• Matthew Whiley

T20 World Cup Preview

At long last, a T20 World Cup is now underway.


Prior to this week, it was five years since the last one, which – understandably, given that the format was only invented 18 years ago – was the longest gap between World Cups ever. There was originally one scheduled for last year, until it became one of a multitude of sporting events to fall victim to Covid-19.


But that’s all in the past. The West Indies are the defending champions after Carlos Brathwaite – remember the name! – blasted them to victory over England in a dramatic Kolkata final in 2016, and they now face the prospect of 15 other sides attempting to wrest the trophy from their grip.


The past six days have seen Round One of the competition take place, where eight sides attempted to qualify for the Super 12 stage, and we now have four such nations who have progressed to join eight others in the next round.


With the meatiest stage of the tournament now all set to get underway, we now have the pleasure – or perhaps the pain, depending on who you support – of seeing the remaining 12 countries battle it out over 33 matches across the remaining 23 days.


It’s sure to be a thriller. As excitement reaches fever pitch, let’s take a look at each of the remaining 12 contenders.



Afghanistan

Who do they play? Afghanistan will face Scotland, Pakistan, Namibia, India, and New Zealand.


Who are their key men? Leg-spinning superstar Rashid Khan is the standout name, but his spin colleagues Mujeeb ur Rahman and Qais Ahmad will have integral roles to play too. Captain and all-rounder Mohammad Nabi has the ability to provide invaluable late runs, with hopes also high for Hashmatullah Shahidi and veteran Asghar Afghan further up the order. The seam bowling department is where they are most lacking, but the leading wicket taker of this year’s T20 Blast, Naveen-ul-Haq, at least provides some reassuring quality there.


What are their chances? Having repeatedly defied the odds over the last decade, the quality Afghanistan now possess means they enter a global tournament with every chance of a semi-final spot. However, with India and New Zealand likely just too far out of their reach, it’s more probable that this developing squad is destined for a third or fourth-place finish.



Australia

Who do they play? Australia begin their campaign by facing South Africa, before taking on Sri Lanka, England, Bangladesh, and the West Indies.


Who are their key men? Captain Aaron Finch remains one of the planet’s most destructive white-ball openers on his day, and he is backed up by an impressive batting complement that includes Steve Smith, David Warner, and Matthew Wade. Finch’s fellow Victorian Glenn Maxwell is also capable of comfortably clearing the boundary at will, and provides a handy spin option alongside frontline twirler Adam Zampa. The express pace and lethal yorkers of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins also form an important aspect of the Aussies’ bowling unit.


What are their chances? Australia have never won this competition, and there is mounting pressure on them to finally take home the trophy. They are certainly capable of doing so, but their crucial weakness is a lack of a world-class spinner, and that is not a position any side wants to be in heading into a tournament in the Middle East. The semi-finals should be a minimum requirement, but there are better equipped sides out there.



Bangladesh

Who do they play? Bangladesh entered the tournament in Round One, and finished as runners-up of Group B, meaning they will entertain Sri Lanka, England, West Indies, South Africa, and Australia.


Who are their key men? All-rounder Shakib Al Hasan leads Bangladesh’s complement of star names, and his not-inconsiderable experience in the shortest format may well prove instrumental. Recent off-field issues that saw him serve a ban have dented his stock somewhat, but he remains his country’s poster boy and can change a game. Quick Mustafizur Rahman is another who is not the player he once was, but he still possesses a deadly yorker. Meanwhile, batter Soumya Sarkar adds useful firepower in the absence of Tamim Iqbal.


What are their chances? A humbling defeat to Scotland in their opening match was followed by simple sweepings-aside of Oman and Papua New Guinea, so if Bangladesh can continue to operate in the groove they have clearly discovered, there is no reason they can’t secure a couple of upset victories. However, it’s highly unlikely that they finish anywhere above fourth in their Super 12 group.



England

Who do they play? England take on West Indies to commence their tournament, before facing Bangladesh, Australia, Sri Lanka, and South Africa.


Who are their key men? The Three Lions enter the tournament with one of the most fearsome batting line-ups of all the contenders, and at the zenith of that explosiveness is the 360-degree Jos Buttler, accompanied by similarly-big-hitting Liam Livingstone and Jonny Bairstow. It is in fact testament to that extreme depth that there is currently a debate over whether Dawid Malan, currently ranked as the world’s best T20 batter, will be in the side. The seam bowling attack has the potential to be a bit expensive, but the spin combination of Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali, the latter of whom is also a more-than-useful batter, will be utterly critical in UAE conditions.


