Which side is your money on for the final – England or the West Indies? You have to be an inveterate gambler to bet on either; or a gambler who has stopped respecting his basic instinct. Both teams are so evenly balanced that picking one over the other is a cumbersome task.
Moreover, with his team out of the competition, there’s no emotional stake involved for the average Indian fan in this match. You can pick one team to root for just for the heck of it or maybe your fascination for one or more individual players in the side. But getting their money involved, well, not many would do that.
A lot has been said about both teams – one reinventing itself by discarding old world orthodoxy and the other realising its potential after drifting aimlessly for long; one abandoning the proverbial stiff upper lip to express itself and the other restraining exuberance to find a sense of purpose.
It has been an incredible journey for both to the final through spinning tracks, flat pitches and tough opponents. Neither was expected to be there at the top fighting out for the ICC World Twenty20 top honours. Neither was expected to decimate their much-fancied opponents with such clinical efficiency.
Yes, they are there because they are the best. Neither England nor West Indies have piggybacked on individual brilliance. Both have made relevant the concept of the ‘team’ which appeared redundant in T20 cricket.
India’s case proved that individual brilliance can only take you some distance, not the whole of it. South Africa’s failure revealed that a team game is much more than many players in terrific form; and Australia’s case was proof that reputation does not really matter on those 22 yards in the shortest format. New Zealand played the wholesome game all through, as good as England and West Indies, but there can be space for only two in the final.
No matter who finally carries the trophy home, this tournament has achieved something significant. It has rearranged the pecking order in world T20 cricket. The top three select themselves, the rest have to prove themselves good enough in multi-nation tournaments. England, more than West Indies, would be the inspiration for turnaround efforts in several countries. The latter has a tradition of playing aggressive, entertaining cricket, the makeover in case of the former is more dramatic.
Coming back to who to cheer in the game, it’s a difficult choice indeed. The top order of both teams has been consistent as has been the bowling in death overs. Neither side relies heavily on a single player to provide the fire-power, and explosive batting runs deep in both. Chris Gayle failing to come up with something spectacular would not dampen the tempo of the game for the West Indies nor would the event of Joe Root’s getting out cheap for England. Both sides have ammunition in terms of batsmen who have not been got the chance to explode yet.
In terms of all-rounders there’s difficult to find a mismatch, although those of the West Indies, including Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell and several part-timers such as Gayle appear more formidable than the Ben Stokes and Chris Jordan, who have not made the big impact expected of them. Ben Stokes has been touted as the next big thing in English cricket after Ian Botham as an all-rounder. Perhaps the final will be occasion for him to live up to that reputation.
It is quite possible that the fate of the game would be decided by the bowling attack on both sides. Both have proved good at putting batsmen on a leash even on batting wickets. It may sound a bit odd, the credit for keeping India restricted to 192, a fairly achievable target at Wankhede, goes to the West Indian bowlers.
Now keep your fingers crossed for the big event. And put the money back in your pocket.