For India, the banana-skin ride begins on Tuesday. Ten wins in the last 11 T20 internationals have made them the favorites for the World T20 but the towering expectations (from fans and experts alike) have a flip side to them. This is the most unpredictable format of cricket where things can change in two overs. However, India’s current form doesn’t allow them a logical leeway to slip. To be honest, MS Dhoni is in an unenviable position.
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Only a few days ago, India’s limited-overs captain spoke about running in “sixth gear” during the lead-up to the ICC event. The team hit the highway in Australia and has been moving in the fast lane since. Jasprit Bumrah’s emergence has changed India’s bowling. The young man with the awkward action swings the ball upfront and fires yorkers at the death – all at a good pace. For so long, Dhoni has been searching for someone like him. Bumrah’s arrival has helped him regain the cutting edge, captaincy-wise.
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Fast bowling consistency is the reason for India’s recent T20 success, and spare a thought for comeback man Ashish Nehra The veteran left-arm quick has forged a strong partnership with Bumrah. The two have accounted for 28 wickets in 11 T20 internationals. Together they have made a difference. “Because of them, we can now approach the middle-overs more confidently,” R Ashwin had said during the Asia Cup. World T20 would pose a bigger challenge and from India’s point of view it’s imperative that the pace duo lives up to it.
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Spinners, led by Ashwin will do their job. The off-spinner is in the form of his life and will be assisted by a very consistent Ravindra Jadeja. Their presence allows Dhoni to strangulate the opponents, especially on Indian pitches. Batting looks almost impregnable. It has acquired more muscles with the skipper returning to his attacking best and Yuvraj Singh slowly regaining his form. That Ajinkya Rahane and Harbhajan Singh cannot get games confirm India’s squad depth. Then again, anything can happen in this format and from the fans’ perspective, the World T20 would be a test of their maturity. Best team doesn’t always lift the cup.
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South Africa should be a major threat to India’s chances – with all the game-changers they have. AB de Villiers is the jewel in the crown. The Saffers had beaten India in the T20I and ODI series here last winter. And just two days ago, they won the World T20 warm-up fixture against the hosts. Unfortunately, for them, somehow South Africa gets bogged down by the weight of expectations in the ICC events. The Faf du Plessis-led side would be keen to shed the chokers tag.
New Zealand, too, are serious title contenders, even without Brendon McCullum. The Blackcaps, however, are a rhythm team and a lot will depend on how they start their campaign against India, tomorrow. Kane Williamson’s men will play fearless cricket but the lack of game time in Asia might affect them. New Zealand haven’t played in this part of the world since late 2014.
Australia are fresh from a T20I series win in South Africa, but they are not considered a powerhouse in the shortest format. The likes of David Warner, Shane Watson or Steve Smith can single-handedly win a T20 contest, but Mitchell Starc’s absence is a huge setback. Also, a callow spin-bowling unit doesn’t inspire confidence.
Over to West Indies – a team of multi-league T20 specialists. They have arrived here on the heels of a contract row and a couple of high-profile (Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine) pullouts. Captain Darren Sammy said they would bank on individual brilliance. And from Chris Gayle to Andre Russell – West Indies have match-winners aplenty in the shortest format.
Pakistan is the dark horse. It is a very dangerous team, starting as underdogs. The drama and uncertainty that preceded their arrival in India are things of the past. Pakistan need to sort out their batting woes to mount a title challenge. Shahid Afridi will be under huge pressure.
Defending champions Sri Lanka have been going through transition and it makes them a lightweight for the event. Captain Lasith Malinga’s knee injury is not helping matters either.
So there’s all to play for and plenty to win or lose
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