A curtain-raiser to the 2016 edition of the World T20
Until the unprecedented success of the 50-over ODI World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand in 2015, it was thought that the ICC’s flagship international cricket event would soon become redundant – to be replaced perhaps, by the ICC World T20 in terms of prestige and priority, if not altogether. However, despite its ubiquity in the modern game today, it is clear that international teams are still finding their feet in the shortest format of the game, and chasing a winning culture has been far more elusive a goal than may have been anticipated. So, on the eve of the 2016 ICC World T20 in India, it’s time to take a trip down memory lane, preview the key players to look out for, and analyse the chances of two of the tournament favourites, India and Australia.
MOST MEMORABLE WORLD T20 MOMENTS
This will be the sixth edition of the ICC World T20 – and no team has won the tournament more than once. Previous winners include India, Pakistan, England, West Indies and, reigning champions, Sri Lanka. Here are some of the most memorable moments from those five tournaments:
2007, South Africa: India crowned inaugural champions
The first edition of the World T20 was by many accounts, the most enthralling – at the very least, for Indian fans. The group stages featured Yuvraj Singh’s well-documented assault on a young Stuart Broad, in which the left-hander hit 6 sixes in one over; a “bowl out” to decide a tied game between India and Pakistan, in which India prevailed 3-0; and once again, a brutal blitzkrieg by Yuvraj against Australia in the semi-final.
And then came the final which changed the course of cricket history forever. India’s thrilling win over Pakistan, which captured the imagination of a nation, was undoubtedly the catalyst for the T20 explosion, including the inception of the Indian Premier League and similar franchise cricket competitions across the world.
2009, England: Dutch courage
No home nation has ever won a World T20 (at least in the men’s game), but campaigns don’t begin much more catastrophically than England’s tournament-opening disaster at the home of cricket against the mighty Dutch. An unbelievably tense last-ball defeat in pouring rain was hardly a promising sign for the home favourites – and despite the England women’s team chasing down a record total in their final of the inaugural Women’s World T20, the men went down with a whimper. The tournament is perhaps also best remembered for the now ubiquitous ‘Dilscoop’ – the ramp shot employed to perfection by Sri Lanka’s opener, and the highest tournament run scorer, Tillakaratne Dilshan.
2010, West Indies: Hussey Hurricane
In a tournament that would otherwise be best remembered for the feel-good story leading to Afghanistan’s debut on the global stage, Australia’s Michael Hussey made the tournament his own with a stunning 60 off 24 balls to rescue Australia from the depths of despair in its semi-final against defending champions Pakistan. Labelled ‘Hussey’s miracle’, Hussey saw Australia home in its mammoth chase of 191, including 18 runs off the last over against spin wizard Saeed Ajmal. It only delayed the inevitable, however, as Australia werebrought undone in the final against a jubilant England.
2012, Sri Lanka: West Indies dance to victory
West Indies cricket has been in decline for two decades now, but the team has always been the neutral supporter’s favourite – and West Indies’ victorious run in the 2012 World T20 showed us why. Dancing to celebrate wickets, playing an aggressive, attacking and flamboyant style of cricket and then dancing as a team together to hit song Gangnam Style in the final; no other team in the world could have pulled it off and not looked stupid. That they played scintillating cricket along the way was a necessary factor, but it was the joy they took in the game which rekindled unfortunately premature hopes of a revival in West Indies cricket.
2014, Bangladesh: Flying Dutchmen
The best moment of the 2014 World T20 came before the main tournament had even begun. In the qualifying stages of the tournament, the traditionally impressive Netherlands found themselves in a nearly impossible situation, needing to chase down 190 against Ireland in only 14.2 overs in order to secure themselves a spot in the main draw.
What followed was the greatest chase in T20 international history. The Dutch blasted 19 sixes as they chased down the target in only 13.5 overs, qualifying for the tournament and as always, providing a wonderful advertisement for Associate cricket.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Mohammad Amir (Pakistan)
Mohammad Amir was only 18 when he played his role in the now infamous spot-fixing scandal in England with ringleader and team captain Salman Butt, and bowling lynchpin Mohammad Asif. The most exciting fast-bowling prospect in the world at that time, Amir’s world came crashing down as he was handed a five-year ban at the peak of his career and ordered to spend time in a juvenile detention facility.
