I’m often asked who I think will win the ICC World T20 and I think my answer is the same as that any cricket lover can give. “I don’t know and I can’t tell”. Realistically, any of the six teams can win it, a seventh is a very strong dark horse and the eighth, well it depends on whether they believe they can! I don’t remember being to any world event that is as open as this. It is great news for the youngest form of our sport and, since finance occupies a major part, it is excellent for the networks and advertisers.
The good news is that it is great for the fans too. In the six and a half years since the first World T20 was held (yes that makes it five in that much time!), the game has evolved, skills have improved and since they only need to be on display for at most forty five minutes, teams are much closer than ever before.
India and Australia have probably the best batting line-ups in the tournament and it will be interesting to see if India start briskly. Like the old cars when we were growing up, India tend to take time to hit top speed and that is indicative of a slightly defensive mindset. When you play seven quality batsmen (Jadeja is one in this form), you would like to give two the license to go for it early. I am certain Australia will do that with Warner and Finch but I would like to see India do so with Dhawan and Raina at number three. Yes, it would mean Kohli opens the batting and I do believe he is tailor-made to play that role.
This is also a better fielding side than some others, though it is interesting that the batsmen field far better than the bowlers. It is something that demands attention another day for you would believe the bowlers would be better athletes. Or maybe it is because the batsman need to be really quick over 20 yards and that helps. But India’s problem is not merely how the bowlers field but, rather more worryingly, how they bowl. On the evidence so far, three spinners and two seamers seems the way to go, though the choice of bowlers for the last four overs will occupy Dhoni’s mind more than anything else.
Going against tradition
It is for that reason that not many would be tempted to put India among the top favourites. Yes, the pitches would favour India but the dew is already emerging as a strong counter to teams that are banking on spin bowling. I won’t be surprised if teams reverse the traditional order of bowling and get the spinners first and the quicker bowlers later!
Australia’s batting line up is scary and now, vastly experienced in these conditions. Warner, Finch, Watson, Bailey, Hodge and Faulkner have played a lot of cricket on the sub-continent and Maxwell and Haddin are not short on batting experience either. Each of those eight can be explosive, so can Starc and Coulter-Nile. Expect big scores from Australia, and given that they will always field well, expect them to defend those most days too. If at all there is a weakness here, it is in the quality of spin bowling -though Brad Hogg will blow a fuse if he reads this! Hogg is actually a wonderful choice, as is Hodge because both are very good in the small roles they will be called upon to play.
I believe Pakistan are the other team you will want to watch very closely simply because they are the best bowling side in the tournament. With Ajmal, Afridi and Hafeez, you are almost guaranteed twelve overs of spin and in Junaid, Umar Gul (in his favourite format) and Tanvir, potentially twelve overs of quality quicker bowling. Pakistan have a couple of issues to grapple with, and fielding is top of that list. If Umar Akmal is released from keeping, as he must because elder brother Kamran will play, he will add significantly to the quality in the outfield and Shoaib Malik is probably still better than most others. Ahmad Shahzad completes the trio but you are struggling with the others. The batting has a touch of the unexpected to it as well and if I was Pakistan I would aim for 150, no more, and back my bowlers to defend that most days.
The West Indies complete an extraordinarily tough pool and like with the Aussies, they are no strangers now to these conditions and, if anything, are better equipped now to play on slowish wickets. The return of Dwayne Smith is a belated show of selectorial judgement and him and Gayle are an awesome pair. And with the all-round abilities of Bravo, Samuels and Sammy, they always seem to have a bowler extra. I am surprised they have left out Kevon Cooper and Jason Holder but Santokie and Badree are probably the horses for courses bowlers.
South Africa have been going under the radar a bit but du Plessis, Miller and de Villiers are all matchwinners; de Kock is a star in the making and Duminy is just the all-rounder they could be looking for. Phangiso is a good spinner and quick bowling has never been an issue; and it helps that two of them, Albie Morkel and Parnell, are fine strikers of the ball. Can a team of Amla, de Kock, du Plessis, de Villiers, Duminy, Miller, Morkel, Parnell, Steyn, Phangiso and Morkel win it? It will be a tough call to say they can’t!
Little to fuss about
There is a noticeable lack of fuss around Sri Lanka too but I believe 50 overs is their stronger format especially for players like Jayawardene and Sangakkara. Dilshan is not getting younger and Chandimal hasn’t really announced himself yet. I suspect bowling is their stronger suit and opponents are always recalibrating their targets when Malinga has two overs left. Those two should be favourites to qualify from their group.
That leaves a strong dark horse in New Zealand and a rather under-rated team in England. If the pitches are good, New Zealand present a daunting batting line up with Guptill, McCullum, and Taylor followed by the most versatile lower order in Munro, Anderson, Ronchi and Neesham. Spin bowling could be a weakness and indeed, playing it could be too and dare I say the flatter the tracks the better New Zealand will look.
In 2012 in Sri Lanka, England put up the most woeful performances against spin and seem to have struggled in the West Indies as well. That might be a big factor though it might favour them to be as low key as they are. I don’t think teams are losing sleep playing England though and the only surprise this World T20 can throw up is if they win it.
I am expecting a great tournament though I hope the pitches are good enough given the amount of action they have had, especially at Mirpur. And I do wish the effect of the dew gets minimal as we go along. You can argue it is the same for both teams for the evening games but it is not a factor that is good for the game.
So who is going to win it? I don’t know, I am just going to enjoy the cricket!