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Another World T20 is here, this time on the batsman-friendly tracks of Sri Lanka. In a throwback to the good old days, the West Indies seem the team to beat, but write off the others at your own peril
Did you see Shane Watson and David Warner, switch-hitting with delight, smash the Pakistani bowlers to bits in a T20 game in Dubai last week? Wasn't that fantastic entertainment? Hang on guys and gals, that's just the trailer. The 'real stuff' beckons soon enough. Your sports-watching quota isn't over after the Olympics this year. Starting September 18, on through till October 7, don't bother making too many plans for the evenings. The game we love so much, cricket, will be throwing up the latest edition of the world championship of its still new, sexed-up avatar, Twenty20. Twelve teams would slug it out in a no-holds bar slugfest, where only the fittest - yes, literally - would survive. Only the most 'explosive' would prosper. Attack, in this field, would be the best form of defence. Those of you thinking that it might just be a tad boring (if we can use that word!) because the wickets in Sri Lanka may act slow and sluggish could be in for a pleasant surprise. Ever since the island nation has spruced up its stadiums, built new venues, the pitches too have received a fresh injection of 'life' in them. Colombo may still not be as helpful for the quicks, but Hambanbotta, thanks to the wind factor, and Pallekele, should bring a smile to their faces.
While Test cricket provides its fair share of drama over five days, and the 50-over game has shown through its latest World Cup that it still has a place for itself in the game, it is Twenty20, dare we say, that has captured everyone's imagination and given cricket a new life - new leagues, a new market and renewed interest of sponsors. When this correspondent attended the launch of the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup in Johannesburg in South Africa five years ago, the feeling was one of excitement but also the thought that this, after all, wasn't serious cricket we were talking about. Within this span, we have had five editions of the cash-heavy Indian Premier League, and the launch of various other moneyspinning leagues around the world. We have also had three Twenty20 World Cups, which have thrown up incredible drama and underdogs as the winners each time. If it was a Gen Next India under Mahendra Singh Dhoni stunning everyone by going on to win the trophy in 2007 in SA, it was a 'wounded by circumstances' Pakistan lifting the trophy at Lord's in 2009. Next year, in the Caribbeans, it was England, inspired by the now-pariah Kevin Pietersen, who went on to the clinch the Cup.
Whose turn would it be this time? Can England, minus their biggest weapon in Pietersen, manage to forget about him and defend their title? They still have eight of the personnel who were part of that triumphant lot almost a couple of years ago, but do they have the courage and the arsenal to erase their abysmal limited overs record on the sub-continent ? They square up to Afghanistan and India in Group A, and should be in the Super Eights where they would probably be pitted against hosts Sri Lanka, the West Indies, and New Zealand if all goes to form. Two out of these four should go to the semis, and one to the final. Led by allrounder Stuart Broad, England would bank on the likes of last edition's star, wicket-keeper bat Craig Kieswetter, Eoin Morgan and the much-improved Ravi Bopara to nullify KP's absence in batting. Alex Hayles, who enjoyed a smashing T20 debut when he slammed 99 against the Windies, could be the surprise package. The bowling should revolve around Broad, Tim Bresnan and the spinning fingers of Graeme Swann and Samit Patel. All their bowlers can bat a fair bit too.
Many are predicting, though, that this edition's red-hot favourites are the West Indies. Led by all-rounder Darren Sammy, the Windies, in the explosive Chris Gayle, possess a Brahmastra that can destroy any attack completely. The big man himself would be hungry to show that what he did for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL, he can do even better for his international cricket team. Aiding Gayle in his assault would be allrounders Dwayne Smith and Kieron Pollard, who can both swing the course of a game in a few balls. What makes the Caribbeans even more lethal is the presence of 'mystery spinner' Sunil Narine, who can bamboozle the best of 'em with his wide repertoire of tricks.
If the Cup is being held in Sri Lanka, how can one count the hosts out? They have in skipper Mahela Jayawardene an astute skipper and a master batsman who can kill bowlers by merely caressing the ball. Hopefully for the Lankans, Kumar Sangakkara would be fit in time, and Tillekaratne Dilshan would also be unleashing those 'Dilscoops' that can leave fielding sides flabbergasted. They have the best T20 bowler in the world in Lasith Malinga, whose four overs would hold the key to any contest involving his team. If Ajantha Mendis recovers his bag of tricks, the bowling would be majorly boosted. They would also be hoping that the Sri Lanka Premier League (SLPL) would have helped them discover an unknown, freakish talent, that the Lankans are capable of producing anytime.
