World cricket is in a state of transition.
World cricket is in a state of transition. Australia are a shadow of their former invincible selves and England are still reeling from the dressing room problems of their star player and retirement of Test skipper, Andrew Strauss. While South Africa seem to be shrugging off their ‘choker tag’, West Indies have been reinforced with the force of ‘Gayle’ and New Zealand are the usual suspects you can’t take for granted.
Sub-continent giants India and Pakistan are finding new names championing their cause to victory while older warhorses slowly fade towards the twilight of their careers and Sri Lanka’s experienced players haven’t disappointed so far.
For the last several years these eight teams have formed the fulcrum of world cricket without a real challenge from any of the fringe countries. So it was no surprise when the these top eight nations – in Tests, ODIs and T20 Internationals – cruised to the Super Eight of the World Twenty20 that’s currently underway in Sri Lanka without breaking too much of a sweat.
While it has been a predictable tournament thus far, the real tournament gets underway now as every result counts. The brisk nature of the Twenty20 format coupled with the absence of any real consistent superpower in the sport gives every team a fair chance to lift the trophy on the 7th of October in Colombo.
Let’s take a look at how these eight teams stack up:
England folded like a pack of cards against India after convincingly dismantling minnows, Afghanistan. Harbhajan Singh, making a comeback to international cricket, picked up 4 wickets for 12 runs as England’s continuing problems against spin were deeply exposed. Having lost their opening game in the Super Eight to West Indies, England will have to win against Sri Lanka and New Zealand convincingly to be assured of a spot in the semi-finals. A loss here and a certain player who’s enjoying his stint on the microphone maybe hastened back into the squad before they head to India.
India’s biggest problems lie with their most experienced players, Zaheer Khan and Virender Sehwag. The Sehwag-Gambhir opening pair haven’t fired in unison in a long time and Khan seems to have lost his pace and ability to make the old ball talk. However, they are being propped up by tough middle-order which consists of Virat Kohli (in the form of his life), Rohit Sharma, the artful MS Dhoni and his spin options. They are in a tough group and the biggest question is whether they can win five matches against quality oppositions.
Australia have an unfamiliar line-up but they seem to be winning in a very familiar way. Shane Watson is probably the best all-rounder of the modern-game and in Warner they have a consistently good explosive opener. The Aussies have always relied on their seamers and despite losing big names like Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc seem to be doing the job well. But without a world-class spinner and a feeble middle-order, Australia do have a few worries that they will be hoping other teams don’t get a chance to exploit.
Under Gary Kirsten, the Proteas seem to look like a side who are enjoying their cricket without thinking too much of the burdens and expectations of the past. They seem to have a balanced line-up, Amla is their run-machine and 37-year-old Jacques Kallis plays like he’s a decade younger. They don’t have a major trophy in a long time and a win here could prove to be the cherry on the cake after humbling England to take the coveted #1 spot in Tests. Every time they enter a big tournament a certain word follows them around like a stigma. Can they silence the world this time?
More than anything, this format seems to suit the West Indies’ style of playing. They have some huge hitters in the form of Gayle and Pollard, stable and experienced middle-order and bowlers reliable enough to entrust 20 overs to. They can prove to be the surprise package of the tournament, especially after their recent win over England. Just when teams thought Gayle was enough, an unknown Johnson Charles scores 84 from 56. The Caribbean outfit are playing sans any pressue, which is reflected in their attitude – dances, smiles and camaraderie.
In Dilshan, Jayawardena and Sangakkara, the home team have an experienced top-order, which is perfectly complimented by the wily Lasith Malinga (probably the best fast bowler in this format) and the return of the spin-king Ajantha Mendis. They began their Super Eight campaign with a victory over New Zealand and have West Indies and England next. The finalists of the 2011 World Cup would love to repeat India’s feat of winning on home soil. A win will also boost their recently-inaugurated Sri Lanka Premier League.
If you count their warm-up game against India, Pakistan have scored in excess of 175 three times in a little over a week. What’s more impressive is that each time a different batsman has stood up to the cause. Saeed Ajmal is almost a constant wicket-taker and they seem to be playing with a nothing to lose attitude. Every time Pakistan have played fearless cricket, they’ve been a danger for other teams. This time seems to be no different. With not many countries having faced them in the recent past, they also have a surprise factor most teams wish they had.
Despite flirting with opening combinations, the Kiwis seem to be reliant on their run-heavy top-order. The middle-order and bowlers don’t boast any names that can intimidate oppositions. New Zealand can be the surprise package of the tournament, though they almost always seem to fall behind before reaching the final hurdle. With an early loss to West Indies in the Super Eight, they might find it hard to recover from here on as they have a buoyant Sri Lanka and do-or-die England due next.
Group 1: England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, West Indies
Group 2: India, South Africa, Australia, Pakistan
Even the best in the game will find it a difficult task predicting the finalists. It seems like the only way to assure victory is consistently good team performances, which, honestly, each of the top-eight are capable of providing.
Who do you think will win the ICC World Twenty20? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.