By Carl Jaison:
The ultimate T-20 extravaganza is back with a bang. If the IPL brings with it glamour and sheer enchantment, the World Cup T20 embodies the very nationalistic credentials and sentimental patriotism which the 12 nations represent in proud grandeur. This edition marks the first instance when an official T20 tourney is being hosted by an Asian cricketing powerhouse, Sri-Lanka.
In lieu with customary practice, the face of this tournament has been ascribed to the Srilankan spearhead, Lasith Malinga, who was chosen as the brand ambassador of the much-awaited event which kick starts on the 18th September, 2012. Twelve teams will vie for the short-lived glory (held every two years, hence the limited tenure with the T20 crown) which will witness new entrant, Afghanistan, who have secured a slot in the group fixture owing to their tremendous performance in the T20 Qualifiers in which they finished runners-up to eventual winners, Ireland.
The format will see fours groups comprising of three top-flight teams in each in the preliminary round. The tourney, over the years, has witnessed the emergence and blossoming of exciting talents which implies that the discovery of many more is a realistic happening considering the liveliness of the format. Here is a latest overview for all the T20-crazy fans out there highlighting the strengths and weak-points of the well-equipped eight contenders.
Group A is made up of England, India, & Afghanistan, while Group B is made of Australia, West Indies, & Ireland. Sri-Lanka, South Africa, & Zimbabwe constitutes Group C, and Pakistan, New Zealand, & Bangladesh makes up Group D.
For starters, the England team will be Pietersen-less after his alleged involvement in the sending of provocative text messages at the cost of the team’s interest, which virtually shut the doors to his illustrious career. The news of Pietersen’ omission sprouted a gigantic Barmy Army’ dismay which left millions of his fans disappointed, keeping in mind the terrific skill of batsmanship he displayed for his country’s sole WC title in which he single-handedly strolled his team to a historic victory thereby earning himself the man-of-the-tournament tag. Nevertheless, the team looks solid, elegantly led by Stuart Broad, who still has the six sixes thrashing, he received at the hands of Yuvraj Singh in the 2007 edition, well at the back of his mind. Eoin Morgan, Jonny Bairstow, Ravi Bopara, Jos Butler and wicket-keeper batsman Craig Kieswetter make up the batting order, well-assisted by all-rounders Tim Bresnan, Samit Patel and Luke Wright. Danny Briggs and Alex Hales are the two fresh legs in the squad, the former being a slow-left arm orthodox spinner and the latter is an explosive right-handed batting all-rounder. Graeme Swann brings in the experience-quotient into a relatively amateur team with his wily off-spinners and occasional heroics with the blade. The bowling-attack consists of Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Jade Dernbach providing a mixture of steep bounce, raw pace and innumerable variations in their armoury. They are the current T20 World Champions thus their ability to repeat miracles will be put to test. Undoubtedly, the batting-burden rests atop Morgan’ shoulders while the skipper will have his task cut-out with the ball. Alex Hales is being touted as the “next Kevin Pietersen” which automatically makes him a must-watch talent. Their bowling attack is superior in terms of variety but lacks the firepower to go all the way. Samit Patel’s indifferent form is also a cause for concern. Their utility player is Tim Bresnan, who even with his medium pace extracts considerable bounce adding to his big hitting ability. England may coast to the quarterfinals with ease but they have a history of faltering in knock-out games, thus their chances of defending their title looks bleak.
