Things are looking up for Australia in T20 cricket. Just last week they were ranked below Ireland in the ICC rankings, whereas now they have risen to the dizzying heights of ninth. Clearly, the future is bright for the Aussies.
Just why Australia have been uniformly rubbish at international T20 cricket is a matter of some conjecture. Most will simply dismiss their blatant underperformance at previous World Cups as a symptom of the fact that the country doesn’t take the format ‘seriously’. That is, for want of a better phrase, complete and utter crap. And even if it were true in the past (it wasn’t), it’s far from the truth now when a team has been specifically constructed, under a captain specially appointed for the task, all with the single aim of winning the World Cup.
Why, on the eve of the tournament, that looks such an impossible goal is hard to explain. On paper Australia ought to be considered amongst the favorites. In reality, based on recent form at least, they will be, at best, also-rans. The main problem, even with the recent retirement of Brett Lee, is with the batting. As Mickey Arthur himself recently pointed out, if the opening pair of Dave Warner and Shane Watson fail to fire, the rest of the batting lineup lacks the explosive ability to drag the team to competitive totals. Baring one of the Husseys striking form at the right time, Australia must rely on the inconsistent contributions of the likes of George Bailey or Glenn Maxwell. Which begs the question of why Steve Smith was left out, as late innings hitting was his forte at the Pune Warriors.
With the ball things are much brighter, particularly with Mitchell Starc in imperious form, and as always the standard of fielding will be high. But ultimately, one of Warner and/or Watson will fail to fire, and Australia will find themselves outmuscled when it really counts.
The path the West Indies will take to success (or otherwise) won’t be subtle. It will primarily be based on bludgeoning the crap out of the ball. From Chris Gayle down to Kieron Pollard, the West Indian batting will be exclusively focused on hitting boundaries and sixes and anything less can go to hell. When it works such an approach is unstoppable. The problem is that when it fails, it fails spectacularly. And on the pitches they will be faced with in Sri Lanka, it can be expected to fail at least once.
One particular ace up the West Indies proverbial sleeves is the man who divides opinion in the 51allout office more than nearly anyone (that nearly being on the account of one Kevin Pietersen): Sunil Narine. Narine’s form in his debut IPL season was astonishing, taking 24 wickets with an economy of under 6. He is the sort of player who can turn middling totals into almost unreachable ones.
However the rest of the West Indian supporting cast are less impressive, and most opponents will be happy to see off Narine whilst they cash in elsewhere. Another issue is the standard of West Indian fielding, which is frankly pretty poor across the board. Ultimately with the West Indies it is a case of whether or not Gayle comes of or not. If he doesn’t, there isn’t enough talent elsewhere in the squad to suggest they are good enough to challenge for the title.
With Ireland becoming increasingly vocal in recent years about being accepted as a full fledged member of the cricket community, a strong World Cup showing would only further their cause. They can consider themselves fortunate in their group as well, since they are faced with two opponents for whom subcontinental conditions remain something of a mystery. That’s not to say the Irish will be at ease either, but in George Dockrell they have a player who could really cash in on slow turning pitches.
Unfortunately that’s about where the positives end for Ireland. Their form of late has been woeful. Thumped at home in a three match series against Bangladesh, their next series against a touring South African A outfit barely got off the ground, with the majority of matches being washed out without a ball being bowled.
Ed Joyce and Kevin O’Brien are naturally the players who will have big expectations on their shoulders if the Irish are to progress, but captain William Porterfield and Alex Cusack are handy cricketers as well. Unfortunately there is little in the way of depth beyond that, and the overwhelming impression is that they will simply be overpowered in their group. Much of the talk has been about their clash against Australia (a scintillating draw between ninth and tenth in the world), but their greatest chance of success probably lies in catching their other opponent, the West Indies, on an off day.