Five years on, and a reformed Amir is once again the most electrifying fast bowler to watch in world cricket. Every bit as fast as he was back then, Amir is swinging the ball at 150 km/h and the best batsmen in the world are taking notice. India’s Virat Kohli described it as an “honour” to play against one of Amir’s recent spells, and there is no doubt that in conditions that will be familiar to him, Amir could wreak havoc. He’s done it before in this format – in the 2009 World T20, Amir bowled a five-wicket maiden against Australia.
Virat Kohli (India)
He may be next in line to the captaincy throne in limited-overs cricket, but Virat Kohli has already been ruling over the shortest format of the game for some time. With 740 runs at an average of 82.22 and a strike rate of 135, since January 2014, Kohli has been in sublime form, and is the favourite to top the batting charts in this year’s edition, particularly in home conditions.
The only Indian batsman who was able to weather a furiously quick Mohammad Amir during the recently-concluded Asia Cup, Kohli looks in supreme control at the crease – his undeniably good batsmanship is of course the fundamental factor, but his running between the wickets, match awareness and mental strength are all equally important.
Electric in the field and a thorn in every opposition’s side, it’s unlikely that bowlers will be able to figure out a solution to India’s batting maestro at this edition of the World T20.
David Warner (Australia)
For a batsman who began his career as a T20 specialist and has become undoubtedly the leading opener in international cricket in the past three years, David Warner has underperformed at the highest level of the shortest format.
His opening partner, and recently dumped captain Aaron Finch, sits atop the T20 international batting rankings, but the otherwise unstoppable Warner has been underwhelming at this level. There’s a good chance he’ll have to play out of his comfort zone, as selectors have suggested he will be dropped down the order to accommodate Usman Khawaja and Shane Watson.
Warner has plenty of experience in the subcontinent with various IPL franchises, but he will be hungrier than most to prove his credentials in the T20 format; it’s scarcely believable that Warner is now indisputably the leading test match opener and on the outer in the T20 format. A big-game player, this is Warner’s biggest chance to lord over all three formats.
India are by some distance favourites to become the first team to lift the World T20 trophy at home, and the first dual champions. In the past two years, India has more wins (14) and fewer losses (5) than any other team. Most surprisingly, perhaps, India’s bowlers – perennially cannon fodder at the death – have the lowest economy rate (7.05) and bowling average (19.25) among the top 10 teams.
Their confidence-building 3-0 clean sweep against Australia down under, as well as an undefeated Asia Cup campaign have led India to the top of the World T20 rankings. India’s top order of Dhawan, Sharma, Kohli and Raina – has proven difficult for teams to dislodge. Meanwhile, Yuvraj is starting to find his feet again, while Dhoni continues to terrify bowlers into missing their lengths. India’s real challenge is death hitting – they are perhaps the only title contender to have no truly destructive, explosive hitter. However, Hardik Pandya has been impressive in his limited performances to date, and death-bowling genius Jasprit Bumrah has been the best fast-bowling find in India in recent memory.
As one of the best fielding units in the world, and with the powerful guarantee of vociferous home support and suitable conditions, India would be devastated to be left without silverware once the tournament concludes.
The most successful cricketing nation in history, it is almost a unique situation for Australia to be the only team not to win a particular trophy – and yet that is the situation at hand. Australia may have been guilty of not taking the format seriously in the past, but there is no doubt that they are by now desperate for success in the T20 format.
Australia’s powerful and talented squad boasts a suitable blend of experience and youth, so much so that top-ranked T20 international batsman Aaron Finch may find himself out of the playing XI, just months after being the side’s captain. A key to success for Australia will be their ability to play spin through the middle overs, a perceived weakness which opposing teams will be seeking to exploit – but with a middle order full of IPL success stories, including James Faulkner, Glenn Maxwell and Mitchell Marsh, Australia may have those bases covered.
In a first, Australia may be in trouble in the fast-bowling department. Hazlewood and Marsh have been consistent, but without injured spearhead Mitchell Starc, Australia’s bowling attack looks one-dimensional compared to the variety enjoyed by other title contenders. For that reason, young Adam Zampa’s leg spin will be a key factor in low and slow conditions, but if he doesn’t fire when the dew sets in during evening matches, Australia could find themselves unravelling at the death.