Advantage India

Published : Jun 06, 2009 00:00 IST

India has a well-balanced side and should start the favourite, writes S. Dinakar.

The Indians will have to cope with the burden of expectations in the World Twenty20 championship. Defending titles is never easy. Mahendra Singh Dhoni leads an explosive side with plenty of options. India, indeed, is a powerhouse unit of men who can swing matches. Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Yusuf Pathan, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina and Dhoni himself are all match-winners. Sehwag and Gambhir may be out of form, yet, given their quality, the two could be a mong the big runs soon.

The Indian attack is balanced although senior left-arm paceman Zaheer Khan travels to the competition with question marks over his fitness. Ishant Sharma and the in-form Rudra Pratap Singh form a potent right-left combination. Praveen Kumar adds value to the pace attack with his swing, change of pace and the ability to bowl at the death.

There should be encouragement for swing and seam bowlers in the first half of the English summer; captains would do well to have a slip or two for the pacemen for most part even in the shortest form of the game.

Outswing is less of a weapon in Twenty20 cricket; full length balls with away movement could provide width to the batsmen or fly to the fence off the edge. Yet, these deliveries could fetch wickets in English conditions if a captain backs his pacemen.

Spinners who can impart revolution to the ball will be in the frame as well; there could be assistance for the spin bowlers in the concluding stages of the competition.

Harbhajan Singh will be the first choice spinner for India. The vastly improved left-armer Pragyan Ojha is another spin option for the side. Ojha’s flight, control and spin and his ability to fire in the arm-ball make him a valuable component of the side.

Left-arm swing bowler Irfan Pathan and left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja are the all-rounders in the side. Irfan is an under-rated batsman and a bowler who could exploit English conditions. Jadeja is an exciting talent.

The presence of effective non-regular bowlers such as Sehwag, Yuvraj, Raina, Rohit and Yusuf provides Dhoni plenty of choice and cover. Yuvraj’s arm-ball, in particular, needs to be watched carefully. In the IPL, Raina, the offie, displayed the ability to bowl at the death; he delivers the ball late and changes his length.

India is a vibrant fielding unit too. The likes of Raina, Rohit and Jadeja attack the ball, putting the batsmen under considerable stress.

However, the Indians have been playing almost non-stop cricket over the last five months. Will the strain of so many days of travelling and playing reflect on the side in the big event? Even exceptional sides lose sheen if they are jaded.

In Group ‘A,’ along with Bangladesh and Ireland, India should comfortably top the pool. This said, underestimating the opposition will be at the team’s own peril; as the contest’s duration is shortened, so are the differences in strength between the sides.

If matches go along expected lines in all the four groups, India could find itself bunched with England, Australia and New Zealand in one of the two pools in the Super Eight stage. The top two sides from each group make it to the semifinals.

India plays all its first stage matches in Nottingham where there should be a fair measure of assistance for the pacemen. The Oval and Lord’s are the two other venues for the championship. The Oval should favour batsmen and, later on, the spinners. Lord’s will always offer encouragement to the pacemen.

India and South Africa would start the tournament as favourites. South Africa has powerful strikers of the ball — skipper Greame Smith and Herschelle Gibbs are the foremost among the big-hitters — men who can rotate the strike or dig in deep such as Jacques Kallis and Jean-Paul Duminy and an effective pace attack where, hopefully, the mercurial Dale Steyn will get a bigger role to play in Twenty20 cricket.

Australia has quality in its batting and a pace attack that can sting. Mitchell Johnson and a rejuvenated Brett Lee start as the best new ball pair in the competition. All-rounders Andrew Symonds, Shane Watson and James Hopes lend balance to the side. Australia has a rather ordinary record in Twenty20 cricket and will be keen to add this missing silverware to a glittering list of trophies.

Sri Lanka can be a dangerous outfit with depth and quality in batting — Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Sanath Jayasuriya and Tillekeratne Dilshan add weight to the line-up — and a varied attack that can inflict considerable damage. Slinger Lasith Malinga and off-spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan are attacking options who can bowl at any stage of a game. Sangakkara’s maiden campaign as a full-fledged captain will be followed with interest.

Pakistan can conquer as well as self-destruct. Like India, Pakistan will not be short of support in England. Much for the volatile side would depend on the batting form of skipper Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq, the all-round ability of Shahid Afridi and the pace bowling of Umar Gul and Sohail Tanvir. Younis, the captain and leader, will also be put to test.

New Zealand is a mix of the talented and the ordinary. Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder can send the run-rate soaring. Skipper Daniel Vettori is among the prime left-arm spinners in the world, but the Kiwi bowling has its limitations. The attack is bound to be stretched against powerful batting sides.

West Indies has a few rollicking cricketers for this format, none more prominent than skipper Chris Gayle and all-rounder Dwayne Bravo. Jerome Taylor and Fidel Edwards are capable pacemen, but like New Zealand, West Indies lacks depth. It’s baffling why the big-hitting Dwayne Smith is not a part of the side.

England, the host, cannot be discounted in familiar conditions. While Kevin Pietersen should relish the big stage, England is bound to miss its other match-winner, the injured Andrew Flintoff. On the positive side, pace-bowling all-rounder Stuart Broad has made significant strides as an international cricketer. England has a reasonable attack. Watch out for paceman James Anderson and off-spinner Graeme Swann.

It’s advantage India, but the script can change.

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