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March 20, 2014
India left for last year's Champions Trophy in similarly dispiriting circumstances. MS Dhoni had refused to answer questions about the alleged corruption in the IPL. This time, he wouldn't speak about Duncan Fletcher, the coach whom the BCCI had invited for a meeting just before the team left for Bangladesh. The overseas defeats are stacking up, like they had last year. Somehow, against all odds and suggestions of form, India managed to win that Champions Trophy. The only matter of relief for them this time will be that form and odds play even less a role in Twenty20 than they do in ODIs.
The tournament format itself is tough, though. Only two go ahead from a group of five with only one of the five minnows. In fact, India's group could draw Bangladesh, and they are capable of beating big teams in home conditions. India are also in the tougher group, with two pre-tournament favourites, West Indies and Australia, and the ever-dangerous Pakistan. What should make it more difficult is that India have played only five T20Is since the last World T20. Four of them featured one set of openers, the fifth a completely new set. And the fifth and the last came in October 2013, so India don't have much to go by in terms of form and feel when they choose their starting XI and batting order.
Do Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma continue to open, like they did in India's last T20 international, despite the failure in the first warm-up match? Is there a place for Ajinkya Rahane, who opened in the four matches before that? India don't have any form guide to go by when they make these decisions. Lest we forget, we said the same things before the 2007 tournament, and if Twenty20 has taught us one lesson, it is to never write a team off.
Playing for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, the Ravis, Ashwin and Jadeja, control the middle of the innings superbly, and aren't shy of bowling a high-pressure over in the end either. If anything, the wickets in Bangladesh will be even slower. To add to that, Dhoni is a good captain of spin. He will have to make the most of those eight overs to assume some control. Given the general profligacy of their other bowlers, India will have to spin it to win it. The only debilitating factor here is that India are the main draw for television, which demands they play every match in the evening, and ask their spinners to fight the dew.
India's bowling other than Ashwin and Jadeja. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami will likely be the first two choices, but it is Mohit Sharma and Amit Mishra who will need to surprise or Stuart Binny to multi-task or Varun Aaron to blast through with his pace. It is possible that the pitches might allow the playing of all three spinners, but even if they don't, at least one of the quicks will have to play a big role.
Denial. Hopefully India are not singing to themselves the tune they have been playing in their press conferences - 'The IPL is high quality cricket so we don't need international experience. We lost only one match in the last World T20 so we are an excellent team. It was only rain during the match we lost that made the ball wet and pushed our net run rate too far down.'
The facts are: even despite dubious claims of high quality in the IPL, you need to play as a team to sort out your combinations, to know which bowler is in form to bowl the pressure overs, to know if Rohit should indeed open the innings, to judge if Dhoni should bat higher in the order and give himself the time to score his first international T20 fifty.
And saying India lost just one match in the last World T20 flatters them. When they knew they had to beat South Africa by at least 31 runs for that win to mean something, India used their best bowler, Ashwin, only from the 10th over, until which time India had set up a close contest for the match itself but had lost sight of their main target. It did rain during India's only "defeat", but India knew it was going to rain yet they picked three spinners and decided to bat first.
World T20 history
After stunning everyone by winning the inaugural World T20 in 2007, India have fizzled out as a T20 team. In the three World T20s since the first, they have won just two matches after easy an passage into the second rounds. This time there is no easy passage with the first round set for all the action before the semi-finals.
India have won three and lost two of their matches since the last World T20. Yuvraj Singh is their form batsman, the only Indian to have scored an international fifty in T20s since the last World T20. He also leads the wickets chart with seven.
Dhoni didn't bat in India's first warm-up game because of a hand niggle. However, he did keep wicket so it doesn't sound like a serious injury.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Sidharth Monga
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