What are their chances? England are gunning for this title, and there is no doubt they have the capability to become the first nation to simultaneously hold both the world 50- and 20-over titles. Expectations are sky-high, and while there is little doubt that it will take an extraordinarily strong opponent to defeat them, the real question will be whether the Three Lions can adjust to the conditions in the Middle East. If they can, stand by.



India

Who do they play? As the nominal hosts, India will face Pakistan, New Zealand, Afghanistan, Scotland, and Namibia.


Who are their key men? Led by the combative Virat Kohli, India boast a huge wealth of talent, including some of the globe’s most eminent T20 stars. The brilliance of Rohit Sharma will open the batting, and further down, the game-changing ability of Rishabh Pant will come to the fore. Ravindra Jadeja’s left-arm off-breaks should marry perfectly with conditions in the UAE, while the toe-crushing yorkers and superlative skill of seamer Jasprit Bumrah have the capability of suddenly swinging a match India’s way. One word? Stacked.


What are their chances? There are a select group of two or three competitors for whom anything less than the trophy would be considered a disappointment. We just saw the first of those in England, and now we come to the second in India. They won’t get the full benefit of playing at home, but conditions are almost identical, and barring the 2011 50-over World Cup, there has never been a more perfect time for them to lift a global trophy.



Namibia

Who do they play? Namibia, in their first ever T20 World Cup, took the runners-up spot in the first round’s Group A, and will now take on Scotland, Afghanistan, Pakistan, New Zealand, and India.


Who are their key men? County cricket fans will be most familiar with Sussex all-rounder David Wiese, who has previously represented South Africa, but remained eligible to play for Namibia due to it being the country of his father’s birth. He has seized his chance with the Eagles thus far, putting in a man-of-the-match performance against the Netherlands after hitting 66 off 40 and taking one for 32. Captain Gerhard Erasmus has also shown his worth with the bat, totalling more than 100 runs so far, including an unbeaten fifty against Ireland, and alongside Wiese, their main bowling threat will be left-armer Jan Frylinck, who snared five scalps in Group A.


What are their chances? Let them have fun. If Leicester City can win the Premier League, we won’t outright say the Eagles have no chance, but… yes, let’s just allow them to enjoy the occasion, without worrying too much about their results. That might, in one way, prove to be their strength; with almost no pressure, they can go out and play without fear, and that might just bring them a couple of upset wins.



New Zealand

Who do they play? New Zealand will battle with Pakistan, India, Scotland, Namibia, and Afghanistan.


Who are their key men? The Black Caps’ biggest name is captain Kane Williamson, a giant in all formats, but the explosive hitting will come from the likes of Martin Guptill and Glenn Phillips, the latter of whom enjoyed his recent T20 Blast spell. Pace bowler Trent Boult remains hugely undervalued in my eyes – as do many of the Kiwi squad, not that they’ll mind – and with Tim Southee, forms a potentially devastating seam pair, alongside the express speed of Lockie Ferguson. Meanwhile, it’s up to Ish Sodhi to exploit the spinning conditions of the UAE.


What are their chances? If the tournament was decided on best kit, snazzy turquoise-and-black New Zealand would be flying the trophy back to Wellington as we speak, but unfortunately for them, it’s not. However, the better news is that they have more than enough quality for a genuine shot at the real way of emerging victorious. If the Black Caps aren’t your second team (unless they’re your first), you’re doing this all wrong.



Pakistan

Who do they play? Pakistan entertain India, New Zealand, Afghanistan, Namibia, and Scotland.


Who are their key men? Within their ranks, Pakistan boast the second-best T20I batter on earth in Babar Azam, who is frankly in a class of his own in this format with T20I average of a shade under 47. Elsewhere, seamer Shaheen Shah Afridi, despite only being 21 years old, is easily the most potent bowling weapon. All-rounders Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik provide a wealth of experience, while Imad Wasim’s bowling control in the powerplay is a trump card, especially given how crucial that stage of an innings will be in this competition.


What are their chances? Pakistan are the most difficult nation on earth to provide an answer to that question for. If every player performs at their full respective capability, they could quite easily make it into the semi-finals. Unfortunately, the past tells us that, bafflingly, they often… simply, don’t. Their fielding ability, or lack of it, is something that has the potential to hold them back, but based on the fact they should adapt more quickly than most to the conditions, expect them to be right in the mix for the last four.



Sri Lanka

Who do they play? Sri Lanka comfortably came through the first round with a perfect record, and will now take on Bangladesh, Australia, South Africa, England, and West Indies.


Who are their key men? While Sri Lanka are not the power they were when they could count the likes of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene among their ranks, they still have plenty of talent. Young all-rounder Wanindu Hasaranga is their standout man, and he was their leading run-scorer in the first round, hitting a sparkling 71 off 47 against Ireland, while opener Pathum Nissanka also made 61 in that match. Their bowling attack has, however, been in even better form than their batting, and all of Hasaranga, Mahesh Theekshana, and Lahiru Kumara each claimed at least six wickets across Group A.


