DHAKA: Cricket will shed all pretensions of being a lazy, nuanced game and reward brute force when top teams brawl in Bangladesh over the next three weeks for the biggest crown of the game’s shortest and most unabashed format at the ICC World Twenty20. Mostly young, brawny men will walk out wielding heavy, modern bats with the sole aim of whacking the ball into the orbit in front of a largely young crowd with insatiable appetite for the crash-bang format. There will invariably be a Sunil Narine or a Saeed Ajmal, refusing to be just cannon-fodder, conning batsman with their guile and variation to prove that smart, slow bowlers can also coexist in this format.
The tournament is still likely to be a mind-boggling batting exhibition over 35 matches at three venues culminating with the April 6 final at Mirpur’s Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium. Much of it is expected from the Australians who will land eyeing the only major cricket silverware missing from their trophy cabinet. For a batting line up boasting the likes of David Warner, Aaron Finch, Shane Watson and captain George Bailey, few teams can match Australia’s firepower. Complementing them will be a bowling attack spearheaded by the redoubtable Mitchell Johnson, who is nursing a toe infection and might arrive late for the tournament. Eyes will also be on Brad Hogg, 43, and Brad Hodge, 39, as they challenge the popular perception that Twenty20 is essentially a young man’s game.
Lankan agony: On a similar mission will be the Sri Lankans who are fully aware what victory means for their passionate fans who have endured the agony of watching their team falter in the final of four World Cups since 2007. Last week, the cricketers got a hero’s welcome and were given an open-top bus ride in Colombo after they won the Asia Cup in Bangladesh. There could be an encore next month if Sri Lanka’s enviable balance translates into performance.
In Tillakaratne Dilshan and captain Angelo Mathews, Sri Lanka have two batsmen who can clear the boundary almost at will, fortified by the presence of contemporary cricket’s two premier bailout specialists – Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. The presence of two enigmatic bowlers in Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis means outscoring Sri Lanka, also a formidable fielding side. Their recent Asia Cup victory also means they know the conditions in Bangladesh better than any other team except the hosts.
Neighbours India have opted for a blend of youth and experience, having recalled Yuvraj Singh, hero of their triumph in the inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007 and the 50-over World Cup four years later, to the squad. In a team teeming with stroke-makers, skipper MS Dhoni’s major worry will be India’s bowling frailty, which has recently been laid bare in other formats.
Unpredictable Pakistan: For the talented Pakistan team, the challenge essentially will be to curb their tendency to implode if they are to repeat their 2009 triumph. In Shahid Afridi and Ajmal, Pakistan have two game-changers and they are familiar with the conditions too, having reached the Asia Cup final last week. Defending champions West Indies will rely on Chris Gayle’s power-hitting and Marlon Samuels’ street-smart cricket to see them through, but they will miss Kieron Pollard’s all-rounder service after the Trinidad player hurt his knee.
England look even more depleted, yet to settle down after the unceremonious axing of Kevin Pietersen, who was adjudged player of the tournament in their 2010 triumph in West Indies. Bangladesh take on Afghanistan on Sunday in the first match of the qualifying stage which culminates with two of the eight smaller teams joining the top eight teams in the Super 10 stage starting from March 21. Comprising players who learned the game in refugee camps, Afghanistan continued their fairytale rise in international cricket when they beat Bangladesh in the recent Asia Cup and the muted celebration that followed was a statement of their growing self-expectations.
Five batsmen to watch out for
Chris Gayle, West Indies
The tall Jamaican is dreaded for his big-hitting ability. No boundary is big enough for the left-handed opener and even his mishits often land in the stands. In recent times, Gayle has been more watchful during the initial overs, signalling his intent to bat long and launch into the slower bowlers in the middle overs. Gayle smashed the first century in Twenty20 Internationals against host South Africa in the inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007 and can upset the opponent’s game-plan.
David Warner, Australia
A stocky left-handed opener who can single-handedly win a match for his team. Warner boasts of a strike rate of 138 in Twenty20 Internationals and can clear the boundary at will. A feisty cricketer though not always in control of his emotions, Warner seems to be finally at peace with himself. Also an excellent fielder, the 27-year-old will head to the tournament in rich vein of form after highly successful Test series against Australia and South Africa.
Virat Kohli, India
One of world’s most exciting young talents, the 25-year-old right-hander has become India’s most dependable batsman in recent times. His aggression and youthful exuberance reflect in the way he bats. Kohli can score fast without looking ugly and can pace his innings according to the game’s demand. A smart runner between the wicket and a sweet timer of the ball, his brilliant fielding is an asset to a team not really known for its agility.
AB de Villiers, South Africa
The talented middle-order batsman has the ability to adapt to any situation and can effortlessly shift batting gears, which makes him an indispensable part of the South African team. When in flow, De Villiers is a nightmare for any bowler for his knack to improvise which can upset any field setting. The 30-year-old, South Africa’s best batsman currently, also dons the gloves, which affords his side more balance.
