The IPL has neutralized home advantage for Team India. As a result of playing in the IPL for eight years, Indian conditions are no longer a mystery for most international players, especially those from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and West Indies. As a result of which this ICC T20 World Cup is as open as it can get. Any team can make the final depending on how they play on the day. In my opinion, India, Australia, South Africa and England will make the final four.
In order to understand the thought behind this, lets look at each team closely starting with India for now.
India are hot favourites going into the tournament and there is no debate on that. India have won 10 out of their last 11 T20 matches. The BCCI must be praised for their planning and scheduling as they have provided this team with a good run of T20 games, building up to the T20 World Cup.
This current India T20 squad looks very settled. Not only the first 11, but the entire squad of 15 looks extremely formidable. Having a problem of plenty is a pleasant headache for MS Dhoni. India have played an unchanged squad in 9 of the last 11 games. Each player has a well-defined role, which they completely understand and have been delivering. India also have the luxury of having like-for-like replacements.
Solid Top Three
In the form of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli, India have one of the most explosive and rock solid top 3 in international cricket. Dhawan, though goes through phases where he does poorly in patches and then suddenly out of nowhere he plays a blinder. His technique gets tested in difficult situations where the ball jags around off the wicket but as soon as he find conditions that suit him, he starts dominating. His strike rate has been in the 140s over the past 11 games and he’s been an ‘accelerator’ – playing aggressive cricket from the word go. This aggression from Dhawan, has allowed Rohit to take time to assess the conditions and build his innings before he finally explodes and starts hitting sixes at will.
Virat Kohli is the backbone of this batting line up. He plays almost faultless, risk free cricket, and still scores at a phenomenal strike rate. He shows that, you can still do well in the T20 format playing conventional strokes. He doesn’t allow dot balls to build up and keeps the strike rotating.
Mix of Youth & Experience
This Indian team has a rare mix of experience and youth. The top 7 batsmen have been on the international circuit for years. Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah and Pawan Negi are the only ones in their first season of international cricket, the rest have played multiple World Cups – T20 and 50 overs. The experience of the seniors has allowed the youngsters to find their feet and this combination has lead to great results in the past 11 games.
In Hardik Pandya, India have finally found a genuine fast bowling all-rounder. He bowls in the top 130s, and has a strike rate in excess of 150. He is also electric in the field and provides great balance to the squad. Ravindra Jadeja will be used more as a bowler who can slog if needed. Jadeja is a completely three dimensional player with his fielding more often than not leading to game changing run outs.
In the form of Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, Dhoni also has two more bowling options. Yuvraj has a knack of picking up wickets against the run of play and on turning wickets, Raina too can be very effective.
India’s top-6 consists of three right handed and three left handed batsmen which gives Dhoni the flexibility to change the batting order depending on the conditions and the opposition’s bowling attack. If the opposition has many off-spinners, he can promote the right-handers and vice versa. Also, the regular right-left combination at the wicket gives an extra edge to the line up.
This team is probably the best Indian fielding side we have ever seen. Raina, Jadeja, Rohit, Kohli, Pandya, Yuvraj, Dhawan have all allowed Dhoni to employ the best fielder in crunch situations in a match. This helps the team save 10–15 runs in the field and create pressure with catches and run-out chances.
Under Fire Finishing
In many recent games, both T20 and ODI, India do very well for the first 80% of their innings but fail to take off in the last 20%. In fact, India’s Nos. 5 to 7 batsmen have a strike rate of 118.6 since January 2014 – the worst of all teams in T20 cricket.
Dhoni was criticised for not being able to hit sixes from the word go and he went on record to state how it was extremely difficult to do so against quality fast bowling. However recent form at the Asia Cup has shown that Dhoni has accepted his role of being India’s death batsmen having scored 20 not out in 7 balls in the Asia Cup Final.
Death bowling has been a worry for India post the Zaheer Khan era. None of the bowlers over the past few years have been able to control the run flow at the end of the innings. Using two new balls in ODI cricket has killed the art of reverse swing, making it even more difficult for bowlers to bowl yorkers at the death. However the arrival of Jasprit Bumrah has been a huge boost as he has shown the ability to bowl yorkers at will. He has become Dhoni’s go to guy in the death overs and a lot of the responsibility will be on his young shoulders.
Post the 2015 World Cup, India have struggled in the limited overs format. India lost an ODI series in Bangladesh, then lost a T20 and ODI series against South Africa at home and then lost an ODI series against Australia in Australia. However, since Bumrah and Pandya’s arrival, India have won the T20s in Australia, T20 series against Sri Lanka in India and Asia Cup in Bangladesh. These two have added a new dimension to the Indian team.
Pandya has slipped into the role of being India’s third seamer and has been batting at number 6 or 7 depending on the situation. Bumrah has been bowling with consistency and maturity. By the looks of it, Dhoni will use him more in the death overs than at the start of the innings. Helped by the awkward action, he’s been a handful for batsmen already in his short international career.
Return of the Old Pros
Kudos to the selectors for showing great courage and vision to bring back senior stalwarts like Nehra, Yuvraj and Harbhajan. Their presence has been a huge bonus not only on the field but also in the overall team spirit of the squad. Nehra, with all his experience has given Dhoni some discipline at the start of the innings. He has been bowling in the high 130s and has been swinging the ball back into the right-handers. He has been able to consistently pick wickets during the power play and has allowed Dhoni to control the game right from the start. Yuvraj is returning fresh from the scars of the 2014 T20 World Cup. It’s great to see how much Dhoni and Team India value his presence in the squad. They recognise that he’s still a match winner and has the talent to win games. He has been backed throughout and been given plenty of opportunities to bat for long periods and re-build his rhythm and confidence. He is one of those X-Factor players who, when on song, lifts everyone around him.
Harbhajan Singh is another such champion cricketer who truly embodies the spirit of Indian cricket. He has played only one game out of the last 11, however his presence in the squad has been a big boost as he has been able to share his experience with the young and inexperienced bowlers.
India are in Group 2 along with Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and most likely Bangladesh. Only two teams qualify from each group. Even off day could lead to dangerous results at the end. India will have to stay on top of their game and not slip at any stage. During the Sri Lanka T20 series and Asia Cup, India won their games very convincingly. They played attractive cricket, yet at the same time were very professional and clinical in their approach. Dhoni was able to win games according to his plan A. So, what we have not seen over the past few games are situations where the team has been stretched out of their comfort zones. We have not seen a game where India have lost early wickets (including Kohli) and have had to rebuild with their middle order, nor have we seen a game where the spinners have had an off day, or a game in which Bumrah has gone for runs. So it will be interesting to see how the team reacts when they are stretched and pushed into unfamiliar situations.
Look ahead to South Africa, Australia and England to come soon.