The one run- loss to New Zealand in the second T20, a week ago, doesn’t count for much scrutiny but it has exposed India’s habit of delaying potential victory scenarios , in other words “playing in a nonchalant mode” which is negatively attributed to skipper, MS Dhoni revealing that “intentional postponement” doesn’t always work to an individuals’ favour. Aside from Dhoni’s miscalculation, India has time and again got off to a decent start with respect to their new-ball combination. Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan , two stalwarts of Indian cricket, showed the opposition why left-arm seamers are still a unique breed with their typical left-armers’ dismissals. Laxmipathy Balaji too mixed his deliveries well which accounted for the wicket of James Franklin. Ravichandran Ashwin , arguably, has finger-spinning variations which no one else possess but the offie tends to over-use his rare weaponry with incessant success. Gautam Gambhir’s form is phenomenal to India’s flying-starts and batting foundations but the south-paw has witnessed a lean phase while struggling to pierce the gaps, which he so often does with minimal effort. However, the biggest worry for India is that their opening duo of Sehwag-Gambhir has become deficient in providing the much-needed starts, which is so classical of India’s past opening pairs. Ifran Pathan rounds up as an all-rounder but he rarely gets to showcase his worth with the bat owing to the deep-batting lineup. Thus, Irfan should be appropriately used as a floater capable of batting at all positions in all match-situations. Virat Kohli has struck a rich vein of form which cast away doubts over his under-performance in the shortest format of the game. Yuvraj Singh’s return to India’s scheme of things augurs well but he clearly needs to work on his fitness and stamina as he could be spotted gasping for air due to quick tiredness. Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, and Manoj Tiwary are the remaining batting youngsters that complete the pack. Harbhajan Singh may have to wait for his much-anticipated opportunities because of Ashwin’s brilliant run of form. Overall the prime concern is still the death-over bowling which even the dependable Balaji failed to replicate in the Kiwi encounter. India will breeze past the initial two hurdles but may find their semi-final opponent too hot to handle considering the easy-route they are always provided with in the lead-up to the penultimate games. India has match-winning individuals but they should relate their success to overall team performance, which they have often not exhibited in the recent past.
The stereotypical “Home-advantage” is one advantage that the Lankans won’t cheer much about in light of the format’s unpredictability and sheer element of luck, instilled since it’s inception barely a decade ago. The Sri Lankans have got off to a perfect start by upsetting a mighty West Indies team in their first warm-up game thanks to laudable half-centuries from Jayawardena (57) and Dilshan (50) which enabled a convincing victory with 26 balls to spare. Also notable was the slightest exertion with which they restricted their opponents to a mere 132-6. The opening combo has been a pondering issue for the team since the retirement of Sanath Jayasuriya. Tillakartane Dilshan seems an unavoidable choice but it remains to be seen whether Mahela Jayawardena or Lahiru Thirimanne will partner him. Kumar Sangakkara provides the stabilizing-effect to the batting order with his calm and composed stay at the crease. The former-captain has forged a great chemistry with fellow wicketkeeper bat, Dinesh Chandimal, who is fast emerging as a potent force to reckon with due to his ability to cream runs at will irrespective of what the situation demands. The overdependence on Lasith Malinga has been debated innumerable times, and that too for very obvious reasons! Whenever the slinger succumbed to a shoddy performance, it infects the entire team which brings down the team-morale drastically (courtesy: Virat Kohli’s Hobart blitzkrieg). Their prime playmaker is, unsurprisingly, Thisara Perera who has turned a revelation, both with bat and ball. His uncanny ability to dispatch the ball, irrespective of where it has pitched, indicates the intriguing affair a bowler is faced. The team has played it safe by roping in additional all-rounders like Jeewan Mendis and Angelo Mathews. Possibly you would have come across a fresh name, Akila Dananjaya, the latest entrant into the squad resulting from his spectacular performance in the Sri Lankan Premier League, which caught the attention of his skipper after he impressed in the net-practice session prior to the commencement of the tourney. He is a Mendis-mould, with a variety of variations at his command. The warm-up match loss to India has certainly dented their confidence ahead of their opening encounter against Zimbabawe after they were inflicted a 26-run defeat by the Dhoni-led side.
