World T20 - India favourites despite being in group of death
Three of the five World Cups have been won by sub-continental teams. There is a good chance the sixth edition of the tournament that goes underway from 8th March will also be won by a sub-continental team, hosts India.
While India’s relentless good form in the last couple of years allows one to make that statement, they have an extremely tough group to deal with.
The Asia Cup precursor
The Asia Cup has one expected finalist and one surprise finalist. Bangladesh fans wouldn’t like this underestimation of their team’s capabilities, especially playing at home, but for all their One-Day International pyrotechnics in the last couple of years, mostly at home, they still haven’t done enough to be favoured over Pakistan and Sri Lanka in a T20 tournament.
It is to their credit though, that they defeated both the sub-continental giants. Does this have any implications for the World T20? Yes. It makes Group 2 the confirmed Group of Death.
Bangladesh still has to play the first round against Ireland, Netherlands and Oman, but it will take a miracle for any of those three teams in Group A to come out ahead of the new sub-continental contenders.
If all goes as expected Group 2 will have India, New Zealand, Australia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. India, New Zealand and Australia are three out of the top four T20 teams in the world in terms of Win Loss ratio in the last couple of years. That is hugely skewed.
Group 1 dynamics
Given the sharp decline in fortunes of the Sri Lankan team, defending champions having defeated India in the 2014 Final in Dhaka, Group 1 will probably prove easy for South Africa, the number three team in terms of W/L ratio and number two on the ICC Rankings.
The ICC number three ranked team, West Indies, winners of the 2012 edition in Colombo are likely to be the other semi-finalist from Group 1.
While Zimbabwe is the Test-playing nation in Group B of the first round, it will be Afghanistan in all likelihood, coached by former Pakistan skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq, which will make it through to take the fifth spot in Group 1.
England is going through an ODI resurgence but despite some special players like Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler, Alex Hales, Ben Stokes and Joe Root (core of their new-look ODI team as well), they don’t look like the side that can beat the T20 experts from South Africa and West Indies.
Only Eoin Morgan has some good IPL experience, which is not enough compared to players from South Africa and West Indies.
For South Africa, this could be a great opportunity to win a World Cup with a great set of T20 players. Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, Chris Morris, David Millers, Dale Steyn, David Wiese and JP Duminy are all IPL veterans and will prove to be tough contenders on the sub-continental tracks.
The same is true for West Indies whose squad includes IPL regulars like Darren Sammy, Dwayne Bravo, Chris Gayle, Andre Russell, Kieron Pollard and Marlon Samuels.
The IPL experience of these players is too massive a boost for the other three teams to overcome. Sri Lankan players like Lasith Malinga, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Angelo Mathews understand Indian grounds well too, but Sri Lanka, as their performances in the two recent series has demonstrated (Asia Cup and the series against India they lost 1-2) are struggling with their batting and bowling due to the lack of experience down the order and the absence of quality in their younger players, blooded in recently.
Interesting contests will include the ones between Sri Lanka and England, West Indies and South Africa and England and West Indies as these are likely to have an influence over the final standings.
Group 2 Dynamics
India, which has won 10 out of their last 11 T20Is and has whitewashed Australia 3-0, defeated Sri Lanka 2-1 and bulldozed its way to the Asia Cup triumph, is the obvious pick for a semi-final spot.
New Zealand, without their talismanic skipper Brendon McCullum, will look up to Corey Anderson, Kane Williamson and Martin Guptill to carry them through.
Australia which despite its four successive defeats followed by a last-ball win in the second T20I against South Africa still looks like a good team. It is most likely to pip New Zealand, Pakistan and Bangladesh (most probable) for the second semi-final spot.
That would be thanks to the experience and resourcefulness of players like Steven Smith, David Warner, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Shane Watson and Glenn Maxwell – all of whom have won a few matches in the IPL on their own.
Usman Khawaja is likely to be tested on Indian soil after his scintillating form in the Big Bash and Australian domestic cricket.
India is in a good space to win most, if not all its matches. They have the right balance with a solid top, strong middle order, good pace-bowlers and two world-class T20 spinners. It will take a herculean effort to beat them in their own den.
Pakistan will leave Asia Cup with a consolation win against Sri Lanka. However, the 2009 champions despite their flamboyant skipper, Shahid Afridi and their pace battery now further boosted by Mohammad Amir, suffer from their age-old affliction – an unreliable batting order.
Umar Akmal showed some class against Sri Lanka, but Pakistan would rely heavily on their bowlers, probably suffering due to the absence of a world-class spinner in their ranks.
Interesting contests will include the ones between Pakistan and Australia (the ODI World Cup quarter-Final was sensational and one would hope for a repeat of that), New Zealand and Australia and India and Pakistan, the big billed match (despite the controversy over Pakistan team’s security in India)
Pitch and conditions
All the three important matches – two semi-finals and Final will be played in grounds that are known for supporting spin (Feroz Shah Kotla, Wankhede Stadium and Eden Gardens in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata respectively).
The heat will slow the pitches down but dew could have an effect in the Finals, making it a tricky place to play, even for the hosts.
While turn is decisive in some places like Wankhede, teams bowling second will be at a disadvantage in places like Dharamsala, Mohali and Bangalore. The tricky bit is to get the right balance considering one extra spinner/pacer could make the difference depending on the conditions in T20 cricket.
Teams like India, Australia, England and West Indies will be happy they have batting-seam-bowling all-rounders in the likes of Hardik Pandya, Mitchell Marsh, Ben Stokes and Andre Russell respectively ensuring they can play the extra spinner.
Teams like Pakistan and Australia which depend heavily on pace have a slight disadvantage in India. It was obvious in the India – Pakistan match how the fast bouncers are double edged swords in Indian grounds where top edges can fly for a six easily.
It is harder for fast bowlers to intimidate batsmen like Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, who are not quite comfortable against short-pitched bowling. Teams like South Africa and Australia also have a disadvantage in terms of their preparation – playing T20s in conditions way different from those they will encounter in India.
Players to watch out for:
Batsmen: Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Chris Gayle, Martin Guptill, Jos Buttler
Bowlers: R Ashwin, Mohammad Amir, Imran Tahir, Kagiso Rabada, Wahab Riaz
All-rounders: Andre Russell, Hardik Pandya, Ben Stokes
• South Africa and West Indies to qualify from Group 1
• India and Australia to qualify from Group 2
• India to play South Africa in the Final
This is the third consecutive World T20 to be played in the sub-continent and the first in India. The next one in Australia is due only after four years (the World T20 was biennial for the first six editions) and the tournament will draw crowds without a shade of doubt.
That gives the home team an obvious advantage, especially considering their scintillating form. However, players like Maxwell, AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle will also seek inspiration thanks to their personal fan following in Indian cities, something that should help their teams as well!
© Cricket World 2016