On September 24, 2007, a young Indian team clinched the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup after a thrilling five-run victory over arch-rivals Pakistan in the final in Johannesburg – a win that embedded fearlessness in Indian cricketers.
In a nail-biting match that saw pendulum swinging till the last moment, the Indian team, led by a young and robust Mahendra Singh Dhoni, became champion of a format that the then BCCI was reluctant to adopt and the Tendulkars and the Dravids opted not to play to allow young stars international exposure.
The victory – revolutionary in many ways – served as a breeding ground for the stars that would form the core of the Indian team in the years to come.
India’s success at the World Twenty20 came at the backdrop of the Greg Chappell saga and the team’s miserable first-round exit from the 2007 World Cup. In that sense, it was a lift India desperately sought at that juncture.
With stalwarts opting out, it paved the way for youngsters like Yusuf and Irfan Pathan, Piyush Chawla and RP Singh among others to take charge in a format that was tailor-made for the adrenaline rush – suiting young bodies.
Interestingly now, as heads turn towards the sixth edition of the World Twenty20, launching their bid for a second title, Dhoni will once again be in charge of an Indian team gushing with young blood on a similar stage – that too in familiar home conditions. But unlike in 2007, odds are in India’s favour this time.
Back-to-back T20 series wins over Australia and Sri Lanka, respectively, have billed the top-ranked Indians as the favourites to lift the cup on home soil.
India blanked hosts Australia 3-0 at the start of the year before returning home for a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Sri Lanka.
In addition to the established stars like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, the 15-man squad has names that have made recent forays in the international arena and made it count. They, like in 2007, give India the edge.
If in 2007 there were Chawla, S Sreesanth, the Pathans, RP Singh and Joginder Sharma, in 2016 there are Pawan Negi, Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya and Mohammed Shami to play similar roles.
Both Bumrah and Pandya have been the find of the series against Australia and Sri Lanka. Their performances proved that they belong to international cricket. While Bumrah has shown the potential to bowl well both at the start and during death overs, Pandya has shown the fire India need in the form of a seam-up allrounder at No. 7.
In T20 cricket, where only a couple of overs can change the fate of a game, Pandya comes handy with his powerful hitting and can also be used as someone who can bowl a few overs of medium pace.
The only name that remains untested among that quartet is Negi. He has had a dream start to 2016, but only in terms of winning the favour of BCCI selectors and IPL franchise Delhi Daredevils. When it comes to exposure, the allrounder in Jadeja mould is yet to play a game and stayed on the bench in the home series against Sri Lanka. Perhaps Dhoni wants to use his Chennai Super Kings team-mate as India’s surprise weapon at World T20, but it will only be prudent to give him a few games at the Asia Cup before that.
In case of Shami, his fitness is the only hurdle in front of him. After a nine-month injury layoff following the World Cup semi-final last year, he was picked for Australia tour but returned home injured again without playing a game. How much can he trust his body to be match-ready is a question only Shami can answer. But if it holds up fine, he can form a potent force, especially in combination with Bumrah.
The selectors seemingly have also played an intelligent card for the Asia Cup and World T20 by recalling some of the experienced pros to add stability to the squad.
Veterans like Ashish Nehra, Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj have got a new lease of life, especially Nehra, as he, at 36, has bowled exceptionally since his comeback. The youngsters need these experienced pros on their side for an advice when they need one.
But this is probably the last shot at international cricket for the veterans and who knows if the team is able to live up to its billing, then 3rd April at Eden Gardens will see an encore of 2nd April, 2011, at Wankhede. But for that to happen, a lot will depend on whether the young guns can follow in the footsteps of the heroes of 2007.