Will the applause for men in blue continue?

Skipper M. S. Dhoni leads an Indian squad that is strong on paper. A victory in the World T20 will bolster Dhoni’s men for the sterner battles ahead against England and Australia.George Bailey,the Australian skipper, has the onerous task of justifying the enormous faith invested in him.-K.R. DEEPAK

In Twenty20 cricket hierarchies can be dismantled in a span of a few deliveries and that offers a level playing field for weaker teams to try to chart their own ‘David versus Goliath’ stories. India though would prefer that no slingshots come its way under the Sri Lankan skies, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

The season has begun auspiciously for Indian cricket with its senior and junior arms evoking profuse applause. M. S. Dhoni’s men excelled in Sri Lanka and later defeated New Zealand 2-0 in the Test series. In Australia, Unmukt Chand and his spirited bunch won the Under-19 World Cup.

Despite the pathos of V. V. S. Laxman’s retirement, the feel-good vibe continues as we step into a fortnight that marks the fifth anniversary of India’s ICC World Twenty20 Championship triumph in Johannesburg in 2007. That special night in South Africa is a welcome memory milestone as the Men in Blue get set for the fourth edition of the ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka from September 18 to October 7.

Recently, at the Castrol cricket excellence awards function in Bangalore, the constant request placed before the Indian players was: please win in Sri Lanka so that we can be in a unique position of being defending champions in three World Cups (senior One Day Internationals and Twenty20 and the Under-19). It does help that India has toured Sri Lanka so often in the recent past that perhaps the players are familiar with every blade of grass at Colombo’s R. Premadasa Stadium, where the former champion’s matches are scheduled.

With India leading the Twenty20 revolution, thanks to the Indian Premier League, it was expected that Dhoni and company would have ready-made answers for all challenges that come their way in the shortest format’s global event. Yet the back-story involves sobering truths about hurried exits from the previous editions of the ICC World Twenty20 in England (2009) and the West Indies (2010). The short-pitched delivery unhinged the Indian batsmen’s attacking instincts in Old Blighty and the tale was the same in the Caribbean.

Cut to the present, a trophy triumph in Sri Lanka will bolster Dhoni’s men for the sterner battles ahead against England and Australia while the hype factory will spin the ‘time for revenge’ theme over television commercials. It is easier said than done, since in the intervening months, domestic leagues with an international air have sashayed across Australia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and that means more number of players are used to the split-second traumas of Twenty20 jousts.

The Indian squad is strong on paper and the sub-texts of Yuvraj Singh’s comeback from cancer, Harbhajan Singh’s slow return to the national fold and Rohit Sharma’s extended tryst to reiterate his credentials will all add more layers.

India’s immediate rivals in Group ‘A’ — Afghanistan and defending champion England — have their own angst of shedding the minnows tag and riding past a Twitter storm brewed by Kevin Pietersen respectively.

A berth in the Super Eight seems assured, but the real test will begin there where dreams can either soar or slump.

Among the rest, Sri Lanka will thrive on host advantage and Kumar Sangakkara, coming back from an injury, stated that the Emerald Isle will start as the favourite. The West Indies, having made peace with Chris Gayle, has in him the most explosive Twenty20 player of all-time. On the other hand, New Zealand, as was evident in its ambush of South Africa in last year’s 50-over World Cup quarterfinal in Dhaka, can be a dangerous floater.

Mercurial Pakistan has already added to the churn by clinching the Twenty20 series against Australia in Dubai. Winners of the ICC World Twenty20 in 2009 and with a spin combination helmed by Saeed Ajmal and batsmen who can exhilarate and exasperate at the same time, Pakistan is a tough proposition especially in sub-continental conditions.

Meanwhile Australia’s fall from grace in Twenty20 — it is now placed below Ireland in the rankings — may just be an aberration but skipper George Bailey has the onerous task of justifying the enormous faith invested in him.

While all nations including lightweights Afghanistan, Ireland and Zimbabwe, have their own destinies to chase, South Africa will have the existential drama of proving that in the crunch, the Proteas can deliver. It is a trait that has eluded South Africa in global tournaments in the past though the recent victories in England should enhance the team’s self-belief.

However, in the crucible of Twenty20 cricket where the compressed form leaves minimal room for errors, hierarchies can be dismantled in a span of a few deliveries and that offers a level playing field for weaker teams like Bangladesh to try and chart their own ‘David versus Goliath’ stories. India though would prefer that no slingshots come its way under the Sri Lankan skies.