New Delhi, March 14 (IANS) On a roll with 10 wins in their last 11 matches, hosts India will start as the favourites when the World Twenty20 cricket tournament starts on Tuesday.
The Indians have shown superb form in the shortest format of the game in recent times, whitewashing formidable Australia in their own den before beating Sri Lanka. They then romped to the Asia Cup title in Bangladesh, winning every match with ease.
Except for opener Shikhar Dhawan, almost all the batsmen have done consistently well. Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni have all been in good form. Swashbuckling left-hander Yuvraj Singh has also made a successful comeback to the team with some good performances at the Asia Cup.
The talented Ajinkya Rahane has not featured regularly in the playing XI, but has done well whenever he was selected. Dhawan was struggling with his form for a considerable time in all formats. But he returned to form in the Asia Cup final against Bangladesh with a quick-fire half-century that put India on the road to victory.
Among the bowlers, veteran pacer Ashish Nehra has found a rich vein of form late in his career. The 36-year-old made a superb comeback to international cricket at the Asia Cup, troubling the batsmen with his swing and movement. The left-hander made merry on the green tracks at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Bangladesh’s Mirpur, but it remains to be seen how he tackles the flat tracks and batting-friendly conditions at home.
Young pacer Jasprit Bumrah has emerged as a promising talent and has taken wickets regularly with batsmen struggling to read his unconventional action.
Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and left-armer Ravindra Jadeja have done well in the spin department. Jadeja’s role as a useful lower-order batsman increases his utility to the team.
Young all-rounder Hardik Pandya is a useful recent addition to the India squad. The 22-year-old, who made his debut in Australia on January 26, is a promising right-arm seamer and lower-order batsman.
But despite their favourites tag, the World T20 will hardly be a walk in the park for the hosts.
Placed in Group 2 in the Super 10 stage, India will compete with Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh and arch-rivals Pakistan for one of the two semi-final spots from the group. The hosts will take on the Kiwis in the tournament opener in Nagpur on Tuesday.
While Australia are always dangerous customers, New Zealand may prove to be a difficult team in this edition. The Kiwis enter the 2016 World T20 on the back of some promising recent form, having won their past two series at home, against Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The World T20 will mark the start of a new era for New Zealand after the retirement of the inspirational Brendon McCullum last month.
New Zealand have batsmen capable of quick scoring with the likes of Martin Guptill, Henry Nicholls, Colin Munro, Ross Taylor, Luke Ronchi and captain Kane Williamson in their squad.
They also have top class all-rounders in the form of Corey Anderson, Grant Elliott, Nathan McCullum and Mitchell Santner. The Kiwis also boast quality specialist bowlers in Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Adam Milne, Mitchell McClenaghan and Ish Sodhi.
But it remains to be seen how they tackle the spin-friendly conditions, specially against Sub-continent teams India and Pakistan in the group stage.
New Zealand are No.4 on the ICC’s World T20 rankings, and will feel that they have something to prove.
Despite the turmoil in their country and the absence of a proper talent nurturing system, Pakistan somehow continues to produce top quality fast bowlers. Their formidable pace battery of Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Sami and Wahab Riaz can decimate any batting order on their day. But they lack the batting power to back their bowlers.
The veteran Shahid Afridi will have to contribute in the top order as well as use all his considerable experience to guide the youngsters. The 36-year-old Pakistan captain has retired from Tests and One-Day Internationals (ODI), and the World T20 will probably be his last major tournament in national colours. He will definitely want to stage a surprise or two and end his glittering career on a high.
Bangladesh suffered a sound thrashing by India in front of their home crowd in the Asia Cup final. But they have steadily improved over the years and have sprung an upset or two on their day.
In Group 1, South Africa are the most formidable team. With the swashbuckling AB de Villiers, captain Faf du Plessis, Jean-Paul Duminy and David Miller in their squad, their batting prowess is among the best in the tournament. All-rounder Kyle Abbott is extremely effective in limited overs cricket with his ability to produce the bit hits and his incisive fast bowling.
In the bowling department, experienced fast bowler Dale Steyn and fellow pacer Kagiso Rabada have proved themselves in the T20 series in India late last year.
Sri Lanka are always dangerous in sub-continent conditions. They have young talented pacers in Dasun Shanaka, Lahiru Thirimanne and Dushmantha Chameera who did quite well against India in last month’s series. The Lankan bowling also includes the experienced trio of Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara and Chamara Kapugedera who may prove to be a handful.
The have quality spinners in Rangana Herath and Dinesh Chandimal while the experienced Tillakaratne Dilshan will spearhead the batting. The Lankans also have a good all-rounder in Angelo Mathews. But the Lankans have struggled for form recently. They lost last month’s series in India and went down to India and Bangladesh to crash out of the Asia Cup. They will need to do better at the World T20.
West Indies are another side who have loads of talent, but struggle to fulfil their potential. Star opener Chris Gayle can blow away any bowling line-up when on song and is the main attraction in the team. Their main strength is that they have a host of top quality all-rounders in the form of Dwayne Bravo, Darren Sammy and Kieron Pollard. Gayle himself is a useful off-spinner. Fast bowlers Andre Russell and Jerome Taylor along with off-spinner Sunil Narine have the required experience and ability to defend modest totals.