After that heady victory in 2007 when MS Dhoni's men won the inaugural ICC World Twenty20, former international Aakash Chopra writes about the challenges the Men in Blue have to overcome to clinch international T20 cricket’s biggest prize at this year’s edition in India
Can India win the World T20 in March? India won the inaugural edition in South Africa and came perilously close in the last edition too. Before going further with regards to India’s chances in this edition, let’s take a moment to look for the common thread between the previous two successful campaigns.
The Indian team celebrates winning the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 championship at Johannesburg’s Wanderers Stadium on September 24, 2007. India won the event after beating arch-rivals Pakistan by five runs in the final. Pic/AFP
While batsmen walk away with the accolades, it will be criminal to ignore what the bowlers bring to the table. In South Africa, it was India’s pace bowling of S Sreesanth and RP Singh, while the spin of Harbhajan Singh that played a crucial role. Then the good showing in Bangladesh was also largely due to the superb performance of the spin trio of R Ashwin, Amit Mishra and Ravindra Jadeja.
It’s commonly believed that T20 games are won by explosive batting, but nothing can be farther away from the truth. If the pitch is good enough to post in excess of 180, batting from both sides is likely to cancel each other out.
That’s exactly what happened last year in Dharamsala when India posted 200-plus but South Africa chased it down without a fuss. Now, the difference between winning and losing wasn’t the quality of batting, but the quality of a bowling spell, which Kyle Abbott produced for the visitors.
MS Dhoni. Pic/AFP
This forces us to look at the Indian bowling attack closely and, unfortunately, that’s where the fault lines lie. Indian bowling has been quite toothless in the business ends of a T20 game — which are the first six overs of power play and the last four overs of an innings.
Indian pace bowlers have not only leaked a lot of runs in these periods but also failed to pick wickets, and hence the results haven’t gone India’s way post the initial success. Given that India hosts one of the best T20 leagues (Indian Premier League) in the world, India should have found an answer to this problem, but unfortunately, that’s not been the case. These ‘tough overs’ in the IPL are bowled by the overseas recruits and hence Indian bowlers often slip under the radar. Obviously, that’s not possible in international cricket.
So, how did India make it to the finals in the last edition? Well, the pitches came to India’s rescue, for it assisted Indian spinners. Most games that India played were 140-150 run games and MS Dhoni could control the game with his spinners. And that’s what India must do in March-April to give itself a chance to recreate the magic of 2007. If India plays on flat pitches, Indian bowling will show up but if the pitches are slow and turning, India’s spinners will rule the roost. That’s when Ashwin & Co will come to their own and spin a web around most batsmen.
On paper India boasts of one of the most aggressive T20 batting order, for there’s a fair sprinkling of match-winners from top to bottom. Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina are as good as gold in this format, Virat Kohli averages in 40s and Dhoni has been one of the best finishers this game has ever seen.
Dhoni is at his best, both as a captain and as a player, in T20 cricket. Remaining calm under pressure is an asset in this format and Dhoni has shown that in abundance over the years.
India’s fortunes in this World T20 depend a lot on how he leads this unit and, more importantly, how he bats. His hitting abilities have been on the wane for quite some time and it’s quite apparent that he needs more time to explode but for that to happen, he must bat higher up in the order.
In all likelihood this is Dhoni’s last ICC tournament as a skipper and it’ll be interesting to see if he has one more world title left in him.
Then, there is Yuvraj Singh, the only man to hit six sixes in a T20 Internationals. Ideally, this batting should not only win matches on its own but also make up for the mediocre bowling. But that’s unlikely to happen in this World T20 till a few things fall in place.
India’s taking a huge gamble with Shikhar Dhawan in T20, for he isn’t the same impact player in the shortest format as he is in ODIs. So much so, that you’ll struggle to recall any T20 game that he won on his own.
Moving from one southpaw to the other — Raina is one of the finest T20 batsmen in the world but only if he gets enough overs to make an impact.
He’s done that for eight years for CSK because Dhoni allowed him to bat mostly at No 3 and definitely not later than four.
Can India find a way to give him the right order to bat? Not to forget that sending him down the order cost India the finals in Bangladesh.
Aakash Chopra is a former India Test opener