World T20 2016 March 14, 2016

Favourites India have most bases covered

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Manjrekar: India's bowlers adding as much value as batsmen

Big Picture

Since the start of 2016, India have played 11 T20Is. They have won ten of them, and the one loss came on a monstrous green-top in Pune. They have crushed their opponents with a sense of inevitability, and while doing so seem to have found solutions to a couple of long-standing issues that had hindered their limited-overs game.

India are by no means the perfect team, but they have built up such a head of steam, and in such a timely manner, that they start the World T20 as favourites, by a distinct though not overwhelming margin.

It only takes one defeat - to a dangerous New Zealand side, perhaps, in the tournament opener - to change perceptions, casting a harsh glare on hitherto unseen or underestimated weaknesses, but at this stage India have most of their bases covered for a tournament in home conditions. Partly by design and partly by accident, the components of a well-rounded bowling attack have fallen into place.

No one in all of India's cricket-consuming population could have predicted, even on New Year's Eve, that Ashish Nehra and Jasprit Bumrah would be their first-choice new-ball pair at the World T20. But that is precisely what they are, and they are doing such a good job of it that it's hard to see a fit-again Mohammed Shami dislodging either of them. R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, meanwhile, are doing what R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja usually do.

The batting is humming along, too. The top three are in frighteningly good form. Shikhar Dhawan, for so long a puzzling underachiever in T20s, seems to have found his feet in the format, and that is a major worry for teams that also have to come up with plans to keep Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli quiet.

The big area of concern, though, is what comes after that top three. Since the start of 2014, the T20I strike rate of India's middle order (No. 4 to No. 7) is 119.80. Nine teams do worse than India on that count, but those nine teams are Zimbabwe, Ireland, Netherlands, Bangladesh, Oman, Hong Kong, UAE, PNG and Nepal.

At the helm

MS Dhoni is part of that worrying middle order, and his finishing came under considerable scrutiny during the 2015-16 tour of Australia - though that was largely during the ODI leg, when he struggled to summon up the big hits while India chased down big targets. Since then, though, he has batted eight times in T20Is, and scored 78 runs at a strike rate of 229.41, while only being dismissed twice. Are those figures evidence that he is back to his best, or are they too skewed by the circumstances he has walked in at, with only a few balls remaining to top up a big total or a few runs needed to complete a comfortable chase?

Whatever the answer to that question is, Dhoni remains a key figure in a campaign that is quite possibly his last ICC event. Savour while you still can the hits over long-on, that airborne slap through the covers, those lightning stumpings, and the deadpan asides caught on the stump mic.

Key Stat

117.33

That's Virat Kohli's T20I average this year. He has batted eight times, scored four half centuries, remained not out four times, and done all this at a strike rate of 134.35.

Ashish Nehra's four overs of left-arm menace have come in handy for India © Associated Press

Leading Men

Virat Kohli
As those stats testify, Kohli has been central to India's winning run, absorbing pressure when early wickets have fallen, scoring rapidly while deviating only minimally from the textbook, and bending chases to his will. His presence at the crease often camouflages India's middle-order frailties.

R Ashwin
At ICC events, Ashwin invariably raises his game. He has a career bowling average of 31.73 in ODIs, but averages 24.88 in World Cups and 22.62 in the Champions Trophy. In all T20Is, he averages 21.56 and has an economy rate of 6.84. In the World T20 his average is 13.68 and his economy rate 5.61. It's hard to see the pattern changing at this World T20, given the rhythm he is in, and given the conditions he'll probably bowl in.

Ashish Nehra
At various points over the last few weeks, Ashish Nehra has provoked a feeling of regret for what he might have achieved in Test cricket had his bones and joints not been so brittle. He can certainly bowl four quality overs of left-arm menace, though. The run-up is as brisk as ever, and the new ball swerves in the air and hurries off the pitch just like it used to a decade ago. Since his comeback, Nehra has taken 13 wickets in 10 matches at 19.92. Ten of those wickets have come in the Powerplay overs.

Burning Question

Are India taking a risk by playing Yuvraj Singh?

In the final of the 2014 World T20, Yuvraj Singh made 11 off 21 balls. He struggled to find the boundaries, and he struggled to get off strike. It meant Virat Kohli couldn't get on strike. It meant India couldn't get their name on the trophy.

Yuvraj, that day, was the victim of Twenty20's structural cruelty: better the first-ball slog straight to a fielder than a 21-ball struggle that would show character in another format. It was hard to see him coming back from that, but he has come back from far bigger crises. It's no surprise, then, that he's here again, two years later, playing another World T20.

But the doubts persist. In the 12 T20I innings he has played since the start of 2014, Yuvraj's T20I strike rate is 102.38. It was 153.08 before that. His dot-ball percentage has gone from 40.39 to 52.15. When the ball is in his slot, he can still use his massive reach and bat swing to devastating effect, but can he still do it against top-quality bowling?

World T20 history

After winning the inaugural edition in 2007 - and changing the landscape of world cricket - India went through a period of underachievement in the tournament, failing to reach the semi-finals in 2009, 2010 and 2012. They were back at their best in 2014, however, topping their Super-10 group with four wins out of four and cruising past a challenging South African total in the semi-finals before losing the title match to Sri Lanka.

