Can India win T20 World Cup?

Can India win T20 World Cup?
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THE scene at the Asia Cup T20 final at Shere Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur, Bangladesh, a few days ago was reminiscent of the scenario at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai in 2011 during the ICC World Cup Final.

On both occasions, team India were on the brink of winning the tournament and Indian fans were granted their wish by skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni with a calculated flurry of sixes and fours.

Team India's sixth win of the Asia Cup in Bangladesh and their run of seven consecutive international victories, from February this year have come at the right time.

The ICC World Cup T20 kicked off on March 8, with India beginning their campaign against New Zealand at Nagpur on March 15.

Considering their current form, it is a no-brainer that team India start off as favourites.

They are looking like a "complete" side with no gaps to fill. What would it take team India and skipper Dhoni to get tears of joy in the eyes of Indian fans one more time is the question in everyone's mind.

"India start as hot favourites," says former India fast bowler Raju Kulkarni.

"The team has been playing Twenty20 for some time now, which keeps them in good match practice and we can see that our team, the batsmen and the bowlers are in good form," adds the Mumbaikar who was considered the quickest Indian bowler of his era.

What then is team India's biggest strength? "Batting, undoubtedly," points out Kulkarni.

"We have six powerhouse batsmen in Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni who is a classical finisher. On their day, each one of them can be destroyers and the biggest factor in team India's favour is that they are playing in home conditions," he points out.

Before the Asia Cup T20, former India batsman and noted commentator Sanjay Manjrekar had cautioned team India about their batting line-up.

In his column, Manjrekar had mentioned there were chinks in India's T20 batting, not bowling.

His opinion was based on the performances of Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni as batsmen who had not really got into the groove. That crease on Manjrekar's brow must have smoothed after their performances in close games in the Asia Cup.

Yuvraj's cameo against Sri Lanka and his mature innings against Pakistan, when India were tottering at three wickets down for eight runs, and Dhoni's consistency with the bat must have put team India's confidence higher considering they bat at the crucial No. 5 and No. 6 positions.

With Dhawan, who was also out of form, back with 60 in the Asia Cup final, the batting, at best, looks invincible in Indian home conditions.

Notwithstanding the batting powerhouse, the pivot of the Indian batting will continue to be Kohli.

"Virat is a winner in the true sense of the term, the way he paces his innings is what keeps him above his peers in the game," says Kulkarni.

The dapper star from Delhi himself admitted that he cannot play big shots like his compatriots but prefers to keep the scoreboard ticking at a constant pace.

Over the last few months, the depth in the Indian bowling has certainly enthused team India fans with Ashish Nehra leading the charge with his economical spells in the shortest format of the game.

The 36-year-old was picked by the selectors primarily to pick wickets and not just quell the run rate.

His experience and the exuberance of young Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya will be a lethal combination when merged with the two spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.

Bumrah's spells in the death overs have got him accolades from greats such as Waqar Younis, particularly his ability to bowl yorkers with pinpoint accuracy.

Dhoni has options "The Indian bowling attack is looking complete," says former Indian all-rounder Karsan Ghavri who gives India a 70 per cent chance of winning the T20 World Cup, considering the unpredictability of the game's format.

Ghavri points out that Dhoni has options like Yuvraj, Raina and Kohli, at his disposal if any of the regular pack of five bowlers struggle to find rhythm.

Kulkarni stresses Dhoni's ability to rotate his bowlers if things do not go according to plan.

"The moment he sees a bowler struggling, he changes him or gets him from the other end to keep the situation under control," he adds.

In the Asia Cup final, Dhoni replaced Ashwin with Nehra after one over as he could not get the expected turn with the new ball, even though the off-spinner had managed a tidy opening over.

It is well known that the T20 format is extremely unpredictable. A single spell by a bowler can make or break a match and one inspired innings by a batsman can take his team to victory even when the odds are stacked against his team.

Indian form apart, the rest of the world are also preparing with earnest to give their best in the T20 World Cup.

Each edition of this tournament has had a different winner and team India will need to guard against complacency if they are to win this Cup which they did in the inaugural tournament in South Africa in 2007.

"India's match against Pakistan will be very crucial. They have the best bowling attack in the world right now and they will go all out against India as they have nothing to lose," points out Ghavri. "Australia and South Africa are also in great form right now," says former India leg-spinner Sairaj Bahutule.

"An upset in the league portion of the tournament can change the equation. Dhoni will need to be wary of this aspect. Another team from the Indian sub-continent, Sri Lanka or Pakistan will also be a handful as they too are familiar with Indian conditions," adds Bahutule who is currently coaching Bengal in domestic tournaments.

"To keep the flow going, the Indian batting should combine as a unit and not leave it to others to finish a game," adds Kulkarni who believes that Kohli will need to play a big role in stitching the Indian batting together.

After their seamless victories in the Asia Cup, the expectations of the Indian team to deliver in the T20 World Cup are very high.

Kulkarni and Bahutule believe that the most valuable player for India will be skipper Dhoni who may be playing his last T20 World Cup and will need to use his experience to keep things under control.

"Dhoni will need to deal with the weight of expectations from Indian fans.

His maturity and game sense should take India through as the environment, conditions and spectators will be in India's favour," feels Bahutule.

Indian fans will be expecting "finisher" Dhoni to guide his team to deliver and add another golden feather to his accomplished cap.

A little over a year ago, after the series debacle (Test and One-day Internationals) in Australia, Ravi Shastri, the Indian team's director, had promised to deliver a "bullet team" and has managed to keep the mood high in the Indian camp.

The following few weeks of explosive cricket across India will show just how prepared the "bullet team" will manage the expectations of the Indian cricket fan.

tabla@sph.com.sg

Hemant Kenkre, a cricket analyst, is a former Bombay University opener who has captained the Cricket Club of India.


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