New Delhi - Hosts India are favourites to
clinch the sixth edition of the World Twenty20 in what could be a fairytale
ending to the glittering career of captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
India, ranked number one in the world, will
seek to become the first side to win the International Cricket Council (ICC)
title on home soil when the 16-team tournament gets under way on Tuesday.
They are also gunning to become the
tournament's only two-time winners, with South Africa, Australia and the
mercurial West Indies shaping as leading threats.
Australia, the top-ranked Test side, are
desperate to win their first World Twenty20 crown, while Pakistan's Mohammad
Amir will play his first ICC tournament since returning from a five-year
India come into the tournament on the back
of an eight-wicket win over Bangladesh in the Asia Cup final, and have several
key batsmen and bowlers in form.
"We are on track for the World
T20," a confident Dhoni said after Sunday's victory.
India's hot streak of 10 wins from their
last 11 T20 internationals, coupled with their vast and boisterous home support
means Dhoni's men will be tough to beat.
"I think India will win. Their players
know the pitches and they're playing good cricket against the best teams in the
world at present," said West Indies legend Brian Lara.
India also have added incentive to lift the
trophy on April 3 at Eden Gardens in Kolkata because of the fact that the
tournament may mark Dhoni's swansong.
Dhoni, who led India to the inaugural title
in 2007, has struggled with the bat of late and turns 35 this summer. A second
World Twenty20 crown would be a fitting end to the wicketkeeper's career.
In-form batsman Virat Kohli and deadly
off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin are expected to be the key men for India, who
are hosting the championship for the first time.
The home side start their campaign against
New Zealand on March 15 before playing arch-rivals Pakistan in Dharamsala four
days later in a hotly awaited clash.
Pakistan endured a disastrous Asia Cup,
thanks largely to some atrocious batting, and any hopes they have of making an
impression will rely on the performances of the controversial Amir.
The 23-year-old fast bowler was banned and
jailed for deliberately sending down no-balls in a Test match against England
But he has been in good touch since
re-entering the international fold earlier this year, and lit up the Asia Cup
with a devastating 3-18 spell in Pakistan's loss to India.
"The way he bowled... it didn't look
as if he was making a comeback after five long years. It was a treat to
watch," former Pakistan captain and now Afghanistan coach Inzamam-ul-Haq said.
Second-ranked South Africa are hoping to
spoil India's party and come into the tournament full of confidence following a
T20 series whitewash against England.
The Proteas have never won the World
Twenty20 but anything less than the final will be considered a failure for the
Faf du Plessis-led side, who boast top run-scorers AB De Villiers and Hashim
Amla and leg-spinner Imran Tahir.
Defending champions Sri Lanka are a shadow
of the side that won in Bangladesh two years ago and have struggled to come to
terms with the void left by legends Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
The West Indies' tilt at a second title
have been hit by injury withdrawals and a bitter pay dispute with squad members
arguing with the country's board over fees to play in the tournament.
Experienced batsman Darren Bravo,
all-rounder Kieron Pollard and off-spinner Sunil Narine are all out but it
would be unwise to write off the third-ranked Windies, especially when they
boast the big-hitting Chris Gayle.
The preliminary round starts on Tuesday,
with Afghanistan and Bangladesh favourites to join the big eight teams in the
Super 10 group stage.
In Tuesday's opening matches, Hong Kong
take on Zimbabwe and Afghanistan play Scotland.