India bank on 'home' conditions in Sri Lanka
OverviewWhen India didn't take the format seriously at all, they won the inaugural World Twenty20. Ever since India have turned the format into the biggest business the game has ever seen, they have not won a single game in the second round of the subsequent events, progression to which often depends on beating an Associate or an Affiliate. That's six losses and no wins against serious opposition when the pressure is on. It's this record India will be fighting against once they have beaten Afghanistan in their group game.
The two disappointing showings came on the heels of the IPL. After they failed to defend their crown in 2009, their coach Gary Kirsten spoke of the IPL fatigue. In the lead-up to the next event, in 2010, they were the only side to not play a single warm-up game because the IPL finished five days before their first match. This time, though, the timing of the tournament means they have had enough time off, and enough time in Sri Lanka. Not that they need any acclimatising: the running joke is that the Indian players never throw away their local Sri Lankan sim cards because they keep playing there ever so often anyway.
India will bank on this familiarity with their home away from home, and their batting, like they did in the 50-over world event last year. It is a tournament without favourites if the identity of the winners of the three previous editions has taught us anything. If you were to wager still, you wouldn't like the look of India's bowling and some of their fielding, but then again would you want to bet against batsmen who play more international cricket at R Premadasa Stadium than they do at their respective home grounds? Another reason why India shouldn't be ruled out is that once the bowling and fielding somehow come together in Twenty20, you don't have to sustain it for too long. India should know: they have done it once before.
At any rate, the bouncer is not likely to be nearly as effective in Sri Lanka as it was in England and in the West Indies.
Key playerMS Dhoni: Twenty20 is the only format where the openers have it easier than the middle order. It's often those batting after No. 3 who win or lose the close games. India's talisman in the middle, Yuvraj Singh, is back from his fight with cancer, but India's reliance on him cannot be the same now. Someone else in the middle order, somebody who handles pressure well, will have to be the key. Not a bad time for the man with the reputation of being one of the best under pressure in ODIs to correct a statistical aberration: not a single fifty in T20 internationals.
Surprise packageHarbhajan Singh was out in the cold storage - and it's not a barb at the English weather - when he was called up for World T20 more than a year after he was dropped from international cricket. There have been questions about what he has done to earn the recall, but when in a scrap you want this man on your side.
WeaknessBowling and fielding. Harbhajan, a discard until now, is the highest-ranked Indian in the ICC T20 ratings, at No. 21. R Ashwin is the only Indian among the top 32 ODI bowlers. There is just no telling how many runs Indian bowlers can leak at the death of any limited-overs international. In a warm-up game, despite playing five specialist bowlers, they failed to defend 185 after having Pakistan down at 91 for 5.
It doesn't help that seven of the 15 fielders in the squad are past the age of 30 (five of them are certain starters), and this group doesn't include R Ashwin. If India make it past the Super Eights, either their bowlers and fielders will have shown a great improvement or their batsmen will have put in a superhuman effort to compensate.
World T20 historyThey stunned the world with an inspirational showing in the first World Twenty20, but have since failed to make any impression in the Super Eights in the two subsequent tournaments.
Recent formThey have won two and lost three matches in 2012, including their latest. These numbers should hardly count for anything because there has been no continuity in the side at all. Irfan Pathan is the only quick to have played more than one of their last three matches. Their last four matches have featured four different opening combinations with the bat.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo