The Super 10 phase of the T20 World Cup is currently under way. Bangladesh and Afghanistan have qualified from the first round, each topping their respective groups. But now the real fight begins.
We recently brought you a comparison between two of cricket’s favourite teams, and perspective on where they stand with regard to the T20 format. This time around, Roar takes a look at some of the other contenders: here’s our roundup of the top dogs, the underdogs and the hungry dogs of the 2016 T20I World Cup.
The Top Dogs
Given their unbeaten streak in the last couple of months, and the fact that they have home ground advantage, India would be an automatic pick by even the least knowledgeable cricket fan. Beating Australia and Sri Lanka, and winning the Asia Cup, India couldn’t have had a better build up to the tournament. Part of the reason for this success can be attributed to their ‘un-Indian’ like radical squad selection. India, like most South Asian cricketing nations, hasn’t been known for taking risks, yet with the selection of the current squad and how they have performed, it is fair to say the rewards are plenty.
Ashish Nehra, a few months shy of thirty-seven, last played an international game in March 2011; five years later, he has only missed one of their last twelve games. His bowling hasn’t been overly inspirational, but has been consistent enough during this period to warrant selection. Yuvraj Singh, who copped quite a bit of criticism for his failings in the 2014 World Cup final, also makes a comeback. Virat Kohli has re-written the script for T20 batting. Since October 2015 he has averaged 79.2. But the biggest gamble of them all, twenty-two year old Jasprit Bumrah, picked for the Australian tour only because of an injury to Shami Ahmed, came up trumps during the Australian tour. He and fellow twenty-two year old Hardik Pandya have injected fresh blood and enthusiasm to an otherwise ageing Indian team.
The balance, the maturity, and experience of this squad is scary. MS Dhoni is marshalling a well oiled professional outfit that is fully attuned to the job at hand. They are eager, athletic, and above all, hungry for success. India’s weakness over the years has been their bowling, especially at the death; but the way they’ve been playing in the last couple of months, even this looks like one of their major strengths. And for the first time in years, the only actual concern they seem to have is how well they handle the weight of expectation. The idea of ‘it’s yours to lose’ can have a staggering effect on a team and can be an enormous amount of pressure for anyone to handle. Nevertheless, handling pressure is Dhoni’s speciality, and though they had a shaky start to the tournament, India are still favourites to top their group.
Very few teams have ever shown greater potential than South Africa has when it comes to cricket, yet they have majestically fallen short on a regular basis when it comes to performing in World Cups. They have yet to go beyond a semi final, let alone win a World Cup. Led by the charismatic Faf du Plessis, the South African T20I squad has been strengthened by the inclusion of the energetic Quinton de Kock and tearaway speedster Dale Steyn, both of whom suffered injuries during their home summer. The squad has a very good combination of youth, experience, and flair. However, losing the recent home series to Australia may not have provided them with the momentum they wanted. Even so, it should be noted that during this series they did experiment with team rotation, and trying a few new combinations which may have cost them a couple of wins.
AB de Villiers (ABD), often considered an alien among us, for his ability to do what he does, will be their trump card. Despite having average stats in T20Is compared to his feats in ODIs and test cricket, he is still one of the key players of this tournament. After years of criticism that he bats too low down the order, recent experimentation with him opening hasn’t brought about the desired results; however, given the slow nature of Indian wickets, a bigger effort at the start of an innings is essential, and ABD opening might just inject the required life into the South African innings. The other ace in the mix is middle order batsman David Miller. The soft spoken and often unnoticed Miller has been a consistent performer in this format and has been among the runs in the last couple of months. Apart from Dale Steyn, the bowling doesn’t look menacing, but don’t be fooled, twenty year old Kagiso Rabada has been the 2015 find in international cricket. The youngster has taken to all three formats like a duck to water, regularly troubling top batsmen around the world. With Imran Tahir coming to his own in the shorter format, South Africa do have a squad capable of breaking the stigma, as well as the chokers tag, of being the best team in the world to never win a world cup.
Their cricket board may have done everything in their power to ruin cricket in the region, and they may only be a shadow of the team that went without losing a test series for fifteen years, but it cannot be denied at any level that the swashbuckling calypso kings have made T20I format their own. West Indies may not look like the most professional outfit, but very few teams go out and play with the kind of freedom and flair that they have shown.
