With the eagerly-anticipated World T20 so close we can almost reach out and touch its callous, over-commercialised hands, we here at 51allout have managed to hold off on the gin and Kingfisher Beer cocktail long enough to take a glance over each of the groups. First of all, though, it’s probably worth knowing how the tournament works. Well, for an ICC shindig it’s actually fairly simple; two sides qualify from each group and go into the much-loved Super Eight stage, from whence the semi-finalists are spawned. And, at the end of it all, Australia lose.
Against all our instincts, we’ve stuck to convention and begin our preview with Group A, containing the World Champions, the, er, World Champions and everyone’s favourite associate nation. Even we can get over our in-built cynicism long enough to get a little excited about this one.
England’s success in the West Indies was built around a preset plan and a couple of real game changing batsmen in Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan. They head to Sri Lanka with just one of those guys and no apparent idea of what to do. They have been written off by all-comers, look woefully short of match-winners and look so vulnerable the Afghans must be licking their lips with glee.
But all is not lost! Indeed, all has proved a very difficult bugger to lose over the years and England should still fancy their chances. They now have a very good bowling attack in this format and the tournament as a whole has no outstanding side. If previous World T20s are anything to go by then the first game with Afghanistan is the one to worry about; England do not have a very clever history in this sort of contest, having lost to the Netherlands at home in 2009 and been saved by the rain against Ireland last time out. Assuming they win that, the India clash becomes far less significant and it’s difficult to find a Super Eight combination which would look beyond them.
The most frustrating thing about England is the way they spend a long time building a squad for a World Cup then inevitably decide to ditch that plan and try something else twelve hours before the tournament starts. This time they’ve lost their dangerman to circumstances (sort of but not really) out of their control and Ravi Bopara’s comically inept performances of late mean they will start the first game without two of the top three who finished their series victory in the UAE, just four matches ago. Michael Lumb has seemingly been dragged off the street into the squad because they couldn’t think of anyone else, but one hopes they resist the urge to re-unite the opening combination of two years ago; Alex Hales is a far superior batsman to Lumb and they have got to stick with him. If they are to do anything, it will be the likes of Hales, along with Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler and, yes, Craig Kieswetter who will have to lead the way. This is an England side without any of their senior Test batsmen and Morgan cannot shoulder all the responsibility, it’s time for the rest of them to come of age.
As preparation for a World Cup goes, humiliating home defeats to New Zealand are not generally seen as the best way to go. That is, however, how India have decided to approach this tournament, having somehow managed to trip over the last before being unceremoniously booted in the face by the chasing field on their way past in Chennai last week. It was a stupid defeat which is unlikely to happen again, but it’s probably not advisable for MS Dhoni to share a cigarette with Rahul Sharma before he goes out to bat in future.
The Indian side is perhaps the most lop-sided in the competition, with a supremely powerful batting line-up but a bowling attack so poor even Australia would turn their noses up at it. Three of the likely starters – including Dhoni – are Chennai Super King-ers in the IPL, who basically are too rubbish at bowling to restrict the opposition at all but have such depths of hitting that they back themselves to chase anything down. India operate under the same premise. None of the front-line bowlers will strike fear into anyone and they need to find four overs from a combination of Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and the returning Yuvraj Singh every game. They are likely to concede some seriously big scores but they bat all the way down – Ravi Ashwin at number nine has a Test century to his name – and, most importantly, have a number of hitters and are prepared to be flexible with their batting order.
That flexibility may well be their greatest asset; whereas most teams are very reluctant to mess about with the order and bowl part-timers at weird times (we’re looking meaningfully at you, England), Dhoni is the undisputed champion of that sort of captaincy. Despite the general disdain for the IPL in this country, Dhoni knows how to win T20 tournaments and that sort of experience shouldn’t be underestimated. Nor should his weird brain fade against New Zealand make anyone doubt his ability to chase a target; not for nothing is he known as the Indian Neil Fairbrother.
Such is 51allout’s dedication to the job, we have seen a little of Afghanistan this year and they are a decent side. Should they qualify? No. But they are talented and, given the nature of T20, dangerous underdogs. As we mentioned earlier; their opening game with England looks like a huge potential upset given our brave boys’ tendency to not really bother against teams they feel are inferior to them. It’s worth remembering that this is not Afghanistan’s first taste of this tournament either, as they managed to qualify for the 2010 edition as well, so that experience should benefit them this time around. Perhaps they can even serve up an ice cold revenge salad on India after the hammering they took two years ago. We wouldn’t bet against it, but then we have been drinking a shitload of Kingfisher Beer this week.
The core of their side remains from that first foray into the big bad world of top(ish) level cricket and they swept aside a Sri Lankan A side in a warm-up game last week. Mohammad Shahzad played a big hand in that win, just to make sure everyone knows he’s their star man well in advance. In fact, if we were to offer a little tip for all you budding fantasy players it would be to give him a go early on; he bats high, scores quick, and is extremely talented.
Beyond that we have concerns over the depth of their bowling and how their batsmen will cope under the sort of pressure
England and India will undoubtedly put them under but we hold high hopes for Afghanistan in the long term, hopefully they’ll be able to do themselves justice with a couple of memorable performances even if they can’t pull off the miracle win.