In their own words

"I think we are running in the sixth gear - I know technology has gone into eight gears. Everything is set. I don't think there are further gears to operate upon. How we are playing cricket and the stuff we are doing on the field is adequate for any level of game, but we have to keep our intensity up and focus should be there from ball one."
- India captain, MS Dhoni

Aakash Chopra on India's strengths and weaknesses

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  •   Shashank Singh on March 15, 2016, 9:04 GMT

    Pandya should be in for shami for sure as he can bowl good 4 overs and bats well as pinch hitter and is doing good in recent outings.

  • Lodhisingh on March 14, 2016, 21:27 GMT

    i think the stats mentioned to point to the weakness in the indian team are a bit skewed. when talking about form(10 wins in 11) and strength(virat averaging a million) the stats are taken from 2016, which actually makes sense becos 11 games is a lot in T20Is and accurately shows current form. However, the stats since 2014 are taken show the weakness(middle order not striking well) and yuvi being a risk(again comparing pre 2014 and since). I think this should be also taken only from 2016 to accurately show what kind of strike rate and form the middle order and yuvi are in just like what we did for nehra.

  • positiveindian on March 14, 2016, 17:48 GMT

    A well balanced team. Should make the semis. May lose a game in the league games. Will all depend on the pitches. Especially in the knockouts if it faces SA/WI on flat pitches - may prove problematic. If the pitches are slow, should make it to the finals easily.

  • SAURAVJAIN on March 14, 2016, 16:16 GMT

    1.Rohit,2.Dhawan,3.Kohli,4.Jadeja(as pinch Hitter),5.Raina,6.Yuvi,7.Mahi,8.Ashwin,9.Shami,10.Bumrah,11.Nehra.Against a good team five bowlers that are genuine is must along with part timers like Yuvi who can compensate a bad day of front line bowler . Jadeja's batting should be utilised by promoting him solely as Pinch Hitter to make 25-30 fast runs in 15 balls say. This will relax situation for Yuvi and Mahi at 5,6 or 7.India lost in practice match against SA and had India used a pinch hitter then Dhoni and Yuvi could have chased 197 easily. Jadeja has won it with bat several times like Champions trophy final,Lords test,NZ Auckland ODI,4th ODI,Champions Trophy match against SA (49 runs in 27 balls),For Kochi Tuskers,CSK in very limited opportunities.

  • Fast_Track_Bully-tvumpire.com on March 14, 2016, 15:14 GMT

    Same SA bite dust in test series too. But India made 5-6 changes to that team and won asiacup after that. SA were favourits in all ICC matches. But they failed in crusial stages. Just like their winless champions trophy.

  • sampu_sheikh on March 14, 2016, 13:50 GMT

    India XI: Dhawan, Rohit, Kohli, Raina, Yuvraj, Dhoni, Jadeja, Pandya, Ashwin, Shami, Bumrah.

  • Nampally on March 14, 2016, 13:48 GMT

    Indian middle order batting is still a suspect with both Raina & Yuvraj showing their weakness against quality bowling on responsive pitches. India has better #4 bats available than either of these 2. But sentiments always seem to prevail over logic. It is good to have all rounders only if team has 4 reliable bats & 4 reliable bowlers. Nehra, Gumrah, Ashwin & Jadeja provide 4 good bowlers but Dhawan, Rohit & Kohli add up to just 3 with a missing specialist bat. It is a risk which Dhoni is taking with the hope of finding flat Indian pitches & inconsistent bowling. Rahane or Manish from the existing squad or Iyer,Nair or Sarfaraz from others, can fulfill the batting needs. Apart from this limitation, the Indian team looks as good an all-round side as any. It is putting the best foot forward on the match day + "changing tactics on the Fly", matter most in T-20 in each match. All the best to MSD & his team in getting the job done!

  • Cpt.Meanster on March 14, 2016, 13:19 GMT

    In T20s, any team can win. You saw what happened in the Oman vs Ireland game. One or two good overs can turn the match on its head. This is why T20 is the best format in cricket. It gives all teams a chance unlike boring test matches which usually favor 1 team even before the contest begins. India have no pressure. In fact, I don't expect them to win this and this is coming from an Indian fan. MS Dhoni wouldn't care honestly. He knows his side has been playing good cricket in this format for the last 2-3 months. But knowing him personally, he is not one to crumble under pressure or become overawed by the expectation of the nation.

  •   BalaKrishnan Durairaj on March 14, 2016, 12:03 GMT

    I am not sure why people are still talking about 2014 Final. If they do then they also need to think about who is the Man of the Series when India won 2007 and 2011 world cup. I believe that India never produced a hitter like Yuvi so far and without his big hitting, no chance to dream the cup. People should encourage him instead talking about the past. Start counting his MOM from March 15th.

  • gaziraihan88 on March 14, 2016, 11:41 GMT

    You feel just like a sleeping volcano,India's WC hopes could erupt any time If they face SA in the semis/final.They didn't had a clue how to stop Duminy,ABD during t20 and De Kock,FAF,ABD during ODI series and ended up losing both series on home soil.Again Duminy&De Kock did the damage for them in the warm up match.India needs to find a solution to handle those 4 batsmen as a team,otherwise similar fate could await them like 2015 WC,when they couldn't find a way through Steve Smith the whole Australian summer and he took the game away from them in the WC semis.India needs wicket-taking seamers more than containers so I'd pick Nehra over Shami any day atm who is more likely to give you break through as he has got more variations to trouble the batsmen.

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