Fans pray for India's elusive world cricket trophy

A kitemaker displays his kites decorated with pictures of Indian and South African cricket players in Amritsar on June 28, 2024, on the eve of the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024 final cricket match between India and South Africa.AFP

Cricket fans across India were praying, fasting and holding fire rituals for their team to end a global title drought in the T20 World Cup final Saturday.

Rohit Sharma's India face South Africa in a blockbuster climax in Barbados with both teams unbeaten in the ninth edition of the tournament.

India last tasted success in a world-level tournament in the 2013 Champions Trophy and have since faltered in the knockout stages of ICC events, despite being ranked number one in both T20s and one-day internationals, and number two in Tests.

Rohit and team came agonisingly close to winning the ODI World Cup at home last year, but lost to Australia in the final at the world's biggest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad.

News channels repeatedly showed images Saturday of fans holding Hindu fire rituals to urge the gods to take the team to victory over South Africa, who will be playing their first-ever World Cup men's final.

Some featured pictures bedecked with flower garlands of captain Rohit, who has hit three half-centuries in the tournament, holding the World Cup trophy.

India knocked out defending champions England in the semi-final in Guyana and a triumph would be a fitting finale for outgoing coach Rahul Dravid.

Axar Patel (L) of India celebrates the dismissal of Jonny Bairstow of England during the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024 semi-final cricket match between India and England at Providence Stadium in Georgetown, Guyana, on June 27, 2024.

"With a quiet prayer on my lips, I hope the team wins it for Rahul Dravid," Saad Majeed, an ardent fan wearing an Indian jersey, told AFP.

"Rohit is in top form and I am sure a final flourish from him would drive the team home to a memorable win, which will help us forget the previous heartaches."

Sumit Dagar, another fan, said in Delhi: "I will be fasting since morning and will eat only when India will win against South Africa today. There is no chance they will lose."

'Full circle'

Former India captain Sourav Ganguly told reporters on Friday: "I am very happy for Rohit Sharma.

"Life comes a full circle. Six months ago he was not even the captain of Mumbai Indians and the same man is now leading India to a World Cup final, unbeaten," he said, referencing an Indian Premier League team.

Star batsman Virat Kohli partnered Rohit at the top of the order but has failed to fire, scoring just 75 runs in seven matches.

But Ganguly, a former president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, backed the struggling star to come good in the final.

"He is a once in a lifetime player," said Ganguly. "He is human, he will have three or four bad games, but I have got my fingers crossed for him in the final."

The tournament could be the last World Cup for both openers, with Kohli aged 35, Rohit two years older, and the next edition of T20's showpiece only in 2026.

Rohit was part of India's T20 World Cup triumph in the inaugural edition in 2007, while Kohli won the ODI prize under M.S. Dhoni in 2011.

That was India's last World Cup triumph, when Dhoni lifted the trophy at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium and the country erupted in joy.

Two years later, Dhoni's team beat hosts England in the 50-over Champions Trophy final but fans have now been waiting for 13 years for another major title.

India lost in the semi-finals of the 2019 ODI World Cup and the 2022 T20 World Cup, before last year's ODI final defeat again left fans heartbroken.