Fearless cricket need of the hour
With the triumph in the inaugural World T20 being the only highlight, Men in Blue have lot to play for in the fourth edition. Sanjjeev K Samyal reports. Key batsmen | Key bowlers | Captain under fire | Expert speak | India’s swot analysis | India at World T20 | Mark these dates
It seems to be a phenomenon in Indian cricket - the higher you go, the bigger the fall. Whenever they scale a peak, their next step sends them crashing down into the crevice. It happened with the Test team; after the No 1 ranking they held came the humiliation of eight consecutive defeats in England and Australia. It's the same with their Twenty20 side.
MS Dhoni's men took the world by storm when they lifted the inaugural World Cup. After that it's been the same old story; turning out to be the big flop stories of the World T20s played since.
In 2009, The Men in Blue failed to win a single game in the Super Eights of the World T20, and the poor show was repeated a year later when the event was held in the Caribbean.
In 2009 and 2010 when India lost, they could comfort themselves saying, 'So what? We are the world's top ranked team in Tests'. There will be no such solace this time if they don't deliver. The No 1 ranking is long gone, and after the World Cup triumph in the 50-overs format, they flopped in the tri-series in Australia and in the Asia Cup in Bangladesh.
The tournament also gains significance as it comes during the transition phase in Indian cricket. All the senior stalwarts, except Sachin Tendulkar, have made their exit and everyone is looking up to the new India.
Similar to 2007
The situation in some ways is similar to 2007. That was when the transition period had kicked off with the golden generation of the 2000s deciding to allow the young guns to be tested. Senior pros Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly had opted out of the inaugural World T20 in South Africa, leaving the reigns in the hands of a certain long-haired, inspirational cricketer from Jharkhand. It was the first time India were playing a major ICC event without Tendulkar & Co since the 1990s.
What followed was fairytale stuff. Initially reluctant to embrace the newest format, India brushed aside England, South Africa, Australia and Pakistan in successive games to grab the title, triggering a T20 revolution at home and beyond.
A lot of players from India's '07 batch are here, including the captain, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh. They would do well to revisit the template of their triumphant campaign.
Cricket manager of the 2007 team, Lalchand Rajput, says the key to victory was the team going out and playing fearless cricket. Normally, India's biggest challenge has been coping with the pressure of expectations. In 2007, they were an unknown entity and with the big names giving it a miss, no one back home really expected much from the young bunch.
"The players showed what they can do when they play freely," says Rajput. "They played fearlessly."
"It was the first time the event was included in the ICC calendar, so it was new to everyone. Every team is well-equipped now," the former Mumbai and India opener says.
No IPL fatigue
One of the main reasons for India's poor show in the last two World Cups was IPL fatigue as the tournament was scheduled soon after the gruelling one-and-half-month long T20 league. This time, the India players have no cause for complaining. They are well rested and at the same time have got their momentum going in the series against Sri Lanka and New Zealand.
India are also counted among the favourites because they, along with the hosts and Pakistan, will be more comfortable in these conditions. Their batsmen will relish the subcontinent pitches which they know like the back of their hands, having been frequent travellers to this country. Dhoni's men will also take the confidence of having dominated Sri Lanka in the recent exchanges into the tournament.
India's appeal, however, goes far beyond the field of play. Thanks to their army of billion plus supporters, they are the soul of any cricketing event, and hence the marketing men's favourites. The formats are tweaked to ensure India's stay in the tournament for long. The 2007 World Cup in West Indies is a painful reminder of how the success of any cricketing event is dependent on the presence of India.
No surprise then that the Men in Blue will hog the limelight. And, with a certain Yuvraj Singh in the mix, the attention is all the more on the squad. The first question, as one came out of the Colombo airport on Sunday morning, was about Yuvraj. He's become the saga of courage in the sport after his successful comeback following cancer treatment. His cricketing exploits only add to his charisma. As he returns to the big stage, the Indian star is assured of a warm welcome from the stands.
Overall, India has a lot to play for in the fourth edition World T20. It's a period when a lot of questions are being asked about the health of the game in the country where it is governed by the world's richest cricket board. And, the event provides Dhoni & Co a perfect platform to make a statement.