It’s back for the fifth time. The World T20 2014 will be defended by the West Indies and hosted by Bangladesh. It’s a slightly bigger tournament this time out, and slightly longer as a result. Mercifully for fans of competitive cricket, most of the wheat has been separated from the chaff.
16 teams are set to contest this World T20, split into two group stages. The first group stages are separated into Group A: Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal and Hong Kong and Group B: Zimbabwe, Ireland, Netherlands, UAE. The winner of each group advances to the second group round. Group A winners will go into Group 2: West Indies, India, Pakistan and Australia and Group B winners will go into Group 1: Sri Lanka, England, South Africa and New Zealand.
Group A features the tournament’s opening fixture when Bangladesh face Afghanistan on 16 March. Given that Nepal and Hong Kong will be complete pushovers, this will be the group decider. There is a lot of pressure on the host nation, but we’re backing Mushfiqur Rahim’s side to advance into Group 2.
Group B is a lot tougher. Zimbabwe’s biggest threat here is clearly Ireland, who recently defeated the West Indies in a T20 in the Caribbean. Netherlands will be looking to recreate the spirit of ’09 when they sensationally defeated then hosts England in that tournament’s opener at Lord’s. UAE look set to be the whipping boys.
We wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Ireland fight their way out of this group. Irish cricket is very much in the ascendency – the antithesis of cricket in Zimbabwe. We doubt the consistency of the Dutch side.
This is where the going gets tough. Really tough. The top two from each five team group will advance to the semi-finals. Group 1 is perhaps the easier of the two to call. Ireland, should they advance, should be easy pickings for Sri Lanka, South Africa and New Zealand. England can also be discounted from a top two berth. They have been appalling of late and their best player will be at home. Or in a TV studio. An already weak side devoid of its strongest component? We wouldn’t back them at any price.
You would expect Sri Lanka to have the measure of the conditions and the side is on a high after the recent Asia Cup triumph. We expect them to advance to the semi-finals along with New Zealand. New Zealand always seem to find a little extra something extra in tournaments and the recent ODI and Test series wins over India will give them a bit more confidence.
South Africa, by contrast, are in something of a transitional phase, with the loss of big names players within the set up likely to have a knock on effect.
Group 2 looks like complete guess work. Australia are the tournament favourites, heading in as they do on a real high after complete dominance over England in all three formats and a Test series win in South Africa. Whilst Test and T20 sides are composed very differently, the entire set up look buoyant right now. At the time of writing, there are two T20s to be played in South Africa.
India and Pakistan are both strong sides and should know the conditions well. All is not rosy in the Indian garden right now though, and the recent limp performance in the Asia Cup points to issues existing outside of the Test XI. West Indies will struggle to retain their title, as the recent defeat to Ireland suggests. Bangladesh though, should they advance, could spring a surprise, but will likely lack the consistency to trouble all four sides in the group.
We’ll take aim and suggest that Australia and Pakistan will get through.
As for the overall winners, we’ve got a really good feeling about Pakistan. They have a quality spin bowling attack that could prove decisive in Bangladesh. Saeed Ajmal is ranked no2 in the T20 bowling rankings, with captain Mohammad Hafeez ranked 5. Hafeez is the no1 ranked all rounder, with ‘Boom Boom’ Shahid Afridi at 5.
The return to form of Afridi, back to his explosive best in dramatic late wins over India and Bangladesh in the Asia Cup, is a huge fillip for Pakistan. And they also have the quality seam options of Junaid Khan and Umar Gul.
With all five of those capable of giving you four quality overs with the ball, Pakistan can bat deep. That could be a huge advantage.
In truth though, this tournament is a complete lottery. Its succinct format is something that the ICC should learn a lesson from and apply where to possible to its obese showpiece, the 50-over World Cup. With fewer games and a shorter time frame, there is more room for surprises, too. There is no room for an off day.
Pakistan being Pakistan, you never know what you’re going to get. Whatever the outcome, it should be an enjoyable tournament.
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By Miles Reucroft