Time to soar high again

Time to soar high again

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Time to soar high again

For all their favourites’ tag at their home party, it will be interesting to note that India have never managed to beat New Zealand — their opponents in the World T20 opener here on Tuesday — in a Twenty20 International.

In the four completed matches between the two sides since their first clash in the 2007 World T20, which MS Dhoni’s men went on to win, India have come up short against the Kiwis on all occasions. But this is a piece of statistics that neither team will read too much into given the context of their Tuesday’s match. India are formidable at home at any given point in time but when a team walks into a tournament on the back of 10 wins in the last 11 T20Is then it can be daunting, if not intimidating, for any opponent.

There is no team in the competition that has had a better preparation in the run up to the biennial extravaganza than India. From the three-match series against Australia Down Under to Asia Cup (played in T20 format), the hosts have ensured they hit the top gear by the time tournament proper kicked off. Sometimes, however, even the best-laid plans can go bust.

Given the fickle nature of the ultra-abridged version of the game, a team’s form can often be misleading. In a format where things change with telling finality in a matter of a single over or a brilliant piece of fielding or a small cameo at a crucial stage, the word momentum can be an exaggeration. And so, India, notwithstanding their brilliant run, will be mindful of the fact that a little dip in intensity or shift in focus can cost them dear. Not to mention the pressure of playing in front of home crowd.

Fortunately for India, quite a few of the players in the present squad were part of the triumphant 2011 World Cup campaign at home five years ago. They are aware of the expectations from people, they know how unreasonable the fans can get at times. It was no wonder then to hear Virat Kohli say that the quietest place for a player to be in a home event was the field of play.

That said, some of the young guns in the team have betrayed few nerves belying their lack of experience. The likes of Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya have injected a breath of fresh air with their performance and matching attitude. The best news for India, though, has been skipper MS Dhoni rediscovering his mojo. While it’s true that a captain is as good as the team he has, it’s equally correct that the positive influence of a performing captain on his team can’t be overemphasised.

India have also been lucky with their top-three batsmen coming up with goods on a regular basis. While Kohli has obviously been the fulcrum of India’s batting, the impressive run of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma has been equally crucial.

Yuvraj Singh is slowly regaining his vintage touch and the boisterous way in which Pandya collects his runs in the lower middle order has added a new dimension to their batting unit.

Also, in Pandya, India may have finally discovered a seaming all-rounder the search for whom appeared endless. While it’s too early in his career, the promise is there to be seen. Paceman Bumrah too has been impressive since his debut in Australia.

Blessed with an unorthodox, confusing bowling action, the Gujarat seamer is deceptively quick and his ability to bowl yorkers has provided a shot in the arm for the Indian attack. Complimenting him is veteran Ashish Nehra whose skills and experience have been vital in India’s recent run of wins.

No Indian bowler, however, has been as influential as R Ashwin. The numbers speak for themselves – 17 wickets in the last 10 matches he has played at an average of 12.35 and an economy rate of 5.67 which is acceptable even in ODIs these days. Whether it’s the power play or the middle overs or the death overs, he has delivered the goods for India.

While all the pieces appear to have fallen in right place for India, New Zealand, in the post Brendon McCullum era, can prove more than handy for the hosts. Lack of quality spinners may hinder the Kiwis a bit, but an explosive batting line-up and a quality pace attack can spice up the contest.

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