JUSTIN LANGER: Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah lead India against Kagiso Rabada’s South Africa

Justin Langer
The Nightly
The Australian batsman walked off unaware if he would ever play again.

World Cup finals are hard to make; they are even harder to win.

The pressure within the South African and Indian camps will be so intense that it will be the team who can cope with the burdens of expectation — and hope — that will come up trumps on Saturday night.

India is a country of 1.4 billion cricket-loving people. The pressure for success is overwhelmingly tangible. Having just experienced the Indian Premier League for the first time as a coach, you could see, and feel, just how suffocating this tension can be if it is not managed well.

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Even battle-hardened superstars in Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah and Co. will be scarred by their losses in the last two ICC world events — the World Test Championship and the ODI World Cup on home turf.

The only way to rub ointment on those scars is to go one step further as champions, not finalists. Their hero-worshipping fans will accept nothing less.

Admittedly, India lost those last two finals to Australia who are used to winning big events (and who will be bitterly disappointed with their last two games in this campaign), but the Indians will still know the blow torch will feel like an erupting volcano if they lose to the Proteas.

India will be buoyed that they helped knock Australia out of the tournament and Aussie fans can take solace the Indians also eliminated the Poms with ease in the semifinal overnight.

Their opponent, on the other hand, must contend with the unflattering and humiliating tag of choking in the big games.

It has been more tha 30 years since South Africa have been in a World Cup final and until they taste real success, they will continue to be subjected to these taunts from their critics.

They will argue that history doesn’t affect this specific group, but when you’ve grown up hearing these descriptions of the country you so proudly represent, you can’t help but take it to heart.

A massive trap for South Africa will be succumbing to the relief that they’ve taken that extra step of making a final after so long.

That can’t creep even into their subconscious. They will need to be entirely focused on winning now that they have made it. If they’re not, India will win. The Indian team is too talented and experienced not to.

If they are though, South Africa will give India a run for their money. They too, are a talented group in all departments, but believing they can win will be as challenging as strategising and playing against this crazily talented and evenly balanced Indian XI.

The most disappointing aspect of this T20 World Cup in the West Indies and the USA has been the standard of pitches so many games have been played upon.

In contrast to the last IPL where record breaking scores kept the crowds mesmerized, this tournament has been marred by scores between 50-100.

With two teams desperate, for their own reasons, to lift the trophy, let’s hope they are able play on a surface in Barbados which promotes great cricket, and where the mentally strongest and most talented team can claim the title of T20 World Champions for 2024.

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The front page of The Nightly for 12-07-2024

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