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ICC World T20 Contenders – Part 4: The Men in Blue

At the time of writing this, India have lost a warm up game to Pakistan when they really shouldn’t have, won a group match against Afghanistan in much less convincing fashion than they ought to have, and in a couple of hours, will go up against the reigning champions, England.

India v Afghanistan - ICC World Twenty20 2012: Group A

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA – SEPTEMBER 19: Yuvraj Singh of India celebrates with teammates after dismissing Asghar Stanikzai of Afghanistan during the ICC World Twenty20 2012: Group A match between India and Afghanistan at R. Premadasa Stadium on September 19, 2012 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images,)

That India, undisputed heavyweights of the game, would be counted as strong contenders for the World T20 championship is no surprise. What is surprising, is the lowly ranking the 2007 champions hold currently. India’s recent track record in T20 internationals is far from impressive, and a washout and a loss to the Kiwis can hardly be construed as a good lead up. Be as it may, the abundance of batting talent and the guile of captain MS Dhoni are factors too big to be discounted while looking at their prospects.

India’s strength is their batting. Yes, it’s worth repeating, because in T20, batting goes a long way in wresting the advantage from the opposition. However, in reality, the batting is very heavily reliant on one man: Virat Kohli. He’s been in the form of his life for the past year, and shows no signs of letting up. He would still need support from Gambhir, Sehwag, Raina, Yuvraj and Dhoni. Rohit Sharma has been far from his fluent self, which could hand Manoj Tiwary a go as the 7th batsman. Another option would be to go with Irfan Pathan as a number 7 batsman and opening bowler, but that isn’t the Dhoni way.

India v Sri Lanka - Tri-Series Game 11

HOBART, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 28: Virat Kohli of India celebrates after hitting the winning runs during the One Day International match between India and Sri Lanka at Bellerive Oval on February 28, 2012 in Hobart, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

India’s fielding has been top class in the shortest form of the game, with the side packed with young and athletic fielders. This is one area where the IPL has certainly had a positive effect. It has brought the fielding standards much closer to the international benchmark.

It’s no secret that India’s biggest weakness and worry is their bowling; especially the death bowling. It has been a bane in ODIs and even tests (bowling the tail out cheaply is something we seem to struggle with). Dhoni has a lot of slow bowling part-timers at his disposal: Sehwag, Raina, Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj and should he play, Manoj Tiwary can all roll the arm over, but it is a high risk game of hit and miss. The brunt has to be borne by Ashwin, Zaheer, Irfan and/or Umesh Yadav. Ashwin will be Dhoni’s trump card, as he is at CSK as well, while Zaheer will be the spearhead of the attack, as he was in the 2011 ODI campaign, which is where the problem starts. Zaheer hasn’t looked anywhere near being as effective, and the wickets have almost dried up.

There’s a comeback man with a bag of wickets we have almost forgotten, though. The million dollar question that might just solve India’s problem is: Will Dhoni gamble with playing Harbhajan in the same lineup as Ashwin? Also, how ready and hungry is the Turbanator? His return can give India a much needed fillip in the bowling department.

Speaking of comebacks, how can one not talk about Yuvraj Singh. Back from an almost impossible layoff, he has looked the part in the games played so far. The timing, power and the fire are right there. There’s some rust and a considerable way to go before the stamina gets back up to 100%, but he has been such a talisman for Indian cricket, that even at 85% fitness, India needs Yuvraj to play. The team will want to win this for him, the way they did for Sachin. This is what makes having Yuvraj around such a masterstroke. The talent is all there, but it takes a bond and a fiery desire to win big championships, and that’s what Yuvraj’s presence is really sought for. Will he be the glue that binds this team’s desires? Will he rise against all odds when the chips are down? Time will tell, but just the fact that he is out there is a monumental achievement.

The challenge then for Dhoni and Fletcher, is to get the right men to rally around Kohli with the bat and give the right launch pad for Yuvraj, Raina and Dhoni for the finish, while judiciously using Ashwin’s mystery balls and getting the other frontline bowlers to chip in with wickets. The latter will matter a lot as the tournament kicks into higher gears.

So, as we look forward to the final (essentially warm up) game before India’s campaign really kicks off with the super eights, here’s wishing the men in blue all the best. A fourth star above the heart would look nice on the blue jersey….

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