ICC T20 WORLD CUP
The ICC World Twenty20 (T20) 2014 – commonly known as the T20 World Cup – will be held in Bangladesh in the next couple of weeks. The global tournament began earlier today at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium (SBNS) in Dhaka where the hosts Bangladesh thrashed Afghanistan by 9 wickets. This will be the 5th World Cup of the shortest format of cricket and the first time that Bangladesh will be hosting an entire World Cup in its history (after co-hosting the ICC ODI World Cup in 2011). T20 cricket is the most unpredictable format of the game and as such there are no strong favourites but West Indies, who will be defending their crown which they won in the 2012 World Cup, will most likely go into the tournament as marginal favourites along with Sri Lanka, the current no.1 ranked side in T20 cricket and the Asia Cup 2014 Champions.
The hosts will look to at least make it to the Super 10 stage as anything less than that would be rightly considered as an abject and embarrassing failure. The Tigers will be boosted by the return of their talismanic world-class cricketers Shakib Al-Hasan and, who will be back from suspensions and injuries respectively. The Mushfiqur Rahim-led outfit has had an abysmal start to 2014 and lost all matches, including against the Associate nation Afghanistan, in the Asia Cup at home. However, with all their key players fit, I reckon they will be able to turn a corner and have a memorable tournament.
In the Super 10 stage the Group 2 looks considerably stronger, on paper, than Group 1, with three former World Cup winners (West Indies, Pakistan and India), a rejuvenated Australia, and (most likely) the hosts battling to reach the Semi Finals. One certainty for this tournament is that Sri Lanka will definitely advance to the Semi Final, most likely as Group Champions from Group 1, as I do not expect England, who are rebuilding after the resignation of their greatest ever coach A Flower and their greatest cricketer of the modern era K Pietersen being controversially dropped and in effect forced into retirement, South Africa or New Zealand to have a particularly great tournament. The most likely 'upset' in the WC will come from the tie between rivals Bangladesh and Pakistan, held just a few days after the Independence Day of the host country, and Ireland v England - provided, of course, that these two countries advance which I expect them to.
My two picks to win the World Cup are Australia and Sri Lanka. The Lankans are the safest bet for a being a likely Finalist in the tournament. Sri Lanka have within their ranks both the highest run-scorer and wicket-taker in T20 WC history in Mahela Jayawardena andrespectively. The biggest threat behind the Lankans prolonging their World Cup Finals hoodoo are Australia, who have seen a spectacular revival under their new coach D Lehmann. Only less than a year back the Aussies were the laughing stock of world cricket after the disastrous tour in India and then suffering an Ashes series loss after failing to win even a single match in England last summer. Since then, they thrashed their bitter rivals at their backyard and reclaimed the Ashes 5-0 and won a Test Series against the no.1 ranked Test side in South Africa. They are playing with a lot of swagger and confidence reminiscent of the oldAustralia which dominated world cricket for a number of years. The form of fast bowler M Johnson and batsman D Warner has been the key behind this revival. If they continue their rich vein of form in Bangladesh and , the Man of the Tournament of the last T20 WC and Indian Premier League (IPL), have a decent tournament, then expect the Aussies to take home the only trophy that is missing in their cabinet.
The reigning Champions West Indies have struggled since winning the World Cup but they still boast the most destructive batting lineup capable of clearing the boundaries regularly by outmuscling their opponents. The presence of, the best T20 batsman in the world, still makes them the team to beat in the tournament. Gayle and all-rounder M Samuels, the Man of the Match in the last World Cup Final hold the key if the Caribbeans are to successfully defend their title in Bangladesh. India will be boosted by the return of their inspirational skipper M S Dhoni and all-rounder , in their side. Dhoni’s leadership was sorely missed in the Asia Cup and Yuvraj is an Indian and World Cup legend as a result of his heroics in the 2011 ODI WC and the 2007 T20 WC, both of which India went on to win. The facts that the Indians have consistently won ICC tournaments in recent years make them a team to be reckoned with. MSD’s ‘Men In Blue’ have remarkably won all three of the major trophies in world cricket within the last six years – the ODI WC, T20 WC and the Champions Trophy last year. The biggest and most anticipated match of the tournament will be the first match of Super 10s where arch-rivals India and Pakistan will battle in Dhaka. Pakistan will be looking to win their first match ever against their bitter rivals in a World Cup, and I reckon it will be very difficult for the losing team to advance to the knockout stage after losing this match in such a tough group. This scenario, along with the Indians looking for revenge after Pakistan’s nail-biting winner at the same stadium in the Asia Cup, makes it an even more mouth-watering affair. The winner will in most likelihood come from these four teams, with my money on the Aussies ; Gayle to finish as the leading run-scorer; Malinga highest wicket-taker; and Watson the Man of the Tournament.
The eyes of the world will be on Bangladesh during the next couple of weeks and let us hope that this cricket-mad nation will be able to showcase their rich culture, passion for the game and hospitality to people from around the globe who will gather to witness this exciting spectacle.
: The writer, who resides in London, United Kingdom, will be in Bangladesh during the World Cup to watch several matches in Dhaka and Chittagong