It’s hard to see past MS Dhoni’s team, all things considered. A devastating series victory in Australia at the turn of the year – against an Aussie side brimming with Big Bash superstars – was as clinical as it was carefree.
At the top of the order, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dharwan and Virat Kohli have the devastating grace of a trio of stealth bombers. If the Indians are only one or two-down at the innings’ halfway mark, the opposition needn’t make plans for the next round of the competition.
While the middle order isn’t firing quite as freely – and in fact India’s numbers five through seven have the lowest collective average strike rate of any country since 2014 – the fireworks launched by the top four have been more than enough to win matches. And win them convincingly.
India have emerged victorious from seven of their past eight T20 internationals and have shown just as much of a knack for slaughtering their opponents as they have for knuckling down when the going gets tough.
Whereas in 50-over cricket, Dhoni’s side has shown a propensity to implode from the slightest spark, in the shortest format they have no time to spontaneously combust. This is a well-drilled, well-balanced unit, featuring a spicy blend of old heads – Kohli, Dhoni, Ashish Nehra – and exciting young talent – most notably paceman Jasprit Bumrah.
And while India’s batting line-up is potent, they now have a bowling unit that is ingenious and creative. Most importantly, it’s reliable too.
Nehra took 22 IPL wickets at an average of 20.40 last years and has an arsenal of know-how to call on, both for himself and for his colleague Bumrah. The youngster has slotted into the international cauldron with remarkable ease, returning an economy rate of less than 6.5 to date, and between them the pair vary pace, length and line with military control.
Throw into the mix the wily spin twins of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravi Ashwin and it’s hard to give another side a chance.
Of course Australia will be fancied – they have ultimate power up front, let’s not forget, and some of the biggest hitters in world cricket to boot. But the Baggy Green may have to rely on fast bowlers who are either unaccustomed to the sub-continent, in the shape of Andrew Tye, John Hastings and Kane Richardson, or whose bodies might have to be gaffer-taped up to get them through the tournament – with apologies to Shaun Tait and Shane Watson.
New Zealand must adapt to life without Brendan McCullum; the West Indies’ build-up has been littered with in-fighting and England, though boldly stepping into a brave new world, showed they remain some way behind the pace as they were dissected in South Africa.
That said… If AB De Villiers fails, the Proteas generally fail; Pakistan can hope for one last hurrah from Shahid Afridi but have shown far too much fragility in the short format of late and Sri Lanka are a mismatch of brutal potential and inexperience.
On paper, India has the best balance in every area. At the crease, the hosts must prove how good they really are.