Led by cricket’s nicest guy, Darren Sammy, this Windies squad, after a long time, has a group of extremely talented youngsters who are doing their best to bring West Indies cricket to their former glory. Constantly fighting against a system that’s done its best to cripple them, the enthusiasm with which they play should be applauded. At the forefront of this is twenty-four year old Jason Holder, current test and ODI captain, and a phenomenal talent. Having entered the team as a fast bowler, he has also shown remarkable skill as a batsman, often outshining the current top order with his technique, as well as big hitting. Young guns Carlos Brathwaite and Andre Russell bring some of that lost calypso spirit back to their game. The two big hitting middle order batsmen are handy bowlers as well as superb athletes on the field. With the inclusion of experienced Dwayne Bravo and infamous bad boy #UniverseBoss Chris Gayle, the Windies form a very strong team. In a format where proper batsmanship is still required to perform consistently, their hitting power has been the exception and not the rule. Their ability to regularly clear the boundary, even when batting seems hard, is amazing. Sri Lanka copped the brunt of this ferocity in the 2012 T20I World Cup final which the Windies went on to win.
The withdrawal of four key players just before the tournament, due to injury as well as differing disagreements with the cricket board, may have slightly hampered their chances at the World Cup, but a big hitting, all dancing Windies team is always a force to reckon with.
There is a saying in sport: ‘Even a bad Australian team is hard to beat’. (Okay this is not a saying as such, just a phrase this writer uses regularly when discussing the cricketing prowess of Australia.) As noted in our piece ‘Australia and Sri Lanka: A tale of chalk and cheese’, Australia hasn’t had the best fortunes in T20I cricket. Their best chance for the World Cup crown came six years ago when they went down to England. But to even discount an under performing Australian team at any sport can be a fatal mistake. They proved this in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, as well as the 2015 Asian Cup (in football). Australia has had their ups and downs in this format, but they have made some decisive changes in their World Cup squad, which might give them an edge. The biggest change was awarding the captaincy to incumbent test and ODI skipper Steven Smith. Additionally, the overrated Matthew Wade was dropped in favour of current test keeper Peter Nevill. The selectors also finally caved in and included three of their best performers from last year’s Big Bash League: Usman Khawaja, Andrew Tye, and the young leg spinner Adam Zampa. The squad has a good mix of youth and experience, and several members were part of the 2015 ODI World Cup winning team. Cool and calm Steven Smith has come out as a very capable captain and should marshal his troops well. Though this is his first appearance as a leader on the main stage, all things indicate that he’s up for the challenge.
Australia hasn’t fared that well in the sub continent in recent times. Their biggest challenge will be to adjust to the conditions while also picking a balanced side, especially with the ball. But as always, you can never, ever dismiss Australia.
All sporting events have a few underdogs, a couple of outsiders who come and spoil the party for the favourites. India did this in 1983, Pakistan in 1992, and Sri Lanka 1996. In recent times however, the favourites have always come on top. Yet, the beauty of sports is such that you can never really discount any possibility. And especially in T20 cricket where, if you can take it to the last over, it’s anyone’s game. So here are the underdogs to keep an eye out for in this World Cup:
If cricket ever had an award for the unluckiest team in the world, then the New Zealand Black Caps would win it in every ICC world event. Very few cricket teams have been this consistent in making the semi-finals of World Cups to only miss out on playing a final. They finally broke this voodoo spell in 2015, when under the leadership of Brendon McCullum, they went one step further to make the final ‒ only to be stopped at their feet by a clinical Australia. Since McCullum took over the captaincy, the Black Caps have consistently gotten better and better and have definitely become a very good outfit that also plays the game in the right spirit. It is a shame that they will miss his leadership, as he retired from all international cricket at the end of the home summer against Australia.
Now led by the young, charismatic stroke maker Kane Williamson, who’s following in the footsteps of fellow young captains Steve Smith and Virat Kohli, the Black Caps still have a very good and decent squad. Similar to Australia they also have a good balance of youth and experience. They have powerful attacking batsmen who are capable of clearing the boundary at will. Both Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson had a phenomenal 2015, averaging in the mid 50s. In fact, the only reason we haven’t included them in the top four is their ongoing frailty in subcontinental conditions ‒ especially against spin bowling. Rangana Herath’s superhuman feat from 2014 is very likely still haunting them at night. Another interesting statistic is that since the 2007 ODI world cup, Sri Lanka has had a knack of spoiling the Black Caps’ party every time they meet in the critical stages of a World Cup. Given the frailties of the Sri Lankan team, maybe this year the Black Caps will have the last laugh.
Very few sporting teams are capable of thrilling viewers with spectacular performances one day, only to sink to the depths of failure on the next. Pakistan unfortunately has been carrying this stigma for nearly a quarter of a century. Ever since the great Imran Khan led them to victory in the ‘92 World Cup, they have been bearing the weight of that expectation ‒ and they haven’t fared well at it.
The spot fixing scandal that saw a captain, a seasoned warrior, and a rookie being incarcerated very nearly tore their cricket apart. However, thanks to the leadership of Misbah, they have come out of it only slightly scathed. Now the rookie has served his dues and is back in international colours; his inclusion near divided the team again but thankfully common sense prevailed. There is no point going through the Pakistan squad as how well they fare in the tournament depends on which Pakistan team turns up and an individual analysis of players has nothing to do with it. But it should be noted that Mohammad Amir has seamlessly slotted back into bowling his fast and furious seamers, almost as if he never had a break. Boom Boom Afridi isn’t the world’s most shrewd captain, but he has managed to hold the team together and is undoubtedly looking to retire with a bang.
