Nagpur, March 7: Their build-up campaign has been nothing short of spectacular and inaugural champions India would be the firm favourites to be the first two-time trophy winners when the ICC World Twenty20 gets under way with the qualifiers, here tomorrow (March 8).
The Tournament-proper will begin March 15 when India take on New Zealand and the qualifiers before that will fill in two slots for the Super 10 stage.
The opening day double-header in qualifiers features games between Zimbabwe and Hong Kong besides a Scotland- Afghanistan clash. Both the matches will be played here. The other teams in the qualifying round are Ireland and the Netherlands.
Super 10 stage from March 15
The top two teams from the qualifiers will join India, Australia, England, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the West Indies in the Super 10 stage, which will be played alongside the women's event from March 15-28. (Where are Dhoni's critics?)
Although Sri Lanka are the defending men's champions, they hardly seem to be an intimidating force having endured a 1-2 loss as recently as in February, to India.
On the contrary, 2007 champions India are looking like an unstoppable force which will be further galvanised by the passionate support from its adoring home fans.
The Asia Cup triumph, during which Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men did not lose a single match, is the latest confidence- booster that the Indians received heading into the big event after victories over Australia and Sri Lanka in the run-up.
India are in Super 10 Group 2 along with 2009 winners Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and a yet-to-be-decided qualifier. India will launch their campaign in Nagpur against New Zealand on March 15 before they go head to head with Pakistan on March 19.
Their other matches will be against a qualifier in Bengaluru on March 13 and Australia in Mohali on March 27. (Team India enter as No. 1)
India in a tough group
Even though they are placed in a tough group, India are expected to make the semi-finals given the stupendous form the team is in coupled with the distinct home advantage.
Sri Lanka have been placed in Super 10 Group 1 along with South Africa, West Indies, England and a yet-to-be-decided qualifier.
They will open their title defence against the qualifier in Kolkata on March 17, and play West Indies in Bengaluru on March 20, England on March 26 and South Africa on March 28.
2009 champions Pakistan will open their campaign against a qualifier in Kolkata on March 16. After the marquee clash against India, Pakistan will play their remaining two matches against New Zealand and Australia on March 22 and 25, respectively.
England, who won the 2010 tournament in the West Indies, will take on 2012 winner the West Indies on March 16, followed by matches against South Africa (March 18, the qualifier (23 March 23) and Sri Lanka (March 26).
After taking on England in their tournament-opener, the West Indies will square off against Sri Lanka (March 20), South Africa (March 25) and qualifier (March 27).
Not to forget Australia, who have finally begun to warm up to the format and would be eyeing their maiden title win at the tournament.
In the men's event, eight sides in two groups of four, will feature in the first round matches with the group winners joining eight sides in the Super 10 stage (two groups of five teams).
The top two sides from both the Super 10 Groups will then qualify for the semi-finals. In the women's event, the 10 sides will be divided into two groups and the top two sides from each group will progress to the semi-finals.
The first round matches in the men's event will take place in Dharamsala and Nagpur from March 8 to 13 and will feature two groups. Group A comprises Bangladesh, Netherlands, Ireland, debutant Oman, while Group B features Zimbabwe, Scotland, Hong Kong and Afghanistan.
Prize money of $5.6 million
The men's event will carry a total prize money of USD 5.6 million, which is an 86 per cent increase from the 2014 tournament, while the total prize money for the women's event is USD 400,000, which is a 122 per cent increase from the Bangladesh event.
A total of 58 tournament matches, including 35 men's matches and 23 women's matches, will be played in the 27-day tournament in Bengaluru, Chennai, Dharamsala, Kolkata, Mohali, Mumbai, Nagpur and New Delhi.
New Delhi and Mumbai will host the semi-finals on March 30 and 31, respectively, while Kolkata will be the venue of the April 3 finals. The women's semi-finals and final will be followed by the men's knock-out matches. There is a reserve day for the finals.
Men's First round (group winners to progress to second round)
Group A: Bangladesh, Netherlands, Ireland and Oman
Group B: Zimbabwe, Scotland, Hong Kong and Afghanistan
Second round groups Super 10
Group 1: Sri Lanka, South Africa, West Indies, England and winner group B (Q1B) Super 10
Group 2: India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and winner group A (Q1A)
Women's WT20 groups
Group A: Australia (A1), South Africa (A2), New Zealand (A3), Sri Lanka (A4) and Ireland (A5)
Group B: England (B1), West Indies (B2), India (B3), Pakistan (B4) and Bangladesh (B5).
All matches Live on Star Sports