The South Africans need no introduction. They are automatic contenders for winning any major cricketing tournament. But, they have a history of choking at crucial encounters which have resulted in their premature exits from tournaments, hardly putting up a valiant fight. The current crop centers on their talismanic skipper, AB De Villiers who is an exceptional talent and level-headed captain. He has an array of strokes which make it an extremely Herculean task to contain and tame him, while he’s on a run-scoring spree. Richard Levi, who recently won the ICC Award for Best Individual Performance in a T20 (a breathtakingly rapid century in limited deliveries against New Zealand), has all it takes to emerge as the next-Gibbs of the South African team. His stint in the IPL for Mumbai Indians surely would have enhanced his skills for the betterment of the team, as he’s known to throw away his wicket after getting decent starts. The round-the-year availability of batting legend, Jack Kallis will enable De Villiers to seek assistance in times of requirement and his presence will boost the motivational-levels of his younger colleagues. The pace-trio of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe is arguably the best-bowling attack in present day cricket. Dale Steyn is a must-watch if you are a fan of witnessing “toppling timbers”, indicating his track-record of wicket-taking ability. Morne Morkel displayed his prowess in the 2012 edition of the IPL where he finished as the joint-highest wicket taker with his steep and unplayable bouncers. JP Duminy is a class-act when it comes to the shorter formats. The team has the prerequisites, needed to be crowned potential champs but the “chokers-tag” still glows bright on their foreheads. They need to avoid pressurizing themselves with unwanted field-placements, unnecessary batting-order shuffling , which has cost them innumerable games. However, considering the tough-draw they are faced with (Sri-Lanka and Zimbabwe), South Africa has a real chance of grabbing the trophy if they are to advance into the semi-finals, unhurt physiologically. The mentality of their players in big-games must undergo transformation as they often allow the situation to consume them. If South-Africa can refrain from panicking, then there is no reason why they can’t pose a serious attempt at the T20 trophy.
The team is yet to recover from the evident shock they received on hearing of their T20 rankings after their loss to Pakistan - a pathetic 10th spot - interestingly, below minnows Ireland. Nevertheless, rankings are an unrealistic implication of their undoubted talent, which will prove futile when they lock horns with the Irish next week. George Bailey has vowed to extend “special treatment” to the Irish team, which is proof from their dismal table-standings. David Warner, the T20 specialist has caution attached to his name. Thus teams are “warned” beforehand of his batting exploits. He is the ideal opener for this format with the uncanny knack of consistently playing the switch-hit to effective use. He is partnered by the burly Shane Watson, the Australian version of Jack Kallis. The right-handed batsman, literally explodes when on song with his wide-ranging shot-making skill and his utility with the ball will ensure additional bowling options for Bailey. The pace quartet of Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Starc, Daniel Christian and Pat Cummins are fairly inexperienced so it would require immense moral support from their team members if they are to destroy star-studded batting line-ups. The news that David Hussey, the most prolific T20 player, is finding it difficult to secure a spot in the playing XI after his consecutive omission in the three T20 games against Pakistan and in the first warm-up game sounds baffling considering his immaculate record in the format. The inclusion of chinaman, Brad Hogg will adequately strengthen their spin department which over the years have failed to replace the legendary Shane Warne. Xavier Doherty is the other left-arm spinner in their ranks. All eyes will be on Australia’s new-found sensation Glenn Maxwell, whose part of the squad as an all-rounder. The Victorian is a right-handed bat and a right-arm off break bowler who currently holds the record for fastest 50 (19 balls) in Australian domestic T20 League. The Australians are always favourites for any tournament but in the recent past they have failed to live up to their reputation. Their rather meek surrender to the least-inexperienced of oppositions has led many experts to write them off without any further clarification. But, as Warner’s name suggests, other teams better be on guard.