Pakistan’s tour of New Zealand may not have been that successful but the country that possesses the best natural talent in cricket can never be written off, unless of course they run into India. Interestingly, they have never beaten India in a World Cup match (T20I or ODI). With both teams being planted in the same group, apart from the Super 10 encounter, they can only meet in the Final. Now wouldn’t that be a game! One doesn’t really know which Pakistan team would turn up on the day, but rest assured, either way there will be fireworks.
England have never been favourites in any ICC world event since perhaps the 1987 World Cup, and that is not going to change in 2016. They have successfully managed to pick the worst possible limited overs squads for subsequent World Cups after 1992 and their results in each outing reconfirms this. Since making the final in 1992 they have not progressed past the quarter final stage in any World Cup, except for the fluke win in 2010. England’s biggest hindrance has been their overly bureaucratic, very square-fitting-firmly-in-the-box, cricket administration. Their leadership lacks imagination and intuition, and it shows in the way they play the game.
However, since the disaster of the 2015 ODI World Cup, one bright spark managed to break out of the box and make a decision so radical that it would change English cricket forever: they hired an Australian coach. Ever since Trevor Baylis took over as head coach, England have been playing a brand of exciting cricket that the world had never seen before. Long gone were the iron rule of Andrew Flower and the regimented mungbean curries. Baylis managed to get the squads excited about playing again. He managed to give the necessary freedom to the players to go out and honestly express themselves. In the wake of this, youngsters like Joe Root and Ben Stokes have turned out to be world class cricketers. Steven Finn, who had a mental breakdown under Andy Flower and was deemed unselectable, is once again bowling fast and troubling batsmen all around the world. Even the heavily criticised Alastair Cook managed to come to his own as a true leader.
The England squad is very similar to Australia and New Zealand, a combination of youth and experience. Led by the ever cool and calm Eoin Morgan, they have an array of players with differing skills. Young Adil Rashid was a striking force in the recently concluded Big Bash League series while Joe Root has followed the steps of Kane Williamson and Virat Kohli, and is consistently scoring runs in all formats. Now let us not get too carried away: this is England after all, but we can say for a fact that this is one of the better suited limited overs squads they have picked in decades. Another drawback for them is their lack of experience in Indian conditions. The ECB may come to the decision to stop England contracted players from taking part in the IPL. Nevertheless, the current England side is very exciting and could create a few upsets rather than be upset this time around.
The Hungry Dogs
Major sporting events are a heaven sent for super crazy sports fans. they give them a once in a lifetime chance to celebrate their love for the game in an unconditional way. They also open up severe rivalries, sometimes between friends and even family. However, every sporting event has at least one team that manages to enter into every fan’s heart and transcend support beyond teams, borders, and even cultures. In the 2015 World Cup, Afghanistan thrilled everyone with their genuine approach to the game, and this time around they are back to warm more hearts.
Ever since Kerry Packer demanded cricketers be paid their fair due as professional athletes, cricket has slowly been moving up the corporate beanstalk in search of its golden goose. Players have become professional athletes represented by professional sports managers and every aspect of their personal, as well as professional, lives have been negotiated to the dollar. In a day and age where everything is financially quantified, it is a breath of fresh air to see a team like Afghanistan come into international cricket and play with such unhindered freedom and passion. Given what the country has gone through with the oppressive Taliban regime, the pure innocence and joy in the way they take the field is a reminder of how sport can truly unite us as humans. During the last three years, their team has progressed from strength to strength, culminating in their inclusion in the 2015 ODI World Cup.
In the same year that the ICC was adamant that Associate nations have no room in the 2019 ODI World cup, the Afghanistan team, with their passionate and aggressive display of cricket, proved them wrong. Their win against Scotland was one of the best games of the tournament and they won the hearts of the cricketing world through their exhilarating, heartening and emotional celebration after the win.
Now under the guidance of Pakistan’s great Inzamam Ul Haq, they have gone from strength to strength, beating full member Zimbabwe in an ODI as well as T20I series. They just missed out on qualifying for the Asia Cup, but made amends by playing extraordinary cricket to top their group and qualify for the Super 10 in the T20I World Cup.
Two days into the tournament, things have already gotten interesting. New Zealand pulled out one of the best bowling performances to defeat favourites India, while Chris ‘the Universe Boss’ Gayle hit his second T20I hundred. The troubled defending champions, Sri Lanka, take on the hungry Afghanistanis tonight. Given the misfortunes of their opponents, Afghanistan are in a prime position to fell a giant and rewrite history. Let’s see then, whose hunger is the strongest.
Cover image credit: t20worldcup2016live.co.in