Nagpur, March 14: The superb build-up run has made India the clear favourites for an unprecedented 2nd World Twenty20 title but the in-form hosts will have to guard against complacency when they take on a spirited New Zealand in their campaign-opener here tomorrow (March 15).
No host country has won the T20 world title in the last 5 editions and none has repeated a title triumph, but India's settled combination, led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and familiarity with the conditions make them the odds-on favourites to script history.
The hosts are on a roll
India have been on a roll in the shortest form of the game, winning their last seven outings which included a 3-0 whitewash of World 50-over champions Australia in the latter's backyard. (Tendulkar praises Dhoni)
The five consecutive wins in Dhaka, including in the summit clash against Bangladesh that led to their continental supremacy in the T20 game, has given the team a huge morale boost.
However, Dhoni's men will be wary of the fact that they have never beaten New Zealand in T20s in four outings in the past including once during their stunning title run in the inaugural edition in 2007 in South Africa.
But in home conditions, India would be a big threat to the rest of the competitors, including New Zealand.
The minor hiccup in India's build-up to this competition was their loss to South Africa by four runs in a practice match and this was perhaps a wake-up call for the team to avoid being complacent.
India do have the wherewithal and the personnel to script history and a win in tomorrow's opening game at the VCA Stadium in Jamtha would give them the ideal momentum to take on the challenges ahead head-on.
Virat Kohli has been in terrific form, in the last two months. On top of his game, the Test skipper has made four half-centuries in seven innings, and two other scores in the 40s, besides leading four successful run-chases.
With an average of over 50 after 38 matches, he remains one of the players who will be feared by the opposition along with the equally talented Rohit Sharma who is set to play in his sixth WT20 championship.
Shikhar Dhawan's form has been patchy at best but the knock of 73 he made in the warm-up game against South Africa should have given him as well as the team a considerably boost going into the tournament.
With the likes of Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni himself to follow apart from Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja, India can bat deep down the order.
Watch out for Bumrah
The unearthing of Jasprit Bumrah to bowl effectively at the early stages as well as in the death has given the team the much-needed go-to-man when things don't go as per plans.
With the vastly experienced Ashish Nehra, who has played in just one WT20 event earlier, and the timely return to fitness of Mohammed Shami, India have the pacers to do the job effectively. To add variety to medium-pace, there's Pandya.
It's in the spin department that they have an embarrassment of riches, barring a leg spinner.
The duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja should be the front-runners to take up two spots and the team has the choice of adding either Harbhajan Singh or Pawan Negi to the combination.
New Zealand too have the players to trouble India although they would be missing the fire-power and attacking captaincy of Brendon McCullum who has retired recently.
Led by Kane Williamson, a classically elegant batsman who ups his gears when opening in T20Is, the Kiwis are well-served with a set of explosive batsmen in Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Grant Elliott, Ross Taylor and Corey Anderson.
They have a very good pace battery, including left-right combinations, and a varied spin attack to fall upon in the middle overs, for containment as well as taking wickets.
The Kiwis had also won four out of their last five T20 Internationals - against Pakistan and Sri Lanka - but showed little hints of vulnerability to spin by England who checked in their stunning progress in the warm-up game in Mumbai.
A packed house, which will be a huge plus for India is expected to be treated to some thrilling on-field action at the Jamtha stadium.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain and wicketkeeper), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Ashish Nehra, Harbhajan Singh, Pawan Negi, Ajinkya Rahane, Mohammed Shami.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (captain), Martin Guptill, Henry Nicholls, Luke Ronchi (wicketkeeper), Ross Taylor, Colin Munro, Mitchell Santer, Nathan McCullum, Grant Elliott, Mitchell McClenaghan, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Adam Milne, Ish Sodhi, Corey Anderson.
Match begins at 7.30 PM IST (Live on Star Sports)
India's next match - Vs Paksitan on March 19 (Saturday) in Kolkata (7.30 PM IST)
New Zealand next face Australia on March 18 (Friday) in Dharamsala (3 PM IST)