So much has changed since 2007. India, then touted as underdogs, went on to win the inaugural edition of the ICC World Twenty20; the team blossomed further under the captaincy of MS Dhoni; they held the No. 1 status in Tests for the better part of 18 months; and then had been crowned the world champions in ODIs.
Five years after that triumph in South Africa, they are no longer a bunch of ragtag players, but a unit that has excelled in every format and on every surface. They are going into the fourth edition of the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka no longer as the underdogs, but as a team which is well capable of winning the trophy. That said, they carried the same reputation into the 2009 and 2010 editions and failed to make it to the knock-outs both times.
With an explosive opening pair in Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, the most exciting and consistent young player in Virat Kohli, a fine floater-improver in Suresh Raina, a proven Twenty20 match-winner in Rohit Sharma, a man on a mission after surviving from a life-threatening disease in Yuvraj Singh and a seasoned finisher in MS Dhoni, India possess a batting order with the wherewithal and mettle to challenge the best in the world.
With a man who is oozing with confidence after the recent success in Irfan Pathan and a tough competitor who is dying to prove his detractors in Harbhajan Singh at No’s 7 and 8, India have allrounders who can tonk the ball hard, given the situation and opportunity. R Ashwin could be the best technically correct No. 9 batsman around, while Zaheer Khan and L Balaji are perfectly capable of using the long handle well at No’s 10 and 11. So, as far as the batting goes, India have the perfect recipe for the Twenty20 format.
The 'old swing' having returned to his armoury and wickets behind his back, Irfan will be the go-to man for Dhoni. Zaheer, in recent years, has been more about craftiness rather than pace; his experience upfront and at the death will be the key. Although Harbhajan and Ashwin are exponents of the same craft, what sets them apart is their skills and attitudes. While Harbhajan believes in intimidating the batsmen and is someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, Ashwin knows his limitations and is someone who deceives the batsmen with his variations, especially those carrom balls. Balaji has been able to keep the recurring injuries in check and has developed a number of deliveries in his repertoire. There are plenty of part-time options available for Dhoni, with Sehwag, Yuvraj, Raina, Rohit and Kohli all capable of chipping in with a few crucial overs. India, if all work in tandem, seem to have just enough firepower with the ball to go all the way.
Rohit, after hitting 37 off 26 balls against Sri Lanka and 56 off 40 balls against Pakistan in India’s two warm-up matches, looks to have slotted himself into the playing XI. That means that India will play seven batsmen and four bowlers, with Irfan the allrounder.
With Afghanistan, finalist of the 2012 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifiers, and England - the reigning champions - in their group, India are aware of the fact that any early slip up may prove costly to their aspiration.
Squad: MS Dhoni (capt/wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Manoj Tiwary, Irfan Pathan, R Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, L Balaji, Piyush Chawla, Harbhajan Singh, Ashok Dinda
Strengths: Undoubtedly, India’s strength lies in their batting, as their top seven – Sehwag, Gambhir, Kohli, Rohit, Raina, Yuvraj and Dhoni – are all proven match-winners. Either batting first or chasing a total, they have experience to take the side past the finish line.
Weaknesses: Bowling in the death overs appears the only shortcoming for this side. They have conceded more than six runs an over in the last five overs of four of their last five losses, with 78 against South Africa in Durban this year being the highest. Against Pakistan in the tournament warm-up, India conceded 65 runs off the last 37 deliveries bowled.
Trump cards: Although every member of the team is eager to contribute, Yuvraj and Harbhajan – who are returning to the side after being sidelined for different reasons – will be hungrier than the rest and that could go in India’s favour.
Played (36); Won (18); Lost (16); Tied (1); No Result (1)
ICC World Twenty20:
Played (17); Won (8); Lost (7); Tied (1); No Result (1)
Last ten matches: LWLWLLLWWW
Prediction: Though West Indies, with their exciting team; Australia with their record to perform at a big stage; South Africa, with the kind of consistency they have shown in the past one year; England, with their record in the last edition of the tournament; and Pakistan, with an ability to spring a few surprises, all have the sides to stake a claim for the World Twenty20 trophy, India too have a squad that can go the distance and add another silverware to their cabinet.