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NEW DELHI—Mahendra Singh Dhoni was there when India won the first Twenty20 world title, a victory that transformed a relatively new cricket concept into a game-changing phenomenon.
He faces enormous expectations again leading the national team as the world tournament finally comes to India, home to the richest domestic league and some of the most damaging batsmen in the format such as Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma.
India has won 10 of its last 11 T20 internationals, including the Asia Cup final on Sunday, and a 3-0 series victory in Australia and starts the tournament as a favourite. And although Dhoni said recently that India can "take on any team anywhere in the world" he also understands the tricky nature of the shortened game.
"The difference between teams can often be just one knock, one individual batsman having a very good day or one bowler having a very good day," said Dhoni, who led India to a five-run victory over Pakistan in the final of the inaugural World Twenty20 in South Africa in 2007.
India is aiming to become the first host to win the ICC World Twenty20.
The batsmen-friendly pitches are expected to make the 16-team tournament a run-feast much like the Indian Premier League, which has given experience of the conditions to star players from all over the cricket world.
The tournament gets underway today with a preliminary league involving eight teams, two of which qualify for the Super 10 stage which will feature intense derbies between Australia and New Zealand and India and Pakistan in the picturesque hill city of Dharamsala. The final is set for Kolkata on April 3.
Five countries have won the title in five previous editions, with India, Pakistan, England, the West Indies and Sri Lanka winning in that order. Australia has won the World Cup in the one-day format more than any other country, but so far the T20 title has been elusive — its best run resulting in a loss to England in the final in 2010. South Africa and New Zealand also haven't won the claimed the T20 crown, but have the firepower to break their droughts.
The Sri Lanka squad isn't playing with anything like the level it reached to beat India in the 2014 in Bangladesh, and is struggling without retired batsmen Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, finishing only above the United Arab Emirates at the recent Asia Cup. It lost all three games that mattered — to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Pakistan was also less than impressive at the Asia Cup and its batsmen will have to score enough for the likes of Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz to make a contest of it. There are 35 matches to be played over 27 days at eight venues including the preliminary league.
From the initial phase, one team from among Bangladesh, Ireland, Oman and the Netherlands will advance to Group 2, which comprises Australia, India, New Zealand and Pakistan.
Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Scotland and Zimbabwe will compete for a place in Group 1 featuring England, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the West Indies.