What are India's chances at the T20 World Cup?
“Sometimes life brings you full circle to a place you have been before just to show you how much you have grown.”
As Misbah-ul-Haq’s fatal scoop off Joginder Sharma found its way into the safe hands of Sreesanth, way back in 2007, little would a cricket fan have realized that it was just the heralding of a new era in Indian sports- the era of Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
A journey from a ticket collector to India’s most successful captain, at least in limited overs cricket, has been defined by a careless nonchalance for the conventions of the game, whereby he fearlessly paved a path to scale all summits.
The unbridled joy received as the Men in Blue stamped their authority under the reigns of Dhoni ensured that the man from Ranchi soon became the cynosure of all eyes in this cricket-obsessed nation.
But as is the cruel dictate of life, a pale of gloom soon overshadowed team India’s accomplishments, both at home and away, as they sank from one defeat to another. The man who could have done no wrong suddenly finds himself in the midst of an inconsistent form, as cries for his retirement increase with each passing day.
Despite dispelling all such rumors, MSD would be aware that the upcoming T20 World Cup, to be held in the comforts of the familiar pitches at home, offers him and his team the ideal opportunity to clinch their fourth World Championship crown, across all formats.
Blessed with an in-form team, the possibility of the dangerous India lifting the title on 3rd April lurks large and it would not be disappointing to state that even finishing second best would be disappointing, to say the least.
Personally for Mahi, a tournament which started his captaincy career, catapulting him into the hearts of a billion overnight, offers him yet another chance to win over the fickle minded Indians, who have been quick to disregard his sacrifices. Life, then, awaits to come full circle for MS Dhoni.
Can India actually go all the way?
Let us be realistic and focus on India’s strengths and weaknesses, instead of pondering over the threat presented by the other oppositions. On paper, the Indian team in itself looks settled and balanced, with the first choice players in prime form and an equally strong bench strength to boast of.
Back in the confines of their backyard, India’s form leading into the event has been impressive, to say the least, with a series whitewash of Australia in their own den, followed by their T20 series win at home against the Sri Lankans.
The upcoming Asia Cup, to be played in the shortest format, allows the participating teams the opportunity to fine tune their basics before the tournament gets underway on 15th March.
Although the probable eleven that will take the field versus New Zealand looks settled, India have the license and the liberty to tinker with their squad of 15, providing invaluable match practice to all its members during the Asia Cup.
A settled opening pair to thwart the opposition
Alarm bells had started ringing for maverick Shikhar Dhawan after a rather inconsistent 2015, where the Delhiite managed 745 runs in 20 One Day Internationals at an average of 37.25.
Despite having Ajinkya Rahane in their ranks, the team management persisted with Dhawan in the series against Australia, where he lived up to the expectations, scoring 287 runs in the 5 ODI matches.
He followed up his good form into the T20I matches as well, scoring 179 runs in the 6 games against Australia and Sri Lanka, at a staggering Strike Rate of 163.6, including a 25 ball 51 in the T20 game at Ranchi.
Rohit Sharma, who continues to be in the form of his life following his maiden T20I century against the Proteas last year, complements the aggressive left-hander, by playing the role of a sheet anchor with ease, and gaining momentum as the innings progresses.
The duo notched up a blazing partnership of 75 in just 7 overs in Ranchi, the first instance of an opening partnership in excess of 70 for India since 2009. With specific roles assigned to the batsman, it becomes imperative that Dhawan works on his weakness against the off-spinners bowling around the wicket to give India the initial momentum.
Undoubtedly the world’s most consistent number 3 batsman, Virat Kohli has been in stellar form in 2016, scoring 7 half centuries in 8 innings in Australia, before being given a well-deserved break for the 3 T20I against Sri Lanka.
The true hallmark of a great player is his performance in team victories, and Kohli’s contribution in that regard can not be overlooked. In 21 T20I wins, Kohli has averaged 65.76 with 9 half centuries. In the 6 matches that India has won chasing, the batsman has averaged a whopping 90.80, with 5 half centuries.
His T20 average of 50.62 in 31 innings is the highest among all batsmen with a minimum of 1000 runs in this format. Kohli’s importance to the Indian side can be summed by the fact that India lose seventy percent of their games every time the Test captain scores less than 20.
Along with the form of Dhawan and Rohit, Kohli’s purple patch in the lead-up to the World Cup lends stability to the Indian batting order, allowing the likes of Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh to flourish later on.