So finally, here we are. It may sound a little impolite to some of the associate nations and the relatively weaker teams of international cricket but the reality is that T20 World Cup effectively starts from Saturday. Team India has often started as one of the favourites in any white-ball global tournament in the new century; however, this time, Virat Kohli and Co. are not being seen as out and out hot favourites. A lot has to do with the batting form of a captain who certainly has not been at his sparkling best either in international cricket or in IPL for nearly two years - lack of hundreds for the skipper is testimony to that. The team is again supposed to start with a top-order consisting of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, and Kohli whose strike rate is under 130 and can have a huge bearing on the result of the match even if they score heavily individually. Besides that, India may still go with five bowlers which has severely affected their game plans in the previous World Cups as well as Hardik Pandya is yet to achieve bowling fitness.
The multiple-World Cup winners in ODI format and one of the most dominant Test sides in the history of the game, the Australians are yet to make a second final appearance since 2010 in this format, let alone win a trophy. “A decade since the first T20 World Cup, this country’s best male players are still in adaptation mode, not quite sure how to play or value the format. They were overtaken by India, the West Indies, England and New Zealand several years ago and the gap is widening,” writes veteran Australian Journalist, author, and columnist Malcolm Knox in his column for Sydney Morning Herald which perhaps sum-ups the expectations of the Aussies.
The ODI World Champion England have been weakened by the absence of Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer but the World number 1 T20 side is still a formidable one. England captain Eoin Morgan may have been going through a horrid run as a batman but his experience (since the 2016 World Cup England‘s 50 matches have seen Morgan play in 45) may somehow have the same effect as MS Dhoni has had in Chennai Super Kings’ title triumph in the IPL 2021. However, in the last three T20 World Cups (2012, 2014, and 2016) which were hosted in Asia, England’s players don’t look as formidable and that could worry England.
West Indies may have entered the tournament with an ICC World ranking of 9 but it shouldn’t be forgotten that they are the only team with two World Cup trophies in this format (2012 and 2016), and can annihilate any team on a given day when they are on song. However, they will face some stiff competition from England, Australia, and South Africa in their group but they have better resources and more experienced campaigners for the pitches in this part of the world than other teams in the group. “The tournament is important to West Indies, and a third World Cup win in this format after those in 2012 and 2016 would be the cherry on top for a generation for whom time is ticking away. Chris Gayle, the leading run-scorer in T20 (with 14,276 runs), is 42 years of age; Dwayne Bravo, the all-rounder who is the format’s leading wicket-taker, is 38; Kieron Pollard, the captain, is 34; Andre Russell is 33,” wrote former England Captain Michael Atherton in his column for the UK’s The Times. Even without Sunil Narine (who had an outstanding UAE leg of IPL in 2021) and injury to another spinner Fabien Allen, West Indies may still intimidate the opponents regardless of their ordinary outings in the practice games this week.
If Pakistan’s Babar Azam(World number 2) and Mohammad Rizwan, (no one has scored more T20 international runs in 2021 than anyone in a year), and New Zealand’s Glenn Phillips,( this year’s leading T20 six-hitter) and Tim Southee, South Africa’s Tabraiz Shamsi (World’s number one spinner) along with the sensational pace duo of Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada, Sri Lanka’s Wanindu Hasaranga, Bangladesh’s Mustafizur Rehman (only pacer in top 10 of ICC T20I rankings along with Southee), Afghanistan’s Rahmanullah Gurbaz (a Powerplay beast) and Rashid Khan (we don’t have to say anything, right?) can live up to the expectations, they will also lift their teams, respectively.
And, yet more than anyone else, the next one month is likely to put Kohli under immense pressure to deliver as a T20 captain in his swansong tournament. The Indian captain had tears in his eyes when his IPL team failed to reach the finals earlier in this month and his Indian teammates would desperately want him to finish it off in a grand way.