The reaction of the distraught Bangladesh fans when MS Dhoni hammered in the final nail during the chase in the Asia Cup final told the story. It is what champion teams do to you. They possess a ruthless streak and are not touched by the fear of the opposition, situation or the stage.
Most teams would have been left daunted by the atmosphere at Mirpur. Hence, the calm execution in front of packed stands with spectators baying for blood was quite remarkable. Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan relished the stage and then Dhoni came in and waded into the local heroes.
India have been on a winning streak since their first Twenty20 game of the year at Adelaide in January. But there was an aura that night in Mirpur as India took the final against Bangladesh in some style. It was evident to the other main Asia Cup sides Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, after Australia felt it a month earlier that India meant business.
HIGH ON CONFIDENCE
With a record of 10 wins and one defeat in 2016, India go into the World Twenty20 as clear favourites. The momentum is with them and self-belief is high in the unit.
While we can debate about whether the team has peaked too early, winning consistently is what successful sides do. However, it has raised expectations, and with it comes great responsibility, building pressure. Skill India have in abundance, but it is their mental toughness that will be tested in the first World T20 to be played in their backyard.
Carrying the hopes of the second most populous nation on earth can be unnerving, and make even top teams make silly mistakes.
Fortunately for India, they can stick to a successful template. The batch of 2011 laid it and that is what the selectors’ plan seems to be.
By adding Yuvraj Singh, Ashish Nehra and Harbhajan Singh to a side which has captain MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and R Ashwin, they have ensured that half the side will go in with the confidence of having handled the hype and expectations.
Ultimately, the tournament will throw up situations that will test your temperament and skills to the extreme. Yuvraj and Raina’s innings against Australia in the quarterfinals, Harbhajan and Ashish Nehra’s spells against Pakistan in the semifinals and Virat and Dhoni’s knocks in the final at Wankhede were the decisive moments in the 2011 World Cup win.
It will be invaluable to have them sharing those experiences in the dressing room.
India have deliberately planned their campaign in this manner. “Winning is a habit and we will look to win each game going into the World T20,” team director Ravi Shastri had told HT.
India’s batting has gained a formidable look, but Jasprit Bumrah has been the X-factor. He is no Glenn McGrath, but the transformation in the bowling unit after the arrival of the young pacer with an unorthodox action has been nothing short of dramatic. Effective with the new ball and in the slog overs, he provides the cutting edge.
Since he came on board for the final ODI of the Australia tour in Sydney, India has lost just one T20 game --- at Pune against Sri Lanka. Overall, things have fallen into place in the last six weeks.
With Bumrah and Hardik Pandya, and Yuvraj and Nehra, India’s bowling has the right dose of youthful energy and experience.
Another new addition, all-rounder Pandya is central to Dhoni’s plans, but has not been tested enough. If he clicks, India’s bowling will be firing on all cylinders.
However, at India’s core are their spinners. R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh (if played), Yuvraj and Raina can bowl cleverly and get through their overs quickly. In the build-up, Dhoni has tried every combination. On the pitches of the subcontinent, the best ploy is to take the pace off the ball.
Dhoni knows the strength of the batting unit and how best to set it free. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have become the most intimidating opening pair in the world. They complement each other, and adapt well, be it attacking or playing second fiddle.
Besides his big hitting, Suresh Raina has become adept at finding the angles, Yuvraj has found the rhythm needed for T20 and Pandya and Dhoni can finish off the innings with booming shots.
But Virat is the most feared player among the opposition teams. He was the top-scorer in the last edition, and he has added a new dimension to his batting. Bowlers have tried in vain to control him.
Even in the last WT20, had Yuvraj been able to rotate the strike, Kohli could have finished the final as a contest. He is batting at an even higher plane now. The pressure of the occasion is for lesser mortals. As he showed in the Asia Cup final, he can leave a packed stadium numb with his poise and array of strokes.
THE VIRAT FACTOR
India are an outfit buzzing with team spirit. And a lot of credit for that should go to Virat. He has silenced all talk of disharmony the existence of two power centres by playing the perfect lieutenant to Dhoni, supporting the team in all aspects while setting the standard in the field.
However, getting the team to maintain the intensity during the tournament will be the main challenge for Shastri. India are in a tricky group and will have to be on top of their game. They can’t afford any slip up. New Zealand are dangerous in any condition. Australia will be a different team from the one India outplayed in the January series. With David Warner, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell and their leading bowlers back, they will be provide the strongest opposition for the hosts.
Psychologically, India will hold an edge against Pakistan, but they will be wary of the Mohammad Amir test that awaits them.
All said, India are in their backyard, and conditions suit their players the best. T20 is a fickle format but there is enough evidence to suggest that India have got their game plan right. The stars seem to be aligning for Dhoni’s side, and Kolkata fans must be excused if they have already started dreaming of cheering their team in the final, to be played at the majestic Eden Gardens on April 3. The money is on the Men on Blue living up to the high hopes of the adoring public.