What are their chances? There was a time when, in this familiar environment, Sri Lanka would have been considered among the favourites for the title. That is not the case this year, but they do have the measure of the conditions, having played three games of full-intensity competitive cricket before any of their more-fancied opponents. While it’s highly unlikely they will make the semi-finals, I’m not betting against them being in the mix for rather longer than anyone might expect them to be.



Scotland

Who do they play? Scotland warmed up for the Super 12s with a perfect, three-from-three Round One campaign, and as Group B’s winners, will face Afghanistan, Namibia, New Zealand, India, and Pakistan.


Who are their key men? The Scots, much like New Zealand, would also be in with a shout of winning any competition based on the quality of their kit. However, rather less like New Zealand, they don’t have the ability to do too much troubling of the real tournament powerhouses. Batter Richie Berrington is their leading run-scorer so far, with 103, while Matt Cross has also chipped in. Meanwhile, Somerset seamer Josh Davey has claimed eight wickets so far, including four against Papua New Guinea, while spin pair Chris Greaves and Mark Watt have six scalps between them.


What are their chances? At the risk of insincerely patting Scotland on the head like a child, they should be very proud of their achievements thus far. Certainly, very few would have expected them to win three out of three in the first round. However, that said, it’s a different animal from here on in, and while a win over Namibia is very possible, securing victories against the other four nations will be exceptionally tough.



South Africa

Who do they play? South Africa will begin their tournament with a game against Australia, before going on to face West Indies, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and England.


Who are their key men? Wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock is probably South Africa’s most accomplished batter, and he is joined by Rassie van der Dussen and David Miller as the run-makers upon whom the Proteas will likely depend heavily. The express pace of Kagiso Rabada will be a weapon that South Africa can turn to, and they also have newly-crowned IPL champion Lungi Ngidi in their pace corps. Meanwhile, in the spin department, world number one-ranked T20I bowler Tabraiz Shamsi forms a potentially crucial part of the team.


What are their chances? Being officially dubbed as major-tournament “chokers” is an exceptionally hard tag to wriggle free from, and the Proteas are still yet to ever make the final of a World T20. That is quite staggering when you consider the talent they have had over the last decade-and-a-half, but unfortunately for them, it looks like that run is set to continue. There will be excellent performances, and they will win two or three games, but I’d be surprised if we see South Africa in the semi-finals.



West Indies

Who do they play? West Indies will lock horns with England, South Africa, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Australia.


Who are their key men? Fresh off the back of a fiery, and victorious, Caribbean Premier League campaign in which he hit 426 runs at a strike rate of 163, Evin Lewis provides impetus at the start of the innings. That run total was bettered by just one man, who is also in the Windies touring party, Roston Chase. In addition, Nicholas Pooran is known as one of the most explosive batters in the world, and experienced all-rounders Kieron Pollard and Andre Russell can also bowl rapidly and, with a bat in hand, strike the ball a very long way. Their bowling is weaker than the batting, but it’s worth watching out for Obed McCoy, with left-arm pace an incredibly useful part of any T20 side’s arsenal, alongside economical spinner Akeal Hosein.


What are their chances? The vast experience possessed by many members of the Windies squad means that counting them out is something that only the foolhardy would do. However, if you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know that I trade in foolhardy predictions, so here goes. They will absolutely be in the mix, with the crucial fixtures being with Australia and South Africa, but I see it as just a little too unlikely that the out-of-form West Indies make the semis.



Under pressure, diamonds are made, and the cut-throat, condensed world of international cricket presents some of the highest pressure imaginable.


Who, then, will present themselves as this tournament's diamond? Who will shine, and who will crack?


The good news is we're about to find out. Bring it on.


As ever, I'm always open to comments, suggestions, queries, and feedback, so please do get in touch using the form at the bottom of the homepage or through my social channels. You can like my Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/longstorysport, and you can also follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LongStorySport. Connecting with me through social media brings the benefit of being among the first to know when I post something new!

I also have a YouTube channel, where I post videos relating to a whole variety of sporting topics. I kicked things off earlier this year with a series called The County Review, where a guest and I discuss all the goings-on across the county cricket circuit, and the good news is that another sporting series is now almost ready to join the ranks! You can view all that at https://bit.ly/3yGtYyk.


Signing off,

Matthew


The cover image for this post was sourced from Wikimedia Commons under the

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence

(https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dubai-international-cricket-stadium_1582024332.jpg), and is attributed to the author, Anupcristi. It was retrieved by me on the 22nd October 2021.

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