With momentum on their side, Dhoni and Co need to justify the favorites' tag and go the distance, says Bikash Mohapatra/Rediff.com
Besides being the bookmakers' choice for the World T20 Championships, the Indian team's chances have been endorsed by some of the game's eminent commentators.
But the T20 format is such that any team can win on a given day.
If form and consistency often determine title credentials, the pre-tournament hype surrounding Team India seems justified.
Seven and counting
Series wins over Australia (3-0, away) and Sri Lanka (2-1, home) in recent weeks were followed by a sixth Asia Cup title.
India won the tournament unbeaten.
Since the start of 2016, India has lost just one of the 11 T20 internationals it played, winning the last seven.
They also did well in both WT20 warm-up games, the loss to South Africa on Saturday, March 12, notwithstanding.
While the batsmen are in good form -- Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli have been among the runs -- a remedy has been found for the team's Achilles' heel.
The resurgence of Ashish Nehra, the emergence of Jasprit Bumrah and the effectiveness of Hardik Pandya in the middle overs has provided India the stability it previously lacked.
Spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are always a threat in subcontinental conditions, which also enables Dhoni to try variations (read Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh) if things don't work out.
As Team India enjoys a resurgence, some of its key rivals are struggling.
The retirement of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara has hit Sri Lanka hard. Their replacements have been disappointing.
The defending champions and the most consistent team in the WT20 thus far, the Sri Lankans have lost 10 of their last 13 T20 games -- and that includes series losses to Pakistan, New Zealand and India, and an early exit from the Asia Cup.
The injured Lasith Malinga has opted out as the T20 skipper and a question mark remains over his availability for the event.
Sri Lanka don't look anything like the team that won the competition two years ago.
Pakistan, another consistent performer in the tournament, have won only three of its last 10 T20 Internationals.
An early exit from the Asia Cup raised questions about the out-of-form Shahid Afridi's ability to lead the side.
England, champions in 2010, lost a series to South Africa last month.
The Proteas failed to win a home series against Australia last week and have been struggling in recent weeks. The South Africans defeated India though in two T20 games in India last winter.
Australia may have beaten the South Africans, but were blanked by India in January. Besides, the Aussie record in the format (42 wins, 41 defeats) raises the question: Are they really serious about T20 cricket?
The West Indies, champions in 2012, have not played a T20 International in more than four months, having featured in only five last year.
Then, there is New Zealand.
The Black Caps are in form, having won seven of their last 10 T20 Internationals -- including series wins over Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Most of those victories came at home and there will be questions about the Kiwi ability to adapt to sub-continental conditions.
The IPL myth
There are many who feel the Indian Premier League has made it easier for foreign players to adapt to Indian conditions and know each other's strengths and weaknesses.
The IPL, these folks say, will nullify India's biggest strength -- its home advantage.
The IPL has over the years had scant impact on the outcome in international competitions.
Sri Lankan players, for example, rarely interest the IPL franchise. Most of them enter the auction. Most stay unsold. The lone Lankan player of repute in the competition -- Lasith Malinga -- has been part of the Mumbai Indians squad for a long time.
Yet, the islanders remain the most consistent team in the competition.
Ditto with Pakistan, whose players have not been permitted -- for political reasons, of course -- to participate in the lucrative T20 extravaganza since the inaugural edition.
The West Indians feature in every major T20 competition around the world, therefore their success can't be attributed to the IPL alone.
Martin Guptill -- along with captain Kane Williamson -- is New Zealand batting's mainstay. And he is someone who was shockingly ignored by the franchises in last month's IPL players auction.
Most English players prefer to give the IPL a miss, to focus on the summer ahead. England were World T20 champions once.
Australia and South Africa -- whose players get the best IPL deals and hold most individual records -- have consistently thwarted expectations in World T20 competitions so far.
Well begun, half done
India won the inaugural World T20 tournament in South Africa in 2007.
For a team that had played just one T20 game before, the title triumph came as a surprise.
It was Dhoni's first major achievement as India's captain, and he would go on to lead India to the top of the Test rankings (2009), the 50 over World Cup title (2011) and the Champions Trophy (2014).
A second World T20 title remains elusive.
While India exited early in the 2009, 2010 and 2012 contests, they entered the 2014 final, only to encounter an inspired Sri Lankan side.
With momentum on their side, Dhoni and Co need to justify the favorites' tag and go the distance.