The subcontinent's second challenge would come from the mercurial Pakistanis, who one never knows would deliver what. Sample their latest unpredictability: They beat Australia in a thrilling Super Over contest last week, and then lost to the same side on Monday by a whopping margin of 94 runs! Led by all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez, they have perhaps the best spinners in the tournament in Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi. Ajmal was unlucky to not get any ICC award this time, and would be keen to use this opportunity to make a fool out of those who clearly blundered big time in not even nominating him. Afridi is the arguably the best T20 player in the world, and has already won them a World Cup in this format, in 2009. Abdul Razzaq is still capable of winning a match off his own bat, and seamers Umar Gul and 'comeback man' Mohmd Sami would be keen to show that they have the pace and the swing to trouble anyone.
What about India, the current 50-over kings? They have been mauled in England and Australia on tracks where the ball seamed and bounced all day, but here, they are in familiar territory. The wickets suit their game, and the format sits well on them too. In Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, skipper Dhoni and the returning Yuvraj Singh, they have, as usual, an array of batsmen capable of marauding any attack. Like always, the bowling would be a worry, and the temptation to play both the off-spinners - R Ashwin and the out-in-thecold-now Harbhajan Singh - would be huge. The challenge from this part of the world would be bolstered by Bangaldesh - a rising cricket power who should be doing fine on the Lankan wickets. Skipper Mushfiqur Rahim would depend on the likes of opener Tamil Iqbal and all-rounder Shakib-Al-Hasan to show the world that Bangladesh have arrived on the big stage.
If it is the World Cup, can talk about South Africa be far behind? They have gone as the favourites practically every time, only to choke at the cusp of success. This time too, they have the best-looking line-up on paper.
How desperate must 'golden oldie' Jacques Kallis - a veteran of many-a-battle - be for a World champion title! In Hashim Amla, they have the best batsman on current form in their line-up. Skipper AB deVilliers and JP Duminy are class batsmen, and in Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel they have genuine bowlers who can make survival, forget run-making, difficult. Kallis and Albie Morkel are dream allrounders for any captain, as are Johan Botha and Robin Peterson. Ability against spin and dealing with pressure are issues that bug them, but in Gary Kirsten they have the best coach to conquer those hurdles.
Don't forget the Kiwis too. As long as they have Brendon McCullum and skipper Ross Taylor, New Zealand can spoil anybody's party. In Jacob Oram, James Frankiln, veteran spinner Daniel Vettori and Nathan McCullum, they have a wonderful set of all-rounders. Their super fielding gives them an extra bonus in this format.
The big 'shake' to the Cup would certainly come from a wounded Australia. The three-time World Champs in 50-over cricket are hurting badly. They have never won the T20 World Cup and, to make it worse, have been ranked below Ireland for this tournament. The way they decimated the Pakistanis the other night seemed to be a way of answering those who slotted them at the ninth position! God save Ireland, with whom they are ironically clubbed in the same group! If Watson and Warner get going, anything is possible. Who can forget Michael Hussey's assault when all seemed lost for the Kangaroos? Perhaps, it is the 'humiliation' meted out to the Aussies that adds all the more spice to the latest T20 extravaganza.
So, can you wait any longer?
Number of wickets captured by Australia's Dirk Nannes at an average of 13. 07 in seven games in the West Indies in 2010 - a tournament record in the World Twenty20.
Number of sixes recorded by West Indian Chris Gayle in 11 eleven innings - the most by a batsman in the World Twenty20. India's Yuvraj Singh has the next best tally - 24 in fifteen innings.
Number of runs shared by Mahela Jayawardene & Kumar Sangakkara for the second wicket for Sri Lanka in a World Twenty20 encounter against the West Indies at Bridgetown on May 7, 2010. The stand is also a record for this wicket in Twenty20 Internationals.
The total recorded by South Africa for the loss of two wickets off 17. 4 overs against the West Indies at Johannesburg on September 11, 2007 - the highest successful chase in the history of the ICC World Twenty20.
Run-aggregate accomplished at an average of 52. 83 in seven matches by Sri Lanka's Tillakaratne Dilshan in England in 2009 - a record in a competition in the World Twenty20.
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