Since the hey-days of West-Indian cricket at its supremacy, it is probably the first time that the Caribbean outfit go into an official tournament as the strongest contenders. Darren Sammy, the skipper, has options galore with this squad. From Chris Gayle to Andre Russell, the West Indies have batsmen that can play the dual-role if the game-setting requires so. Gayle-force will unleash itself this fortnight and bowlers will be at his mercy. His big-hitting abilities has earned him the tag of being the most destructive batsman among his contemporaries which will put West Indies in touching distance of glory. Keiron Pollard exploits are there for everyone to see. The Mumbai-Indians star, like Gayle, enjoys making use of the long-handle and can restrict the batsmen with his subtle variations including varying his run-ups in order to perplex the batsmen. The refined batting of Darren Bravo adds the quality to an otherwise unorthodox batting order. Dwayne Bravo’ stunning performance for CSK in the IPL has earned him deserving accolades after his calculated hitting and clever bowling tactics, including his electrifying fielding, won the hearts of many a cricket fan. Sunil Narine has filliped the winning prospects of the team after his fine display of unconventional bowling in the IPL where bagged in excess of 20 wickets to lead his KKR outfit to it’s very first IPL title. However, too many cooks, spoil the broth. Likewise, presence of too many big-hitters may spell doom. Darren Sammy must redefine his role in the team as he often resembles an unfit member in the squad. However, If West Indies make it to the Super-Eights without much damage then one can surely expect Caribbean celebrations to begin as they have the inherent ability of knocking-out heavyweights in knock-out games.
Being the only non-subcontinent team to have acclimatized to the spin-friendly tracks prior to the tourney, New Zealand sneak into the league with a slight advantage. The re-discovery of James Franklin’s bowling capability provides the Kiwis with a suitable death-over bowling option after his stupendous display against India which saw the bowler account for the prized-scalps of Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh. Brendan McCullum delivered the sucker-punch when he smashed the hapless Indian pacers to all corners of the ground to regain his decelerating form thereby earning himself the man-of-the-match award. The two openers, Martin Guptill and Rob Nicol, have to bat themselves in and quickly adapt to the conditions if they are to set a decent total or chase down a mighty target. Kane Williamson needs to up the ante in his batting as he consumes deliveries and takes time settling in. Jacob Oram brings in the balance to a rather heavily-loaded bowling side. Vettori will relish bowling in these strips but he has lost his much-admired guile with which he foxed the best of batsmen during his prime days. Kyle Mills, Doug Bracewell, and Adam Milne make up the bowling-unit which also comprises of spinners Jeetan Patel and Woodcock. The BlackCaps are agile on the field but they are known for dropping sitters. Ross Taylor needs to assign greater responsibility and take the team forward. The bowling may receive sound-thrashing due to its lack of substance and quality, barring Vettori. However, The Kiwis have a proud history of being a regular presence in semi-finals after which they fail to capitalize on the opportunity.
They have finally beaten the Indians in the warm-up game between the two arch-rivals that took placebon Monday after Kamran Akmal’s stunning unbeaten 92 of mere 50 balls blew the Indians away, as they inflicted an emotional blow to their neighbours with a satisfying five-wicket victory. Barely a week ago, the team upset the Aussies with a demolishing 2-1 victory which makes them the dark-horses of this edition largely attributed to their unpredictable style of cricket. Shoaib Malik announced his return to competitive cricket with an equally impressive unbeaten 37 over the Men-in-Blue. However, the openers have been juggled with on a repetitive basis due to which re-called batsman Imran Nazir will require time to adjust to the intricacies of the game. Their skipper, Mohammad Hafeez has resurrected the team from a situation of utter-chaos and has led admirably by example. However, the cause for concern will be the depreciating form of their former skipper, Shahid Afridi who looks too impatient with the bat though his bowling has been a revelation. The team requires better and consistent performances from Umar Akmal, Nasir Jamshed and Afridi if they are to stand any chance of competing with the best in business. In the bowling department, Umar Gul , Sohail Tanvir and Mohammad Sami make an exciting pack of pacers adding to the wily off-spin of Saeed Ajmal. Pakistan look poised to make it to the Super-Eights with ease, but knock-out games demand an altogether different approach, the approach of identifying the opposition’s weakness”, which they have horribly failed while only playing
to their strengths.