India could hardly been in any better shape as they get set to start their quest to match their achievements of 2011 by lifting a global cricket title on home soil. Five years ago, the pressure was enormous as India went into the one-day World Cup, but they delivered the title to the cricket-mad nation. And they are now red-hot favorites to do the same ahead of the start of their World Twenty20 campaign against New Zealand in Nagpur on Tuesday.
India have rounded into form at just the right time in cricket’s shortest format. Already in 2016, they have completed a series whitewash against Australia, in Australia, beaten Sri Lanka on home soil and lifted the Asia Cup by winning all of their five matches in the first edition of the competition to be played over 20 overs.
All parts of the team are firing on all cylinders. Led by Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, the batting lineup is stacked, while emerging star Jasprit Bumrah has joined returning veteran Ashish Nehra in adding a complimentary pace attack to the spin of Ravichandran Ashwin. As if that weren’t enough, Mohammed Shami is back from his latest injury layoff and has taken four wickets in his first two international outings in 12 months.
Perhaps it was all going just a little too smoothly. And thus a defeat in their final warm-up match ahead of the Super 10 stage of the World T20 getting underway may only help ensure that no complacency creeps into the side. Certainly Dhawan, who fired 73 as India fell four runs short of chasing down South Africa’s total of 196 does not believe the loss provides any cause for real concern.
“Certainly, these are normal things,” he said. “It does not happen that the best finishers will always guarantee you to complete the task. Everyone gave their best and that's what matters. We were chasing such a big total, and wickets fell early on, after that there was a good partnership and came so close. It was only a matter of two runs. We learnt a lot from this game. What we have learnt today, will be implemented in the future.”
Despite their impressive form, India certainly can’t afford to be complacent, having been drawn into what is certainly the toughest of the two groups in the Super 10 portion of the competition. After taking on New Zealand, India will face a much-anticipated duel with rivals Pakistan and then matches with Asia Cup runners-up Bangladesh as well as one-day world champions Australia. Only the top two from the group will make it onto the semifinals.
Still, other than New Zealand, India can call upon victories this year over all of their Group 2 opponents. Perhaps their greatest opponent, then, will be the weight of expectation in front of their own fans and a relentless home media. Dhawan, though, insists it is something they can handle.
“We stay close as a family,” he explained. “We'll try to share the burden of expectation as a group and not individuals. We are playing at home and expectations of home crowds will always be there. We are also used to that.”
India World T20 Group 2 schedule (all times EDT)
Tuesday, March 15
India vs. New Zealand (10 a.m., Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium, Nagpur)
Saturday, March 19
India vs. Pakistan (10 a.m., Eden Gardens, Kolkata)
Wednesday, March 23
India vs. Bangladesh (10 a.m., M Chinnnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore)
Sunday, March 27
India vs. Australia (10 a.m., Punjab Cricket Association IS Bindra Stadium, Chandigarh)