World Twenty20: Pakistan, Australia favourites as India face tough road ahead

Mirpur: In their bid to arrest the free fall in the past few months, a desperate India under Mahendra Singh Dhoni would seek redemption when they start their campaign in the ICC World T20 beginning from Sunday, while Australia and Pakistan have credentials to be labelled as strong contenders.

On current form, India, the champions of the inaugural edition of 2007 are certainly not the favourites to win the tournament.

Pakistan and a well-balanced Australian side would be seriously vying for the top honours in what promises to be a captivating three-week tournament. Defending champions West Indies would like to prove that their triumph in 2012 was no flash in pan while Sri Lanka will like to be third time lucky having lost two finals in 2009 and 2012 respectively.

New Zealand with their new-found sensation Corey Anderson will like to end their major Trophy jinx, something that even South Africa under AB de Villiers would also be aiming for.
India last played a T20 International more than five months back and won that particular match against Australia by six wickets with Yuvraj Singh playing a blinder.

Much water has flown through the Ganges since that particular match on a Rajkot shirtfront with Indian team?s performance going from bad to worse. T20 is a different format but being beaten comprehensively in both Tests and ODI series in New Zealand is demoralising. Worse, they could not even qualify for the Asia Cup final losing to both Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Two and half months into 2014, India have only two international victories against minnows Bangladesh and Afghanistan, a record that would not make the team proud. In this backdrop, India will start their World T20 campaign, a tournament where they have failed to reach the semi-finals in the last three editions played in England, West Indies and Sri Lanka.

It won't be an easy task as India will face an ever-threatening Pakistan, a formidable Australia and defending champions West Indies in their group along with a qualifier who will join after the preliminary group league matches. A fact that should worry the Indian team is lack of preparation going into the tournament as they would have to contend with a couple of warm-up games against Sri Lanka and England on March 17 and 19 respectively.

On the otherhand, Australia and South Africa played a three-match T20 series (first match abandoned) while England and West Indies also played a two-match series. While the format is entirely different where the bowlers won?t have to deal with four fielders outside the circle? rule, it's hard to ignore India's inconsistency in the format despite the popularity of IPL and some of the stars being its biggest draws.

That the tournament is being played in the sub-continent will not be an advantage anymore as India?s performance in the last edition was a testimony. Australia beat them comfortably in a rain-affected game in Colombo and India were out of the tourney.
While they will play all their matches at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium in Mirpur, India have lost more matches at the venue in recent times with the Asia Cup being a prime example.

Skipper Dhoni having recovered from his side strain will be back in the saddle along with veteran Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina who are making a comeback into the team. The bowling remains a perennial worry with Mohammed Shami's performance being the only silver lining. Varun Aaron is inconsistent and Bhuvneshwar Kumar's lack of pace has been thoroughly exposed.

Ravichandran Ashwin did marginally better during Asia Cup but has been far from best while Ravindra Jadeja despite some good performances is not a runaway match-winner. So it will again depend on how well skipper Dhoni and Virat Kohli perform during the tournament.

While India is grappling with inconsistent performance, the champions of 2009 edition Pakistan will be hoping to put up a good show under Mohammed Hafeez's captaincy. Shahid Afridi's groin injury is a concern but the seniormost player is expected to get fit by the time Pakistan kicks off their campaign against India.

They have had a good Asia Cup where they lost the final to Sri Lanka but Afridi's back-to-back match winning efforts against India and Bangladesh must have boosted their confidence. A quality spinner in Saeed Ajmal, an impressive T20 bowler like Sohail Tanveer, talented batsman like Umar Akmal and seasoned all-rounders such as Hafeez, Afridi and Shoaib Malik, they have all the ingredients of a champion side.

A side to watch out for will be Australia, still trying to win their maiden World T20 trophy. While Mitchell Johnson?s toe injury can be a factor but the Aussie side under George Bailey has successfully passed the transition phase and are ready to take on the world. They have one of world's best limited overs all-rounder in Shane Watson who would be ably complemented at the top by the explosive David Warner. The left-hander can take the game away from the opposition in a flash. The presence of the experienced Brad Hodge in the middle-order along with skipper Bailey gives Aussies the necessary muscle.

The absence of Johnson might lead to Mitchell Starc leading the pace attack while chinaman bowler Brad Hogg at 43 will like to prove that age indeed is just a number. South Africa are a very good side with the best pace attack comprising of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and a quality all-rounder in Morne?s elder brother Albie.

The batting will be led by a proven match-winner in AB de Villiers with support from Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis. But losing crucial games in ICC tournament with the chokers tag is something that AB's boys will like to change for good.

Darren Sammy wouldn't mind an encore after the West Indies stunned the world beating Sri Lanka in their own den in the last edition of the tournament. It required an inspirational innings from Marlon Samuels to win that final but their biggest match-winner will certainly be Chris Gayle. While the two Dwaynes - opener Smith and all-rounder Bravo will lend solidity to the side, Sunil Narine?s variations on the slowish tracks will certainly keep West Indies in the hunt.

New Zealand are one side that any team would ignore at their own peril. Brendon McCullum?s T20 skills are well-known and with Anderson emerging as a lethal all-round weapon, the 'Black Caps' would like to fancy themselves being a bit more than a 'dark horse'.

Ross Taylor, all-rounder Jimmy Neesham and Martin Guptill are capable enough to trouble any team on a given day while Kane Williamson's calm and collective approach will bring in method to the madness of Anderson and McCullum. Sri Lanka's Asia Cup victory will make them a force to reckon with but it will be interesting to find out how young Dinesh Chandimal lead a side that will have four Sri Lankan captains in current ODI leader Angelo Mathews, the veterans Kumar Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Mahela Jayawardene, who led the side to title round in the last edition.

This brings us to England, the champions of the 2010 edition. Having won a T20 match against West Indies recently would keep Stuart Broad and his boys in good frame of mind.

All-rounders Luke Wright and Ravi Bopara along with hard-hitting Eoin Morgan would be critical in England?s pursuit for glory.
However, their greatest T20 player would be in India during that time for IPL promotional activities having been disposed off for good. The World T20 will certainly be poorer in absence of Kevin Pietersen ? prolific on the pitch and colourful off it.