010 U-19 World Cup in New Zealand. He also made his lone Ranji Trophy appearance for Mumbai against Karnataka in 2013, in a match featuring Suryakumar Yadav in his team and KL Rahul in the opposition. But as has been well documented, Netravalkar, aware of the competition for places in India, decided to accept a scholarship from Cornell University in 2015 for a master’s degree in Computer Science. Cricket seemed to have passed him by until an opportunity to play for the US renewed his interest in the game.

In Harmeet Singh and Milind Kumar, former Mumbai left-arm spinner and Delhi batter respectively, there are others as well in this US set-up who have had a tryst with India’s domestic circuit. The skipper, Monank Patel, was a part of the age-group system in Gujarat before migrating and settling in New Jersey.

For these players, the challenge of not getting caught up in emotions on Wednesday is significant. After all, they wouldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams that they would be running into India in a World Cup match. Just like they would have never envisaged beating Pakistan in a World Cup match.

Stay updated with the latest cricket news, T20 World Cup 2024 updates and match highlights. Explore the World Cup Schedule 2024, PAK vs CAN Live Score track the World Cup Points Table, follow Virat Kohli’s performance, and stay ahead with the stats on World Cup Most Wickets and World Cup Most Runs on the Hindustan Times website and app.

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