Playing at home can be inspiring

If you are able to find a way to protect yourself from all the extra emotions and added pressures, there are great positives in playing at home.

Virat Kohli is the star of the Indian team right now.   -  PTI

For many people and pundits, Team India strode into this ICC World Twenty20 as red-hot favourites. They have a rock-star batting line-up with unparalleled T20 experience, thanks largely to the IPL, and a bowling attack with the skilful left-armer Ashish Nehra backed up by some promising pacers and some top-quality spinners. They have intimate knowledge of home conditions and will be cheered on by jam-packed passionate home fans.

The only problem is that this is 2016 and there are at least eight top sides in this World T20 all of whom pose a real threat. The game has moved on, teams have developed and are able to compete in different conditions — as we saw with New Zealand’s brilliant performance against India in Nagpur. T20 is also inherently unpredictable and no team can hold the favourites tag with any sense of comfort.

Read: >Piyush Chawla's take on the 2011 World Cup triumph

Don’t get me wrong, I still fancy India’s chances. They have the players with the experience and temperament to stand-up during the critical moments of the big games — as they showed against Pakistan on Saturday night – which is what you must have if you are going to win ICC events. They put themselves under early pressure with that surprise defeat to New Zealand, but they have the talent and character to bounce back and qualify for the semi-finals.

Their top-order is the obvious strength of the team and the two pillars are Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. Both have that special ability to grab a game by its collar and control it thereafter. It is essential they are both in form and then the rest of the batting, which is also very talented and dangerous, can play around them.

Virat is the star player right now. I am really impressed by how he has developed. He is batting with a lot of maturity. He does not get rattled by the situation and has that special ability to switch gears. He tries to bat through and does not take great risk. But, at the same time, he is positive and hungry for run-scoring. I think he now really understands his game and knows how to score runs at the highest level. The manner in which he controlled the run-chase against Pakistan was quite brilliant.

 

India now need to play to their strengths and I assume they’ll be hoping for some good pitches. The Nagpur pitch for their first game was not ideal for them because bowler-friendly surfaces, whether pace or spin assisting, give weaker opponents a chance. India will be more formidable on flat batting pitches that provide security and comfort for their top-order to cut loose.

To win they will also need to cope with the added pressures of playing at home. I have experienced that in the 2011 World Cup and then again in the 2012 World T20 and I know that it is not easy. Emotions will be running high, fans will be getting excited and the media will be in over-drive. It is very easy to get caught in the emotional rollercoaster of it all and that is very distracting and dangerous.

My advice to them is for each individual player to work out a way of shutting out all the distractions. It is not always easy, especially in India where passions run so high and there are few places to escape, but you must find a way. I would spend time with family and friends and try to keep things as simple as possible. By removing yourself from the emotions you can allow yourself to be 100% focused on the game and what you do. When your mind is distracted you are most vulnerable to nerves and other negative thought processes.

Read: >Australia's 2015 win at home

Of course, if you are able to find a way to protect yourself from all the extra emotions and added pressures, there are great positives in playing at home. There is no doubt that when things are going well it can be really inspiring to be playing in front of a vocal and supportive home crowd. It can be especially uplifting for the bowlers, who have found rhythm and an extra gear, from a passionate home crowd.

The other key tip is for the players, individually and as a team, to avoid looking at the end result. Winning the tournament may be possible and might be the overall objective, but you need to take things step by step and take each match as it comes. Focus completely on the next game, prepare yourself properly and, only when it’s over, turn your attention to the next match. This helps break everything down into simple steps and stops your thought processes from getting ahead of time.

India’s players know most of this. They have plenty of experience and lots of recently-retired legends who will be only too happy to share their experiences. The challenge is in how well they can implement their plans and rise to the occasion. I believe the Pakistan game will increase their confidence greatly as they were put under pressure and they coped with that challenge easily in the end. It will be fascinating to see how they go forward.