Real test for Team India

The T20 format is extremely unpredictable, and with the ball likely to jag around in England, the ICC World Twenty20, 2009 will not be short of surprises. Of course, the biggest question is whether India can retain the title.

The recently concluded IPL served as a precursor to the forthcoming ICC World Twenty20, 2009, but the main difference is that the players will carry the aspirations of their nations on their shoulders to Old Blighty. The IPL was a case of assorted players coming together to perform for their teams and though the intensity was not inferior, there will always be that little extra pressure when one represents his nation.

Team India will be expected to retain the World Twenty20 title after their outstanding performance a couple of years ago in South Africa. Dhoni and his boys will face a different kind of challenge this time as they start as world champions unlike in South Africa where they were the underdogs.

In terms of preparation, the IPL has given everyone an opportunity to gear up for the most popular version of the game, but the hectic schedule has also raised a few questions about the fitness of some players.

The T20 format is extremely unpredictable, and with the ball likely to jag around in England, the ICC World Twenty20, 2009 will not be short of surprises. Of course, the biggest question is whether India can retain the title. They will have as much a chance as New Zealand and South Africa have but in order to win the tournament the team that collectively hustles on the field will have the advantage. Team India won the inaugural edition because they fielded and ran better than the rest in the fray. Whether they can reproduce the same form and get their noses ahead will decide their chances in England.

The Indian selection committee has once again done a good job in picking the squad but the selectors and the team management have taken a gamble by not picking a second wicketkeeper. In the event (God forbid) of an injury on the morning of the match to the skipper, the team will suffer a serious setback. Hopefully Dhoni and his team will not be subjected to such a predicament but overall, the squad is well balanced and capable of delivering.

Team India will not be really tested in the opening phase of the tournament but that can prove to be a blessing as the key players can utilise those matches to get into their groove. A lot of players thrive on confidence even if the numbers are put up against slightly lesser teams. It is a case of feeling good before the bigger challenges as a pleasant frame of mind will facilitate optimum performance.

Though the openers, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag, had not been in the best of nick in the IPL, they both can be expected to perform well in England, as they both are experienced enough to fine tune their minds by the time they get into the thick of things. One must remember that they set the tone on a consistent basis for India in all formats in the last year or two. Except for the opening pair, the rest of the batsmen are in good nick and they will be hoping to continue their form into the ICC World Twenty20, 2009.

In the bowling department, the return of R. P. Singh to form will be viewed with great pleasure as he can be more than handy in England where the ball will wobble around. The skipper has a lot of faith in him and as such he will be looking to make a mark in this tournament.

While India look a formidable side on paper, the Kiwis can run away with things if their explosive batsmen get going. The likes of Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum, Jacob Oram and Jesse Ryder can destroy any attack on their day. And the other big advantage is that Oram and Ryder are handy with the ball as well. The Kiwi stars may not have fired on all cylinders in the IPL but the fact that they are playing for their country will motivate them to put up a better show.

The T20 format requires explosive batsmen and useful all-rounders which New Zealand and South Africa possess in adequate measure. The South Africans will make things difficult for their opponents as they arguably are the best fielding side. They can really stifle the scoring with their athleticism and a good fielding unit can change the course of the game in the blink of an eye. In addition to their fielding, a good combination of all-rounders and experienced players make South Africa the team to watch. The South Africans also relish the league format and it remains to be seen how they will fare if they make the cut to the final stages of the tournament.

The T20 bug has caught up with the public and with its popularity gaining momentum almost on an hourly basis, the ICC will need to devise a safety mechanism to protect the other formats of the game from gradual extinction. There is little doubt that T20 is what brings people to the venues, but garnering revenue through an overdose of T20 will hasten the decay of the ODI format, and it will be a pity as the game cannot afford cannibalisation of one format by the other.