In home conditions, Sri Lanka should be expected to do well, especially as they are led by the generally reliable Mahela Jayawardene. However, having played just four international T20 matches in the past 12 months, it is hard to judge how they will set up and how they will perform; expect the batting to be carried by the ageing yet still impressive trio of Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara and the bowling to be spearheaded by Lasith Malinga (the only quick bowler in the top 10 in the world in this format), backed up by spinners who somehow are better than they look.
A big issue for the Sri Lankans will be the vice-captain Angelo Mathews, who seems to have been around forever, when in fact it’s just under four years since his international debut. In any case, he’s now 25 years old and clearly earmarked as the future of the team, yet for most of his career his undoubted potential with both bat and ball seems to have been unmatched by actual performance.
However, despite this impressive list of plus points, we have a nagging feeling that something will go wrong for the hosts, given the potential lottery of T20s. As such, we’re not confident enough to predict they’ll reach the semi-finals. Bet your house, car and collection of northern soul singles on them winning it then…
Lessons learnt in 2012: don’t play strip pool, don’t use twitter to criticise Somerset players and don’t underestimate South Africa. Heeding this advice, one of our team has already predicted victory for South Africa in this tournament, acknowledging that they can’t always choke. Let’s fact it, such a prediction is not especially bold, considering that Hashim Amla is officially quite good, that AB de Villiers is an inspiring captain and that in Sri Lanka their mix of pace and filthy-ish spin should trouble most sides.
Nonetheless, the recently concluded series against England demonstrated that there are still some places in the side that need to be filled: Faf du Plessis looks terrible; Richard Levi looks worse (careful now, he’s played for Somerset – Ed). All it may take is a Morne Morkel or Wayne Parnell meltdown and South Africa could crash out in a pile of wides and sixes.
It’s hard to talk about Zimbabwe without coming across as a bit patronising: it’s great to have them back, they’ve some likeable players, they always try hard etc etc. But ultimately, if we didn’t patronise them, we’d end up criticising them. After all, they are, essentially, crap – and lost both their warm-up matches heavily. Indeed, they’re arguably the weakest side in the tournament, and are faced with two of the strongest in the group stage (long gone is the era in which they were good enough to beat England, twice). With both their matches within the first three days, they are nailed on to be knocked out before most teams start their campaigns. At least they’ll be able to do some sightseeing.
Captain Brendan Taylor is at least a decent player; Hamilton Masakadza and Elton Chigumbura both have reasonable records (all three have scored more than 200 runs across the last two years of T20s, in which they’ve only played eight matches). However even if Zimbabwe do manage to make a challenging score, their bowling attack doesn’t really look capable of defending it. Still, at least they’ll be plucky and brave…