London,May 29: Tired limbs, jaded minds and a tricky draw have toughened India’s path as Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men defend their World Twenty20 title in England next month.
The June 5-21 tournament is the latest event for Team India in a non-stop roadshow that began with a full tour of New Zealand in February-April before a five-week sojourn in South Africa for the Indian Premier League.
Dhoni’s team returned home for just three days after the IPL before setting off again for England to defend the title they won in the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa in 2007.
Coach Gary Kirsten admitted the heavy workload was a cause for worry, but the former South African opener was confident his wards will rise to the challenge in England.
“The Indian players have been on the road for a long time and the biggest challenge will be mental fatigue,” Kirsten said recently.
“But they have enormous pride when representing India and have become a tight unit over the past few months. I am sure they will look forward to reuniting and playing for their country.”
The gruelling schedule has already seen aggressive opener Virender Sehwag miss some IPL matches due to a finger injury, while pace spearhead Zaheer Khan is recovering from a sore shoulder.
Skipper Dhoni has been nursing a back strain as a result of being one of the world’s busiest cricketers, who keeps wicket, bats and leads his team in all forms of the game.
“I am not worried at all,” said Dhoni. “One gets used to the modern day schedule and I am sure we will all be raring to go once the tournament starts.”
The road to the semi-finals is no joy ride for the defending champions even though they are drawn with lowly Bangladesh and Ireland in the preliminary round.
Three of the toughest rivals in the 12-nation tournament — Australia, South Africa and hosts England — await them in the Super Eights round where the real battle for semi-final places begins.
India had beaten all three in the space of four magical nights in Durban in 2007 to advance to the final against Pakistan, but few are willing to take an encore for granted.
“You can’t afford to look too far ahead, there is the first round against Bangladesh and Ireland to get through,” said the Indian captain. “We all know what can happen.”
During the 50-overs-a-side World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007, India were sensationally knocked out by Bangladesh in the preliminary stage, while Ireland delivered Pakistan a killer blow at the same stage.
“When you are defending champions there will always be added pressure,” said Kirsten.
“That goes with the territory of high-performing teams. This team has played in many pressure situations and has shown what they are capable of.
“There is certainly no danger of complacency within the Indian team. We pride ourselves in taking each game as it comes and giving 100 percent on a daily basis.”
India have a good Twenty20 record, with eight wins in 13 matches so far.
But since beating Pakistan in the 2007 final in Johannesburg, the Indians have lost three of their five matches, including both games on the recent tour of New Zealand.