As defending champions plus having the advantage of playing at home Kapil Dev's men could not handle the intense pressure and failed to retain the World Cup in 1987. The question now is whether Dhoni's squad can measure up to the high expectations even if they are not playing at home.
In South Africa two years ago the Indian team was under no pressure on the eve of the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup. They had played just one such international and not many gave them a chance in the face of intense competition. Playing without the high expectations that can lay even the stoutest heart low Dhoni's young squad went on lift the trophy.
That victory brought back memories of the World Cup triumph in 1983. When the Indians landed in England they were rank outsiders at 66 to one to win the tournament. Playing without pressure was certainly one reason behind the famous triumph as equally certainly one of the reasons why the Indians have not been able to repeat the feat is because of the tremendous pressure on the team in every tournament after that.
This time Dhoni's squad will be the team to beat for the other competitors. Also the Indian cricket fans' expectations will be sky-high especially as Twenty20 is currently the rage what with the resounding success of two editions of the IPL. They will not accept anything less than retaining the trophy.
On paper the Indians are a balanced outfit. But then this could also be said about the majority of the competing teams and that is why I feel India face a tough task. Placed in group A along with Bangladesh and Ireland their place in the Super Eights is assured. They will also top the group, not because they will win both their matches in group A, but because their seeding from the last World Cup stays as long as they don't end up at the bottom of their group in terms of points in this tournament. That being the case, their three matches in the Super Eights should be against Australia (group C), Pakistan (group B) and New Zealand (group D). The top four in the points table will then qualify for the semifinals and given the skiddy nature of the Twenty20 format anything and everything is possible. The shorter the game the more level the playing field.
We have all accepted that cricket's newest and shortest format is not just slam bang stuff and that there is place for tactical planning and strategic moves. But a huge dose of luck too plays a part and in a format that packs so much action in such a short duration every little thing counts, any minor twist could decide the game. The bowler hit for two successive sixes is under pressure. The batsman after playing three dot balls is under pressure. The fielding is always under pressure and that is why it has ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. Matches are generally decided in the last over, some off the last ball, the margins between defeat and victory could be as close as one run or one wicket. Ultimately it all boils down to which team holds its nerves better.
Given this scenario my view is that this is a very open World Cup. I would like to think that any one of half a dozen teams could be in the reckoning. The players and coaches of almost every country have spoken optimistically about their team's chances. The lack of experience could tell against the three non-Test playing nations Ireland, Scotland and Netherlands. Bangladesh's woeful record - they have lost their last six Twenty20 internationals - goes against them. In an open World Cup that would leave eight teams in the fray - India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, West Indies and England. The initial groupings however have ruled out these eight sides from entering the Super Eights as Australia, West Indies and Sri Lanka are in one group. One of these three will have to miss out and that place is likely to go to Bangladesh who are placed with India and Ireland in group A.
Whatever few one sided games could be seen in the preliminaries. Certainly I don't see very many such results in the Super Eights. At this stage the competition is bound to be intense, every little bit of good fortune or error could be blown out of proportion and the team that is able to handle the intense pressure will carry the day. We all have become too familiar with the zig zag course of results and the unpredictable nature of events associated with the Twenty20 format and pre-match predictions could be way off the mark.
I love sticking my neck out but after watching the inaugural World Cup and two editions of the IPL and being familiar with the hit and hope nature of the Twenty20 format I am not going to pick a winner. All I will predict is that it is going to be a hell of a World Cup and a worthy successor to the inaugural edition in South Africa.