Monday 17 September 2012 

Comment - ICC World Twenty20 2012 Wide Open

Comment - ICC World Twenty20 2012 Wide Open
Comment - ICC World Twenty20 2012 Wide Open
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

On the world stage, in sport, there is always that one team which is ahead of all others in the fray. The term coined for them is favourites.

Presently, in international football, Spain are that team, a glorious example. But imagine them entering a World Cup or Euro without that tag. Imagine them down at everybody’s level or everybody else at their level. That would mean all are equals and no one in particular has any forward momentum to lift the trophy.

That is how you can portray the 2012 ICC World T20. A tournament with twelve teams, all of them in line to lift that silverware, or not! How did T20 cricket come to this exciting equilibrium?

It can be said that  the conditions for the wickets in Sri Lanka are no more the dust-bowls they once were. Hard tracks are nowadays prepared for the slam-bang approach and dewy conditions in the evening allow for medium-pacers to thrive. But then, all bowling attacks both benefit and lose out, so where's the advantage?

It cannot be in batting for the approach needed in 20 overs isn't technical. You are out there in the middle - either you go after the bowling from the first delivery you face, or five balls later. There is no other option, highlighted so keenly by the fact that even someone as sedate as Hashim Amla finds the compulsion to reverse sweep with regularity.

Maybe fielding is the difference. The better fielding sides will probably think so, but their opposition will counter this micro-advantage by playing an extra batsman or all-rounder to increase their scoring opportunities. Or, they can always strive to lift their own fielding standards, something that has happened in the past and will continue to be the way going ahead.

Keeping in mind such situations, the term 'perennial favourites' was coined. It allowed people to talk about every team with an equal authority about their chances to triumph, though cleverly avoiding betting on them. A most proper example would be from Formula One where Ferrari have been given this tag. Everyone knows about them, that they will be in the mix for the championships, come what may. That they might or might not win it in the end is something not talked about with any certainty whatsoever.

Extrapolating that scenario to the ICC World T20 is easy. Almost every group throws up two teams that are capable of going the distance. That they will or won’t is a debate in different paradigms altogether, no single factor governed by the other. For example, consider India, with their poor bowling attack even though they won the ODI World Cup last year with a similarly shoddy one. Their limited bowling resources will deal them a heavier blow in this format where you cannot even hide poor fielders. But they have batting strength to off-set this problem. It is dependent on their luck that the two things should coincide.

The same can be said about England or Pakistan but boast of a stronger bowling attack. But it is about finding that equilibrium, for poor batting orders can come out firing. But substandard bowling cannot be backed up in this fast-paced format.

It will be easier to find for someone like New Zealand who do not boast immense firepower in either department and hence can easily strive to lift themselves up all around. But then the question is: can they do it consistently enough?

Then there are teams that have a stronger balance in their squads, such as Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka. Is any one of them in front of the chasing pack? Have they found a secret weapon amidst their team members with which to shock and awe the competition? Lanka boasted of one such, in Lasith Malinga. But India have negated him since long now.

Wouldn't other teams scrutinise that and try to replicate the same ploy? What if their main bowler fails? Batting cannot always be plan B, especially when you aren’t chasing. Sometimes there just aren’t enough runs on the board.

To quite an extent, the Aussies can be negated by spin and the Proteas will probably find it in themselves to hamper their chances. No, one didn’t want to use the ‘choke’ word.  Does that leave West Indies standing alone? Maybe.

Ever since T20 leagues propped up all over the world, a new breed of cricketers has come forth, ones who ply their trade in this arena of slam-bang. The likes of Chris Gayle, Sunil Narine, Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith, Andre Russell and Kieron Pollard are in front of a long queue. And at least six of these seven cricketers are assured in any Caribbean T20 first eleven.

They have only one challenge though, and that is in channelling their energy towards a united goal. Can they do it?

You won’t expect much from the minnows - Ireland, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe. Not even an odd upset. That could come from Bangladesh however, but under no circumstances do they have the resources or temperament to perform consistently at this level and go all the way. Sorry, ICC rankings don’t mean a thing.

Take a breather at this juncture. Do a summary and you will be wildly pleased, particularly if you love T20 cricket and go to any lengths endorsing it. For, you are in for a heck of a wild ride over the next three weeks. Just don’t bet any money on any particular team.

Chetan Narula

© Cricket World 2012

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