With the qualifying round having ended under a cloud, both literally and metaphorically, the 2016 ICC World T20 rolls onto the Super 10 stage and the introduction of the heavy hitters. That the associates weren’t given a fair crack of the whip can now be brushed under the carpet by the ICC as the money making festival can truly get under way.
That’s not to say the cricket will be unappetising; far from it. The six previous World T20 tournaments have given us six different winners. It is something of a lottery and the fewer the overs, the greater the parity between the sides – anything can happen and upsets do happen. Just ask England, who have twice been beaten by the Netherlands at World T20 tournaments.
India, the tournament hosts, are strong favourites to add a second World T20 trophy to their collection. MS Dhoni’s side are the strongest favourites for any recent sporting tournament I can recall, the most likely winners I have seen since Spain at the 2012 European football championships and Mercedes-Benz for the Formula 1 Constructor’s Championship in 2015. I really can’t see another side winning this, but T20, as we know, is T20 – there will be a few upsets along the way.
Afghanistan made it through the qualifiers and join a group containing England, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the West Indies. On paper, this is certainly the easier of the two groups. Sri Lanka are in a slump at the moment, struggling to move on from the retirement of some genuinely great cricketers. Add to that mix an injury concern lingering over Lasith Malinga and it doesn’t look too promising for the Sri Lankans. This could be the feeblest defence of a title since Chelsea in this season’s Premier League.
The West Indies, too, look unlikely to repeat the heroics of 2012 when they won the title. In a perpetual state of administrative incompetence and crisis, the future always looks bleak. That said they do contain some T20 superstars in Chris Gayle, Andre Fletcher and Marlon Samuels. Can they conjure up one last hurrah? It doesn’t look promising.
England look well poised to make it out of Group 1. Traditionally frail against spin, their recent gung-ho antics should serve them well on the flatter pitches they will encounter and they are laced with big hitters throughout the order, from Jason Roy and Alex Hales, through Jos Buttler and David Willey.
South Africa will be heavily reliant upon Imran Tahir with the ball, given Dale Steyn’s recent injuries. Any side that has AB de Villiers, though, always has a fighting chance of winning anything. Quinton de Kock, too, is no stranger to India after a few seasons in the IPL and Faf du Plessis is an experienced hand as skipper of the side.
That leaves Afghanistan. Their spinners impressed in the qualifying round, choking Zimbabwe in their shoot-out to make it this far. There are no expectations on the Afghans and they could well claim a high profile scalp, although I can’t see them having enough consistency, particularly with the bat, to progress.
England and South Africa to qualify for the semi-finals.
Bangladesh, as most predicted, came through the qualifiers, although only courtesy of a narrow victory over the Netherlands, rain against Ireland (although they were booming along when the heavens opened) and a routine victory against Oman. Tamim Iqbal, the opener, is the key. If he fires, he can be as dangerous as anyone else around. India, Australia, Pakistan and New Zealand beware.
India should make it through this group. They contain the right blend of explosive batting and wily spinners to prosper. I need add nothing more about Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli an R Ashwin. India are strong favourites for a reason. If they crash out at this stage, it would represent a huge shock.
New Zealand are without the recently retired Brendon McCullum, but do have Kane Williamson. Tim Southee and Trent Boult will have to be on World Cup 2015 form, on Indian surfaces, to propel New Zealand further as I feel that Nathan McCullum and Mitchell Santner aren’t quite there as spin options to make a real dent on this tournament. If there’s one thing New Zealand have been consistently good at recently, it is outperforming themselves, but this looks unlikely to occur here.
Australia look the most likely to join India in the semi-finals. They have explosive batting throughout their line-up and a plethora of white ball all-rounders that add depth in both the batting and bowling departments. The spin options look a little thin, although Adam Zampa had an excellent Big Bash this year and could feature ahead of Ashton Agar. In Glenn Maxwell, Australia also have one of the best T20 players in the world at their disposal. He has a happy knack of taking wickets with his off-spin and smashing big scores, not to mention his superb fielding ability.
You usually expect the unexpected with Pakistan, but they look the most predictable that they ever have here. Led by the ageing Shahid Afridi and with Wahab Riaz their most threatening bowler by far, it would be a surprise if Pakistan make it through this group. They lack the explosive batting of their rivals and, rarely in the history of Pakistan cricket, they don’t have decent spin options.
I’m backing India and Australia to progress.
Whatever transpires, there are some intriguing match-ups to be seen. Bangladesh and Afghanistan will more than just make up the numbers and, Afghanistan in particular, could cause a real stir.
For more on the Super 10s, do have a read of Manish Tewani’s five batsmen to watch. We’ll be back with more opinion throughout the tournament and a preview and prediction of the semi-finals, which almost certainly feature India, Australia, England and South Africa… When have we ever been wrong?!
By Miles Reucroft