Tillakaratne Dilshan, Sri Lanka
Another dasher at the top of the order, the right-hander was the highest run-getter in the 2009 World Twenty20 in England, where Sri Lanka finished runner-up to Pakistan. His famous ‘Dilscoop’, a shot he plays to send the ball soaring over the wicketkeeper’s head, underlines his ability to improvise and makes him a batsman hard to contain. Dilshan can also pierce the field with his flowing off-drives and is a useful off-spinner with the ball in the middle overs.
Five bowlers to watch out for
Lasith Malinga, Sri Lanka
Malinga has now played international cricket for almost 10 years but batsmen still struggle to read the paceman with blond-tinted hair and a sling-shot action. Malinga’s fast, unorthodox action, toe-crushing yorkers, slow bouncers and pinpoint accuracy make him one of modern day cricket’s most versatile bowlers. The 30-year-old plays only the shorter formats these days and it is difficult to score briskly off him due to his subtle variations.
Mitchell Johnson, Australia
The left-arm paceman will be tough to face even on the low and slow wickets in Bangladesh as he has the ability to generate express pace from the most docile of surfaces. His accurate swinging deliveries with the new ball and his prowess of dishing out fast yorkers in the death overs make him a genuine match-winner in the 20-over format.
Umar Gul, Pakistan
The 29-year-old is a veteran of the Twenty20 format, having proved his utility time and again. Gul was the highest wicket-taker in the inaugural edition of the 2007 event, when Pakistan finished as runner-up to India, and again in 2009 when his team won the title. He has not been in prime form since returning from a long injury layoff but is still capable of generating disconcerting bounce and bowl yorkers at will in the closing stages.
Saeed Ajmal, Pakistan
Ajmal, who was the joint second highest wicket-taker in 2009, will harass the batsmen with his bag of tricks. The off-spinner, the best exponent of the other way turning ‘doosra’, is also the most successful bowler in the format. Pakistan captain will depend heavily on Ajmal’s knack of restricting the scoring rate and picking up wickets under pressure. Along with Shahid Afridi, Ajmal quickly bowls through the middle overs to create extra pressure on the batsmen.
Sunil Narine, West Indies
The West Indian is the latest addition to the list of mystery spinners with his ability to turn the ball appreciably in both directions without any perceptible change in the bowling action. Batsmen have found it extremely difficult to score against the off-spinner who enjoys an enviable economy rate of 5.85 in the batting-dominated format. Narine’s miserly bowling puts extra pressure on the batsmen to score off the other bowlers and he is expected to be a key player during the defending champions’ campaign. reuters
Five all-rounders to watch out for
Shahid Afridi, Pakistan
An aura of unpredictability always hangs around Shahid Afridi when he takes the cricket field. His swashbuckling batting and fiery legspin make him an exciting player in the shortest format of the game but there is always a chance for him to self-destruct, by throwing away his wicket at a crucial juncture or by means of wayward bowling. On his day, however, the 34-year-old former captain can win a match single-handedly and Pakistan will hope that he can continue his Asia Cup form into the World Twenty20.
Yuvraj Singh, India
The left-hander was the hero of India’s Twenty20 World Cup victory in 2007 and was the player of the tournament during the home triumph in the 50-over format in 2011. One of the hardest hitters of the cricket ball, as England’s Stuart Broad found out when he was hit for six consecutive sixes in an over in 2007. Yuvraj’s gentle left-arm can also be very effective on the slow surfaces in Bangladesh.
Shane Watson, Australia
The highest run-scorer and player of the tournament in the last edition of the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, Watson has the power to pummel any opposition attack and is particularly harsh against the spinners. The burly all-rounder’s ability of hit the spinners out of the ground will make sure Australia do not get tied down in the middle overs against the slow bowlers. Watson’s tight line and length is an added bonus for the team and he often reposes that faith by picking up vital wickets.
Marlon Samuels, West Indies
Samuels has already proved his worth by digging West Indies out of a hole to the World Twenty20 title with a brilliant half-century against hosts Sri Lanka in Colombo in 2012. The classy stroke-player can play all the shots in the book and is almost unstoppable when he is on song with the bat. A part-time off-spinner who can fire in deliveries in the block-hole, Samuels has great control in varying the pace of his deliveries and could be a vital weapon for the defending champions on the low and slow Bangladesh wickets.
Corey Anderson, New Zealand
The new kid on the block, Anderson grabbed eyeballs when he broke the record for the fastest century in international cricket with his 36-ball hundred against West Indies on the first day of 2014. The 23-year-old has played just eight Twenty20 matches for New Zealand but the left-hander’s big-hitting ability is tailor-made for the format. He has a five-wicket haul with his left-arm medium pace bowling in the 50-over format and will be a decent bowling option for captain Brendon McCullum in Bangladesh.