India should play to its potential

Key players in India's campaign... Yuvraj Singh and Murali Vijay (below)

The Indian team is capable of winning the tournament. However, to emerge victor, the team has to win the key moments, writes S. Dinakar.

India's performances in the ICC World Twenty20 have swung from one extreme to the other. It triumphed in 2007 in South Africa, but floundered in England two years later. In fact, Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men lost all their matches in the Super Eight stage of the competition.

Some of the young Indian batsmen were vulnerable against hostile and precise short-pitched bowling by the West Indian and English pacemen. When deliveries were directed at the rib-cage, the top-order failed to convince. It remains to be seen whether the pacemen will receive the same kind of assistance vis-a-vis bounce in Barbados — if India qualifies for the Super Eight it will play its matches here — as they had got at Lord's last year.

How India copes with the loss of the influential Virender Sehwag — the blazing opener has pulled out of the competition with an injured shoulder — will be a critical aspect of its campaign in the third edition of the ICC World Twenty20 in the West Indies, beginning on April 30.

Murali Vijay — Sehwag's replacement — is a batsman of immense possibilities in all formats of the game. And he handles the short balls from the fast bowlers quite capably.

The other question to be asked is whether the Indian team would be mentally and physically fresh following the gruelling Indian Premier League.

When India flopped in the previous edition of the event in England, it had gone to the competition soon after the IPL in South Africa. Coach Gary Kirsten had then conceded that the cricketers were physically and mentally jaded after a hectic IPL. This time, can the Indian cricketers pick themselves up after the IPL for a more important tournament involving their nation?

The Indians start the competition in St. Lucia where they meet Afghanistan and South Africa in the league phase. Afghanistan surprised many while making the cut for the tournament, and so it cannot be taken lightly. In any case, in the game's shortest format, the difference in quality between the sides doesn't count for much.

The match against South Africa would be a good — and much needed — test of skills for India ahead of the Super Eight stage. In the last edition, India took on lightweights — Bangladesh and Ireland — in the preliminary league and came up short against the stronger sides. Meeting a tough side in the first phase could sharpen India's combative instincts for its subsequent battles.

Even without Sehwag, India has depth and options. Gautam Gambhir, who struggled to strike form and consistency in the IPL, could be among the runs in the West Indies. The left-hander, a strokeful top-order batsman, comprehends much about pacing an innings. India will have to go in for a specialist opening pair and the smooth-stroking Vijay fits the bill.

In Sehwag's absence, Yuvraj Singh will have to shoulder more responsibility. He is still a compelling striker of the ball but has been hampered by a series of fitness concerns. He has put on weight and no longer appears the athlete he once was. Yet, this explosive left-hander has the ability to surprise many with his natural style. The left-handed Suresh Raina is a wonderful striker of the ball but can be pegged back by effective short-pitched bowling. Can Raina find his way out?

Another big-hitter, Yusuf Pathan, has also struggled against deliveries aimed at his rib-cage by the quicks. However, given his ability to clear the ground effortlessly, Yusuf can change the course of a match in an over or two. But then, the pacemen would be gunning for him.

Rohit Sharma is a languid stroke-maker but has this ability to discover ways of getting out when on top of the bowling. His temperament will be under scrutiny during the tournament.

Of course, Dhoni holds the key to India's success, both as a leader of men and a quick-thinking batsman who changes his game according to the situation. He can both rotate the strike effectively and switch gears with calculated onslaughts. In the previous edition, he appeared to have lost his ability to play those telling wristy blows that can soar over the ropes. Dhoni is booming with his sixes again.

The combative Dinesh Karthik is another viable batting option for India. However, batting alone cannot win matches in Twenty20 as some believe. Bowling is equally, if not more, important.

Zaheer Khan and his varied left-arm pace will be crucial for India, both at the beginning and the end of an innings. He can swing the ball and has an effective yorker.

Praveen Kumar has interesting variations while Ashish Nehra can, on his day, bowl with pace and movement from a testing left-armer's angle. New entrant Vinay Kumar is a whole-hearted bowler and a team-man. As the competition progresses, spin will be a vital component of the attack. Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, with his changes in trajectory and speed, carries a lot of expectation on his shoulders. He can fire in yorkers in the death overs too.

Leg-spinner Piyush Chawla — his googly has been extremely effective in Twenty20 — can get the ball to fizz off the surface. Ravindra Jadeja, the all-rounder in a side that is short in this department, can be handy with his left-arm spin.

Fielding, an area that is often neglected in Indian cricket, will have to back the bowling. A catch dropped or a run conceded might make all the difference in a close duel.

India has a side that can inflict damage. To emerge the winner, it will have to win the key moments.

THE TEAM

M. S. Dhoni (captain), Murali Vijay, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Ravindra Jadeja, Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Vinay Kumar, Dinesh Karthik, Rohit Sharma and Piyush Chawla.