With Pakistan having thrashed Bangladesh in their last encounter in the ICC World Twenty20 group stage, the tournament takes proper shape as the best teams line up for the Super Eights. Many, in fact, will tell you that the tournament begins on Thursday when Sri Lanka play New Zealand.
After nine lukewarm days of cricket, fans of Twenty20 cricket are in line for some mouth-watering cricket now that Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Ireland and Bangladesh have been ousted from the World Twenty20. Four groups have been narrowed down two: West Indies, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and defending champions make up the first and in the next are India, Pakistan, Australia and South Africa. That second one is a very tight one, with India up against arguably the best three sides in the tournament.
Let’s have a look at the two groups.
Group 1: West Indies, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, England
West Indies and Sri Lanka will start off as favourites for the semi-finals but England and New Zealand will definitely give them a tough fight. West Indies have yet to win a game – they progressed due to a rain-hit match against Ireland – but are being seen as contenders for the title due to the presence of Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, skipper Darren Sammy, Fidel Edwards and Sunil Narine.
At home, Sri Lanka remain a formidable side. Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara lend solidity and plenty of experience to the batting, and in Lasith Malinga, Ajantha Mendis and Nuwan Kulasekara the hosts have three match-winning bowlers. Add in allrounders such as Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera, and Sri Lanka stand to pose a threat to all opposing teams.
New Zealand are highly dependent on Brendon McCullum, who is the leading run-scorer in Twenty20 internationals and the only batsman to score two centuries in the format, one of them being the fastest ever. After McCullum, the main man is captain Ross Taylor who can be equally destructive on his day. After that, the batting line-up is weighed down by inexperience and inconsistency. With the ball, the biggest asset is Daniel Vettori. Kyle Mills and Tim Southee are the leading fast men, followed by the allrounders Jacob Oram and James Franklin. Not a very strong team, but a capable one.
Defending champions England are not looking as strong as they were last time around. The
absence of Kevin Pirtersen and Paul Collingwood has weakened the batting, and as displayed in their 90-run thrashing by India the younger crop of batsmen have plenty of issues against spin. Their bowling, however, is one of the best in the tournament.
Group 2: India, Pakistan, Australia, South Africa
South Africa look the strongest in this group owing to an amazingly balanced side. In both the main departments they have a number of match-winners. With Richard Levi and Hashim Amla opening the innings you can always expect a blistering start and in Jacques Kallis at No. 3 South Africa have a batsman capable of holding an innings together. AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis and Albie Morkel after that makes for a very formidable batting order. Leading the bowling attack is Dale Steyn, ranked No. 1, followed by Morne Morkel, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Robin Peterson, Albie Morkel and Kallis. Definitely the team to beat.
India are highly dependent on their batting since the bowling is a area of concern, regardless of the way Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla had England in a spin. The lack of form of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir at the top is causing India trouble, and leaving too much on Virat Kohli’s shoulders. Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni are all Twenty20 match-winners, but their efforts must be backed up by good bowling. Zaheer Khan is finding it tough to get his rhythm correct, Irfan Pathan is too inconsistent and L Balaji is making a comeback so that leaves Dhoni to rely on R Ashwin – especially at the death. Whether India go in with five bowlers against Australia is a matter of huge interest at the moment.
That leaves Australia and Pakistan, both of whom have an edge over India in the bowling. For Pakistan, spin is the strength with Mohammad Hafeez, Shahid Afridi and Umar Gul carrying the attack. Umar Gul adds control and Sohail Tanvir unpredictability, but currently the fast-bowling is pair is a bit off-key. Australia have a pace battery comprising Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Shane Watson and Daniel Christian which has contributed to victory in two matches. The concern is in the spin department, where a 41-year-old Brad Hogg and a rookie in Glenn Maxwell have to do anything of note.
The Super Eights stand to offer much more action than the group stage, so fans can sit back and enjoy the action at last.