Favourites once again, charged-up India hoping to erase eight years of heartbreaks

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22 Oct 2021 | 10:24 AM
authorAnirudh Suresh

Favourites once again, charged-up India hoping to erase eight years of heartbreaks

The Men in Blue would be hoping to not encounter the familiar ‘45 minutes of bad cricket’

So, it’s that time of the year again. Or rather, it’s that time of the cricketing calendar. Indeed, it’s World Cup time and that can only mean one thing: team India being unanimously backed as outright favourites. 

We’ve been here before, a lot of times. Since India emerged victorious in the 2013 Champions Trophy, for the Men in Blue, the buildup heading into every event has been eerily similar. 

This time, however, unlike the previous five ICC events, both the players and the fans would be hoping for the outcome to be different. For the team to live up to the hype and come out of the other side of the competition as Champions.

There is absolutely no question that this team possesses the talent, ability and firepower to do so. Just like the team that represented the country in the 2019 World Cup. Or the 2017 Champions Trophy. Or the 2016 World T20.

What remains to be seen is if this bunch, under Virat Kohli, has the steel and the mental edge to get over the line and not succumb to 45 minutes of bad cricket. 

One man whose side always tended to have the attributes above is MS Dhoni. And this time around he will be mentoring the side with the aim of helping team India finally break their eight-year trophy drought. 

Should they not land the title, the failure won’t be a blot on Dhoni’s CV. It will, however, be an indelible black-mark on the captaincy résumé of Kohli, for whom this could very well be the final opportunity to win a trophy as skipper. 

Kohli and India have everything to play for. 


A factory that never stops producing runs

There is a reason why, in the last four years, India have been a T20 powerhouse. There is a reason why they have lost just two bilateral series and have conquered England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and West Indies among other countries. That reason is their batting, which is pretty much close to perfection.

And they will enter this T20 World Cup with, at least on paper, the best ever batting line-up in the country’s history.

The top three of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Kohli are so good that they would walk into any T20 side in the world - in history. Not only are all three batters monster run-accumulators, they are also dynamic. Their record speaks for themselves and while any team can consider itself lucky to have just one of those three superstars, India are effectively utilizing a cheat code by using all three.

Then below them is this gang of modern-day T20 behemoths who tend to put the fear of god in the opposition.

Rishabh Pant, Suryakumar Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja and Hardik Pandya have been terrorizing bowlers in the IPL for their respective franchises for the past three years, and now they will have a chance to do the same for their country, together. Some of them might be in indifferent form, but the sheer potency of the quartet is unrivalled. 

Overall, this batting unit is one that has nearly every base covered. And it’s scary.

Knowledge about conditions 

It is true that India have multiple x-factors with the ball, something that can be considered a significant ‘strength’. But the biggest edge they possess is the fact that all 15 members in their squad know the ins and outs of the conditions in the UAE, having spent nearly 50 days in the Middle-East. No other team in the competition has the same luxury.

And all individuals part of the Indian camp - even the reserves and net bowlers - not just spent time in UAE, but featured game-in and game-out for their respective franchises. This essentially means that every player will be aware of the ‘know-how’ to succeed in these conditions, and will be in sync with one another. 

IPL 2021 saw the teams that adapted to the conditions the best have success, and India will know that the forthcoming World Cup will be no different. Kohli’s side will have a headstart on that front. 


Imbalance in the set-up 

India opted for the bare minimum number of pacers in the squad with the idea that they could have 6 bowling options (3 spin + 3 pace) in the playing XI if Hardik Pandya bowls, but Pandya’s injury preventing him from rolling his arm over means that the team will encounter balance issues.

Should they opt for 6 batsmen and Jadeja, that will mean that one of Kohli, Rohit or Suryakumar will have to potentially double-up as a sixth bowling option, a scenario less than ideal.

On the contrary, should they opt for 5 batsmen and Jadeja (which will allow them to field 5 specialist bowlers apart from Jadeja), the team’s batting depth will be compromised. All of Thakur, Ashwin and Bhuvneshwar are capable of holding the bat, but neither of them are qualified enough to be batting at No.7. 

Had Pandya been fit enough to bowl, India would have had perfect balance in the XI. That is no longer the case.   

Not-so-prolific against spin

If we are to nit-pick one weakness in this Indian batting line-up, then it certainly is how a lot of the batters are pretty uncomfortable against spin. 6 of the 8 Indian batsmen in the T20WC squad have struck at under 125 against spinners in T20s this year, and really, Suryakumar Yadav is the only individual entirely capable of playing a free-flowing game against the slower bowlers.

While Rohit has had his fair share of troubles against spinners inside the powerplay, both Rahul and Kohli have been bogged down by the slower bowlers in the middle-phase. Jadeja and Pandya will not be facing a lot of spin due to being lower-order batters, but Pant has, recently, seen his SR against the spinners plateau. Since 2020, he is striking at just 110 vs spinners; this figure stood at 149.3 prior to 2020.

Granted some of these batters have had to tone down their aggression owing to the needs of their franchises, there is no question that this Indian side, overall, prefers to face pace. Therefore should the wickets be sluggish, ‘spin’ will be opponents’ biggest weapon at the mega event. 

Form concerns

Hardik Pandya is averaging 17.15 in all T20s this year, and despite India’s best efforts to get him back into form, he simply has not been able to rediscover his old form. Given there will be added pressure due to him playing as a specialist batsman, Pandya jr’s form is a serious concern heading into the competition.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar had a wretched IPL 2021, and his woes continued in the two warm-up matches, where he looked innocuous for the large part. As one of just four seamers in the squad, his dwindling returns will certainly bother the team management.

Rahul Chahar will enter the mega event short on confidence, having endured a forgettable UAE leg in IPL 2021 - where he was dropped - and having not impressed too much in the warm-up games. Given Chahar is the only wrist-spinner in the squad, his tumble is not ideal for the Men in Blue.

Best Possible XI

KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli ©, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Varun Chakravarthy.

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ICC World Twenty20, 2021IndiaVirat KohliKL RahulRohit SharmaHardik PandyaJasprit BumrahRavindra JadejaRishabh PantBhuvneshwar Kumar

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