There is no denying it. Twenty20 cricket has become a force to be reckoned with. Domestically, tournaments such as Australia’s Big Bash and the Indian Premier League have provided terrific entertainment and attracted some of the sport’s top players. Nonetheless, the ultimate spectacle is the one in which they are all invited – the World Cup. The sixth edition of T20’s grandest title will soon be contested in India. Sri Lana are the current holders and here we assess the prospects of those with the best chance of dethroning them.
The side who powered to the 50 over World Cup this time last year, Australia kick-off against the team they defeated in that World Cup final, New Zealand, and also have India in their group. Darren Lehmann’s men have a point to prove having been out of contention in 2014 after losing their first two matches. There have been some radical squad selections, as well as the replacement of Aaron Finch with Steve Smith as captain on the eve of the event, but you can’t write the Aussies off, especially with blockbuster players such as Glenn Maxwell and David Warner, the leading run-scorer from the past two IPLs. The loss of Mitchell Starc is a blow but Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Coulter-Nile can carry the attacking burden with the ball. By the time of the tournament Australia will have only played 11 T20 matches since the last World Cup. Underprepared? Maybe. Yet if there is one thing we have learnt in cricket it is to never underestimate Australia, especially as this T20 title has so far been able to elude them.
India, captained by the legendary MS Dhoni, has an awful lot in their favour. The inaugural champions in 2007, they will be playing at home in the types of conditions that they have become even more familiar with due to all the T20 matches they’ve played on the grounds in the IPL. They also have experience of winning the big gongs under the extreme pressure of a home tournament after winning the 50 over World Cup in 2011. Form isn’t any issue either following recent Twenty20 series wins over Australia and Sri Lanka, 3-0 and 2-1 respectively, whilst they have a host of batsmen who can quickly take a game away from an opponent such as Virat Kohli. Their bowling attack also looks well balanced to cope with different conditions. A second world crown and the ideal farewell to Dhoni is a strong possibility.
On paper you simply have to look at South Africa as one of the teams to beat. How can you ignore a team with the world’s most devastating batsman in AB de Villiers, three of the top 10 bowlers in the format in Imran Tahir, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel and the confidence of recently beating the host country on their own turf? Throw in the guile of Hashim Amla, the experienced middle order including Faf du Plessis and the additional pace of the exciting young Kagiso Rabada and you quickly see why this could finally be the moment when South Africa get rid of that chockers tag. T20 success is all about having the individuals with bat and ball who can put in the quick match-winning spells and the Proteas have them in abundance. South Africa has never won an ICC event but this is the best opportunity they have had to change that fact. An India v South Africa Final is a tantalizing, and feasible, proposition.
It is hard to predict what West Indies we will get in India. Will it be the barnstorming and exhilarating one that fulfils its potential or the disinterested and flaky one that shows as much resilience as a chocolate teapot? For once we may get a close to full strength squad competing in an international competition. They were the champions in 2012 and semi-finalists two years ago, so are proven at this level. The number 2 ICC ranking behind India also cannot be sniffed at. Many of their star players have spent recent years honing their abilities in this format in T20 tournaments rather than in Test cricket. They may be missing the likes of Pollard, Narine and Darren Bravo but do have the latter’s brother Dawyne, Darren Sammy and of course the phenomenal Chris Gayle. The West Indies should not be discounted as potential winners. It remains a big if.
This is the start of a new era for New Zealand after the retirement of the great Brendon McCullum who just happened to hit the fastest Test hundred in history in his final innings for his country. For many they were the team of 2015, such was their expansive play and endearingly positive attitude and they would be a popular winner at this World Cup. A best placed finish of 4th, achieved in 2007, is clearly not good enough. Could this be the year the underachievement ends? A group alongside Australia and India represents a big challenge, especially without their admired now former captain, but stranger things have happened than the Black Caps going all the way. If the key individuals like Kane Williamson and Trent Boult flourish, a new name could end up on the trophy.
You cannot deny that England has one of the most exciting T20 line-ups it’s ever had with the likes of Root, Butler, Hales and Stokes in their batting arsenal. Yet the recent series defeat to South Africa showed up familiar failings that could still haunt Trevor Bayliss’s men in India. To go far in this tournament England need to blend in a touch of intelligence and calmness into their batting rather than purely trying to pummel the ball out of the ground. Tempering aggression will increase the tempo of their run scoring. Increasing the fragile confidence in the field that was apparent in the recent one day and T20 matches is a must. Their bowling attack may not strike fear into opponents but it is for that very reason that Captain Eoin Morgan needs as many options as possible. Playing an extra batsman like they did in the defeats to South Africa would be a mistake. Bring these three factors together and that good old English tournament pessimism may be misplaced and Morgan and co could replicate Paul Collingwood’s 2010 Champions.
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