------------------------------------------------------Shybu Khan for SportsKeeda
The T20 cricket carnival is set to explode onto our cricketing senses with the start of the ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka. The steady atmosphere of excitement has been gaining momentum and is set to reach a crescendo with the first match scheduled to start on 18th, September, 2012 between Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.
T20 Cricket by all accounts, has grown to become the most keenly supported form of cricket with spectator attendances, broadcast audiences, media coverage and corporate backing for this format witnessing a constant upsurge.
In its short history, the shortest format of the game has been able to bring in revolutionary changes to the grand old game that was once seen as averse to inculcating dramatic modifications – with a governing body that was deemed conservative to say the least. The T20 World Cup is a celebration of these popular and successful changes. It is also an acknowledgement of the fact that this format is poised to drive the great game of cricket into its next phase of all-round progress – perhaps mostly importantly – developing its stature as a truly world game.
So, as a build up to the T20 World Cup, let’s examine some aspects that are pivotal to a major tournament:
South Africa is the current world number 1 in the latest Reliance ICC Twenty20 Rankings, with England, Sri Lanka and India making up the top four places respectively. Surprisingly, Australia is languishing at the 9th spot, sandwiched between Bangladesh and Ireland.
Although the Proteas are expected to do well in the tournament, we need not dwell on their unceremonious tag of perennial under-performers at crucial junctures – especially at the world stage. However, this team looks set to shed this tag for good and make the Cup their own, ending their drought of major championships and giving the cricket loving nation something more to be proud of — but many still wouldn’t bet on it.
The defending champions England have a decent set up, but with their recent dip in form, compounded by the recent controversies that ensued during the recent series with South Africa resulting in Kevin Pietersen, the Man of the Tournament in England’s World Twenty20 win in 2010 and one of the greatest batsmen in the world, commentating rather than blasting away at the top of the innings for England at this World Cup, means that England’s prospects have reduced markedly.
Australia brings a relatively inexperienced side to the World Cup, but their talent is unquestionable, and their grit undoubted. If they can contend with the heat and build momentum with some early wins, they could still win their first T20 World Cup. Their biggest threat comes from the world-class spinners in friendly conditions that know that spin is their weakness and will look to target them with an onslaught of turners, but one can only count out Australia at one’s own peril.
India, with their triumph at the ODI World Cup in 2011 under similar condition back home in India, are again among the hot favorites, with their subcontinent rivals, the mercurial yet supremely talented Pakistan side expected to put up a credible claim and may even go all the way if the right Pakistan shows up on the day. The home advantage is definitely going to help Sri Lanka, aided and abetted by the partisan home crowd and familiarity with the conditions.
Many analysts are touting West Indies to be the real dark horse of the tournament with some top T20 talent in their midst who could just upset the applecart and win their first trophy after the 2004 Champions Trophy in England. Bangladesh and Ireland could provide some surprises at the expense of the big teams, and the lion-hearted Afghanistan is expected to win many admirers with their passion and gusto. Look out for some romantic moments from this war-torn country that may lighten up the tournament and make all of us feel a bit mushy on the inside – and who knows, there could just be a fairytale waiting to happen here.
The Stars – Contenders and Pretenders
It is the players that will ultimately make the tournament, and it is tournament like these that bring true stars to the fore and create legends out of them. Although we would miss the master class of Sachin Tendulkar and the sheer brilliance of Kevin Pietersen, the obvious talent of the big players on display, apart from the talent that is sure to be unearthed during the course of this high octane tournament, is sure to set our pulse racing, our nerves tingling and promises to be awe inspiring at times.
Spinners like Saeed Ajmal – arguably the best off-spinner in the world; Sunil Narine, Man of the Series of the last edition of the Indian Premier League who bamboozled the Kiwis in the West Indies; Graeme Swann, the wily Englishman who is a match-winner on his day; Ravichandran Ashwin, who gobbled up 12 wickets in a Test match recently; the temperamental Harbhajan Singh, who is looking to make a big comeback; Daniel Vettori, who is the one true top-class talent in the New Zealand bowling set up; the 20-year-old Irishmen George Dockrell, who could come of age in Sri Lanka with some pundits predicting great things for the youngster – are all sure to take advantage of the spin-friendly conditions and make an indelible impact and could well decide who wins it all.
