The sixth edition of the ICC World Twenty20 officially began yesterday, with the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) member and associate nations battling it out against each other for two vacant spots in Groups 1 and 2.
India, one of the teams in Group 2, get their ICC World Twenty20 2016 campaign on home soil underway on the 15th of March (next Tuesday) against New Zealand in Nagpur. The Men in Blue are in absolutely imperious form heading into the T20 world cup, having lost just one of the 11 Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is) they have played in during 2016.
Their victories have been comprehensive and MS Dhoni’s devils have not showed any kind of jitteriness or weakness over the last 70 days. Since January, India have won all three T20 tournaments they have featured in, with the Asia Cup win last Sunday adding to the bilateral series victories against Australia in Australia and Srilanka at home.
The world T20, however, will be a different ball game and India may not cruise through as they have been able to over the last two-and-a-bit months. So from that point of view, what possible challenges could they be posed with during the upcoming world T20 2016?
If we look at India’s victories since the beginning of the three-match T20I series in Australia, one man has starred with the bat in almost all of India’s wins. Can you guess who he is? It’s none other than Virat Kohli, for whom making runs is like eating a piece of cake. Having batted in seven of India’s 11 T20Is so far in 2016, the Delhi dynamo has scores of 90*, 59*, 50, 7, 49, 56* and 41*. He has almost been impregnable for opposition bowlers, who have also given up on playing mind games with him. Kohli, ahead of the world T20, is arguably the most in-form batsman.
The best characteristic about the 27-year-old is his ability to score quick runs without playing outrageous shots, bat till the end and ultimately, win games for India. It lets the other batsmen like Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh and even Dhoni play around Kohli.
So, in case Kohli does not continue his sublime batting form into India’s world T20 campaign, the world T20 2014’s finalists will need a batsman to step into Kohli’s shoes and bat the way Kohli does. And believe you me, there are not many in the current Indian setup capable of replicating Kohli’s ability to hold the innings together and destroy the confidence exuded by an opponent. If Kohli suffers a drop in form, then India’s biggest challenge could be to have another batsman taking the baton from their No. 3 in the upcoming world T20.
Secondly, India have not really been put under any sort of pressure in the 11 T20Is they have played in the build-up to the world T20 2016. Their loss against Srilanka in Pune was an aberration, but the Men in Blue returned to winning ways in their very next outing and have not looked back thereafter.
But that may change as well once they kick-start their world T20 campaign next Tuesday. India might feel the pressure for two reasons. Firstly, they have played such dominant cricket over the last two months, that they are expected to do well and go the distance in the biennial tournament. Secondly, playing in front of their own passionate fans who can also be demanding of their heroes and idols, might just play in their minds and be a distraction.
Though the Indian cricket fans would have cherished the victories the national side racked up over the last 70 days, they were all preparatory tournaments for the world T20 2016 and the pressure was not quite there. The ultimate test begins in six days’ time and Dhoni’s India are likely to feel the heat as the home side and outright favourites to win the trophy.
Finally, one of the reasons India have done well recently is because they have had a settled lineup and not chopped and changed at all.
Mohammed Shami, who is a part of India’s world T20 squad, has not played since last year’s 50-over world cup in Australia and New Zealand. He was picked for India’s tour of Australia earlier this year, but could not feature due to a hamstring injury he sustained while bowling in the nets. The Bengal pacer did not play in India’s home series win against Srilanka at home and in the recently concluded Asia Cup in Bangladesh either. Dhoni has said that the team management will make a decision in the coming days, after consulting with the team physios. But they might be forced into changing their winning combination if Shami passes his fitness test. If Shami is indeed passed fit to play, Ashish Nehra could well be the one to make way despite spearheading India’s bowling attack magnificently since returning to the national side.
India would also be hoping that they don’t have to deal with injuries to any of their players, but more so to those who have featured regularly since the T20Is against Australia. Although the likes of Ajinkya Rahane and Harbhajan Singh are seasoned professionals, they have not played much cricket over the last two months. And it may not be ideal for them as well as India if changes are forced ahead of a crucial game in the world cup.
India will be delighted with the way they have prepared for the world T20. However, they will still have to start afresh against New Zealand next Tuesday and get used to the pressure of being the hosts of a major tournament as the ICC World Twenty20. In addition to handling pressure, Team India might have to overcome the other possible challenges in order to go deep into the tournament.