ICC WT20 2014 Preview: The Real Battle Begins
At the time of writing, the last qualifying round of matches had begun in Chittagong. The hosts will play in the evening, taking on Hong Kong, and it should formally decide on their qualification to the next phase.
That is when the proper action begins, in Mirpur on Friday, when India take on Pakistan as the ICC World T20 2014 really opens for business.
Unless there is a major upheaval in that latter game on Thursday, Bangladesh should progress to Group Two in the Super 10 stage of this tournament. It is vital for them to do so, being hosts the obvious factor.
Moreso, the general public in this nation is crazy about cricket and that is an understatement. They know their technicalities, identify the names of favourite cricketers on their fingertips and will pay to even watch warm-up matches.
Yes, the Shere Bangla Stadium at Mirpur was nearly a quarter-full when India and Pakistan played their practice games here this past week.
It was funny to imagine either Afghanistan or Nepal upstaging the Tigers and moving ahead of them, qualifying for a more enticing stage. It is not to say that the flavour would have vanished from the tournament.
Fervent as their fans might be, they know their team isn’t the odds-on favourite to lift the trophy on 6th April. But they can hope, as every other host nation of a sporting event does, for that moment of glory. Their vigorous support will be seen in the coming days as Bangladesh take on West Indies, India, Pakistan and Australia, expecting to reach a crescendo.
The thing about this group is that it consists of the defending champions (West Indies), perennial favourites in any cricket event (India), dark horses for any ICC event (Pakistan) and the team most likely to win the tournament (Australia). Add the hosts to this equation, and it becomes an even tougher battle. Simply because T20 cricket is a great leveller!
A couple of blistering knocks, a stunning run out or a catch, or losing a few too many wickets in the same over could be the difference of 30 to 50 runs. That is a big amount whichever way you look at it. The Tigers, on a slow pitch and aided by a vociferous crowd, can surely spring a surprise then and it is not beyond them to cause an upset or maybe two. They need to generate momentum and enter this stage with three wins under their belt.
Beyond that, if you have to pick any two teams out of this group, then it depends on any individual’s choice. Australia have a first eleven replete with quality T20 players, so do West Indies and these two sides are very explosive. Can they destroy everything in their paths?
Pakistan have a rare mix of quality batsmen, bowlers and allrounders, and their own volatile nature brings a rare quality to the mix. Can sanity prevail in their camp long enough? India have the best batting on paper, only made light by their messy bowling attack. Can they pull it together?
Group One is relatively easier, if only in the sense that it doesn’t contain teams favoured enough to lift the trophy. It consists of Sri Lanka, England, South Africa and New Zealand, with Ireland poised to progress from the qualifying group. Like Bangladesh, they too could be in the mix as surely England will want to point out, having suffered in the 2011 World Cup at their hands.
But in slower conditions, they do not have as much a chance as the hosts possess, especially against the likes of Sri Lanka and South Africa.
These two sides will start as favourites to progress from this group – the former on the assumption that the conditions will amply support their bowling attack which is replete with slower bowlers.
The latter possess a good mix of players and they have new leadership in Faf du Plessis, freeing up the best batsman in the world AB de Villiers to put his mark on this tournament. If they can somehow manage not to choke - for a lack of a better word - then, it will provide an interesting angle to this group’s combination.
The Proteas should be wary of the Black Caps, as New Zealand are a side that has gained momentum in the past few months. They have beaten West Indies and India at home, and they boast of the most exciting young all-round talent on the block in Corey Anderson.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that they did tour Bangladesh in 2013 and will have worked on what is the requirement to making your combination click. Skipper Brendon McCullum and coach Mike Hesson run their team very smartly.
That leaves out England and to say, they surrendered the trophy without a ball being bowled, will not be too off the mark. This team has done decently well in the three T20s in West Indies and the two practice games here, but it has not been enough to guarantee them blistering wins. That is what you need at this level, and that is precisely where they will be missing Kevin Pietersen.
It will be a poorer tournament for his absence, though the tantalising mix of both groups should provide some enriching cricket.
© Cricket World 2014