India v SL, 3rd T20I, Visakhapatnam February 14, 2016

'We are always a top contender in the shorter formats' - MS Dhoni

MS Dhoni - "What the shortest format really does is, it narrows down the difference between the two teams. What you have to do is keep the [opposition's] big hitters out of the game" © BCCI

There is still a month to go till the World Twenty20, but no side other than India can claim to know their first XI so much in advance. In the team that beat Sri Lanka 2-1, thus retaining its No. 1 ranking in T20Is, there will only be one change made - Virat Kohli replacing Ajinkya Rahane - barring an extraordinary pitch or an opposition full of left-hand batsmen, but MS Dhoni also knows the fickle nature of the T20 format. He knows his side will be difficult to beat, but he also knows his side can be beaten. Two of the areas that can derail India's campaign are a big hitter in the opposition and India's somewhat suspect lower middle order, which can struggle to play the big shots from ball one.

"We are always a top contender when it comes to shorter formats," Dhoni said after India beat Sri Lanka by nine wickets in Visakhapatnam. "Also with the World Cup to be held in India we know the spinners will come into action. It gives us the added benefit. Also the exposure of having played the IPL over here. Out of the eight seasons we have played seven seasons in India. We have got a lot of players, especially ones who are the part of the team, who have got very good experience of playing in India.

"All of that will definitely count, but what the shortest format really does is, it narrows down the difference between the two teams. What you have to do is keep the [opposition's] big hitters out of the game. Also the knockout games, you have to be at your best. Once the knockout stage starts it is more like lottery cricket. To be consistent is something that is very important."

Asked if any aspect of his side was untested, Dhoni spoke of the lower middle order. "Everybody has not got a chance to bat, but we will keep facing this problem," Dhoni said. "Because also our batting line-up is quite deep. We will try to give batting to a few of the players who haven't batted so far. But usually people who are batting close to 6, 7 and 8, will have to develop more of going in and straightaway play the big shot. That's something that will certainly be very important for us. It is not about how many runs you score at that point of time. You may be facing just three or four or five deliveries. If you can get 10 or 12 runs, that will be of real benefit.

"But overall, other than that everybody has got an opportunity to bowl, which is a good thing. I think, in the last three games, everybody has gone for runs a bit. If it is the spinners or the fast bowlers, to an extent. They were under pressure at some point of time, which is a good thing for them. Overall we are looking good, but a bit more batting to the middle order will help."

One of the final ticks is R Ashwin's performance with the new ball after Dhoni had tended to bowl the six Powerplay overs with his quicks in Australia. Ashwin's success - he has claimed eight wickets in the two matches that he has taken the new ball against Sri Lanka - takes away that predictability from India's attack. "Ashwin is the pick of the bowlers when it comes to giving him the new ball, [with seven men] in the circle. He still flights the ball, asks the batsmen to step out and play the big shot. That is crucial in this format. At times you tend to bowl too flat, but he is somebody who mixes it up really well.

"He gives us that liberty of using the fast bowlers in the middle overs, especially when you are playing with just two fast bowlers. Gives us the liberty of mixing up the bowlers at different levels. But it's something we will keep doing throughout the coming games. We will see the conditions and the opposition at the same time, how many left-handers they have, and how many right-handers they have. Also what gives me that option is having Suresh Raina in the mix. You have literally two proper offspinners, especially when it is turning, and you have two left-arm spinners in [Ravindra] Jadeja and Yuvraj Singh in the XI so even if one of them has to bowl upfront it doesn't really matter because the others can do the job."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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