I’m predicting an India-Pakistan final
Form, history and conditions favour subcontinent sides in the 2014 World Twenty20 but do not rule out the West Indies.
Most sports hold a World Cup every four years and cricket hasn’t been an exception to that when it first adopted the notion back in 1975.
Four years seems a good amount of time to build the excitement and expectation but Twenty20 breaks the mould only to shorten the expectation. Twenty-over cricket has become popular and it’s the franchise model that is seen more rather than cricketers wearing national colours. The world’s top players spend more time sharing dressing rooms with their international opponents than against them.
For this edition of the World Twenty20, if we’re looking for a form line, a lot of sides are in with a decent chance.
India and Pakistan will be playing on slow paced and low-bounce pitches and as such they may start as the two most likely to play in the final once again. Pakistan have the spin king in Saeed Ajmal and the the all-round talents of Mohammed Hafeez and Shoaib Malik and the inimitable Shahid Afridi. That’s plenty of slow bowling on their preferred surface.
West Indies, meanwhile, will fancy their chances of retaining the title as they’ve shown the ability to start games explosively through Chris Gayle and finish strongly via Darren Sammy. The Windies have a spinner who bowls wicket-to-wicket and batsmen are not still unable to read Sunil Narine. The slow bowling and power hitting of Marlon Samuels and the variety of Sam Badree’s leggies will be key elements in search of another trophy. By the looks of things, they look very capable of making the semi-finals and beyond.
For India, there is no doubt that they have the raw batting talent to repeat their 2007 World Twenty20 and 2011 World Cup triumph. Both were completed on the back of consistent scoring and equal bowling efforts from the seamers and spinners alike. Amit Mishra, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravidera Jadeja , Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina all look set to contribute.
England have put most of their eggs in the slow-bowling basket as well as having seamers who have lots of tools out of the slower bag. James Tredwell, Stephen Parry, Ravi Bopara and Moeen Ali are all important cogs in the setup. England have batting match-winners in Michael Lumb, Alex Hales, Eoin Morgan, Ian Bell and Ben Stokes but do they have the big hitting firepower as opposed to the reverse sweeping and sweet touch? Morgan’s role against slow bowling will be key but they will need to do well to get past the preliminary round.
The dark horse maybe the Black Caps of New Zealand who have run into a purple patch of form at the right time, certainly in 50-over and Test cricket. They were on home decks but wins over India in any form are worth savouring. If Brendan McCullum continues his run going about his business, his bowlers could have decent totals to bowl at. Corey Anderson has emerged as an all-rounder with much promise and talent but the major dilemma for NZ is the quality of slow bowling. Ronnie Hira will have to notch up a level but given the inspired Kiwi performances of late, all things are possible.
Ross Taylor looks relaxed and far more comfortable but perhaps a last-four appearance may just be out of NZ’s reach.
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South Africa’s time?
South Africa are entering a new era with the end of the magnificent careers of Jaques Kallis and Graeme Smith. The rebuild may be painful and lengthy and I can’t see much joy for them on foreign soil in this tournament. So much will rely on veterans AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla with the bat as well as the spin of Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso. Perhaps, because expectations will be low, they may play with some mental freedom and stir up a surprise.
Sri Lanka look like a top-four team as well given their slow-bowling quality and hitting power. The familiarity with the pitches will also help them go a long way. Rangana Herath, Sachithra Senanayake and Ajantha Mendis will be formidable run-stoppers and wicket takers. Mahela Jayawradene and Kumar Sangakarra score heavily against spin but the key for Sri Lanka may have to come from good starts via the veteran Tillakaratne Dilshan.
Forgive me for the emphasis on pitches and slow bowling but I do hope that the fast men get some pace and bounce. I’m sure a lot of batsmen will hope for that too but given the style of the tournament, they will have to use plenty of guile and less brawn to win this one. And that opens up the cup to most of the top six teams. Correctly judging pitch characteristics and then balancing the team-mix will be very important for all the contenders.
Watch out for spinners opening the bowling from both ends too.
Finally, I’m predicting an India-Pakistan final but this World Cup is as wide open as any that have come before, in any form.