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Can India repeat 2007?

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MS_Dhoni_India_cricketThere is a keen build-up around the 2016 World T20. Everywhere you look, from team sheets to selection meetings, television ads or even social medial chatter, the tournament is starting to generate a buzz. And it is for obvious reasons, as the last time an ICC Cricket World Cup was hosted in India, the Indian Cricket Team finished as champions.

It was at Wankhede in 2011 when MS Dhoni lifted the ODI World Cup, and it is understandable why the fans are contemplating a repeat of that performance. Yet, for all practical reasons, it is the 2007 World T20 that we must refer to, for that is the benchmark Dhoni’s team will be competing against.

Winning in 2011 was not a guarantee, but India were dead certain to reach the knock-outs, thanks to a format that had been reshaped after the 2007 misadventure in the Caribbean. But can the same be said about this upcoming 2016 tournament? India are in the same group as Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and a qualifier team (Bangladesh, Ireland, Netherlands or Oman).

To progress safely, they need to beat at least two of those three big opponents, but can there be a guarantee with the volatility of T20 cricket?

This unpredictability finds resonance in the 2007 World T20, or the others that followed, for the shortest format of the game is fickle in nature. In the first edition in South Africa, India did not know their team’s strength and weaknesses. Hell, they didn’t even know what sort of captain Dhoni would prove to be.

Subsequently, in 2009 (England), 2010 (West Indies), 2012 (Sri Lanka) and 2014 (Bangladesh), they were better aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their players thanks to the rich experience of the Indian Premier League. And yet, they have been unable to conquer that final step, coming closest in the last edition.

It is, thus, the same this time around as well, except players from the world over have continuously gained from the world’s foremost T20 league as well. And yet, despite the added advantage of playing at home, the big question to ask here is if this chosen Indian squad can do the job?

Let us start with the batting – Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Ajinkya Rahane and Dhoni himself. At first glance, this line-up looks a batsman short, but there are a couple of good reasons for it. The first of them is pertaining to the fact that the tournament is being played in India. In case of an injury, a replacement batsman (probably Manish Pandey) will only be a short flight away.

 

As such, this batting unit should be able to do the job for India. All of them are born and bred on these pitches, and their reputations have been enhanced by the IPL. On current form, Kohli and Rohit look like carrying the team through on their own, but cricket doesn’t work like that. Thus, a couple worrisome points emerge, particularly regarding Dhawan’s consistency and the strength of the middle order when the top is blown away quickly.

It can be suspected that Rahane is the back-up batsman, for both openers and middle-order men. While he will probably not start the tournament, unless something drastic happens in the Asia Cup, it is safe to bet he will be in the playing eleven by the time India finish their World T20 campaign. In conclusion, these seven batsmen have the firepower, and it is just a matter of firing collectively.

The second reason behind the apparent absence of one batsman is to do with the two all-rounders picked in the squad. Pawan Negi is in the precise mould Dhoni likes his bits and pieces players to be, with Hardik Pandya as the jack in the box. The skipper has cried himself hoarse for a seam-bowling all-round option, and no, Stuart Binny didn’t really cut it.

With his fearless exuberance, and a penchant for big hitting, Pandya could be the answer in this format. At present, he allows Dhoni to play with four bowlers, thus backing up the batting. Pandya will occasionally be asked to bowl 2-3 overs, and when that happens, it will be worrisome, for bowling is where the doubts creep in.

Theoretically, they shouldn’t. R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ashish Nehra, Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Harbhajan Singh - between them, they have enough experience to curb runs and claim wickets regardless of format, at least on paper. Barring Nehra, all of them have IPL winning experience under their belts.

Ideally, Ashwin and Jadeja should be the primary spinners, with Bhajji as back up, while it could be a real toss-up for the two pace spots in the eleven. Shami and Bumrah are the yorker specialists, a flavour Dhoni likes in his pacers, but it will be tough to negate Nehra’s experience.

An additional, unfortunate problem is posed by Shami’s recurring injuries. The pacer was excellent in the 2015 World Cup, but that was the last time he played an international match. Even now, in India’s Asia Cup squad, he has been replaced by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, with doubts over his hamstring injury threatening his place in the World T20 squad as well.

It is a completely different looking team from the one beaten by South Africa on home soil. Thereafter, they have gone on to defeat a second-string Australia in their den, looking very finely balanced in terms of both the playing eleven and bench strength. Even so, the reality of this chosen 15-man squad lies between these two extremes.

So, can they do the job? Counting in the unpredictability of the T20 format, yes, possibly. But, as always, India’s fortunes will depend on whether their bowling attack can hold together on bountiful flat tracks. And that is anybody’s guess.



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