The established quickies like Lasith Malinga, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, James Anderson, Zaheer Khan, and Fidel Edwards, will play their roles as strike bowlers and are crucial to the success of their teams. Other exciting fast bowlers who could make a real impression include the young Australian duo of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins who are all set to let the world know how good they really are.
The English are bringing their own firepower in the form of the lanky speedster, Steven Finn and the versatile Jade Dernbach, who can bowl real quickly if he wants to – backed up by their talented captain, Stuart Broad. New Zealand will bet on a relatively young fast bowling team of Tim Southee and Doug Bracewell to provide the much needed penetration and they have to fire for New Zealand to do well. When talking about fast bowling, you can’t leave out Pakistan with their deadly lethal pairing of Umar Gul and Sohail Tanvir raring to intimidate the opposition batsmen.
Now, when it comes to batsmen to watch at the showpiece event goes, you couldn’t do better than the big boys of West Indies, Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard, who are among the most feared batsmen around. We could at last witness the true genius of Darren Bravo, who many consider to be the best chance West Indies have of finding another Brian Lara – great praise indeed – so watch out for him. The Sri Lankan troika of Dilshan, Mahela, and Sangakkara are lions in their home conditions, and will be looking to shine under familiar settings. They will be looking to make their compatriots proud and win their first World Cup after 1996.
India’s powerhouse batting boasts of Sehwag, Gambhir, Kohli, Dhoni and Raina, and makes for an imposing line up. Pakistan will look to their colossus, Shahid Afridi, who always has something to prove and will get his opportunity in what could prove to be his swansong – and along with the Kamran brothers, Umar and Kamran, the return of Imran Nazir, the biggest letdown of a talent we have seen; could well form the linchpin of Pakistan’s attempt to win their second T20 World Cup and few would be surprised if they do.
England bring in a relatively inexperienced battling line up, but have some exciting talent by way of Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler – both good hitters blessed with natural timing and a good sense for the game. The one to watch in the South African team is the powerhouse, Richard Levi, who can hit the ball a mile and will provide the power striking at the top. The supremely talented AB de Villiers, the run machine, Hashim Amla, the legend Jacques Kallis, and Albie Morkel providing hitting prowess down the order, round off a team that is arguably the most balanced on paper.
New Zealand’s biggest threat remains Brendon McCullum, who could just go berserk any day, with Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson providing maturity to the batting order. Ireland’s batting hopes will rely on the talents of Kevin O’Brien, the Irish world cup hero, and the young and talented Paul Stirling, who has already showed glimpses of his talent.
Bangladesh will be pinning their hopes on the all-around abilities of Shakib Al Hasan, who many cricket analysts deem the best Bangladeshi player yet, complemented by the stylish Tamim Iqbal, Nasir Hossain and Mohammad Ashraful, to get them home and spring a few upsets along the way. They are led by their tenacious captain, Mushfiqur Rahim. Afghanistan will be looking to the exploits of Mohammad Nabi to help them compete and we could well see some good performance from some relative unknowns from the side.
The matches are to be staged at three venues in Sri Lanka; the R Premadasa Stadium, Colombo; the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium, and the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium, Sooriyawewa, Hambantota.
The R. Premadasa stadium is generally expected to be batsmen friendly where we could expect some high scoring matches with India playing its matches here. The conditions in Pallekele generally assist the bowlers with Hambantota being relatively neutral to both bat and ball – as evidenced by the matches in the Sri Lanka Premier League recently. The pitches will turn no matter what, but seamers could get some assistance, especially under lights and owing to overcast conditions. Some matches could be affected due to the rains. The heat and humidity of the island nation is also expected to hit the players who are aware of what this means this and have been busy acclimatizing.
Get Set Go
All said and done, one must not forget that the game is won in the field, and no matter what, it is performances day-in and day-out that makes world champions. So let the speculation end and let us all get ready to welcome a great spectacle which is going to provide entertainment par excellence. Suit up and just enjoy the ride.