With the first round of the World T20 2016 starting this week, here are five plotlines that could determine who will be crowned as champions on the 3rd of Arpil.
Will Sri Lanka make the second round, let alone defend the World T20?
Sri Lanka have had the worst possible preparation for the tournament having lost all three of the recent T20 tournaments and spectacularly dropped from on top of the ranking, to eighth in the world in just under three months, while also being dogged by several off the field controversies.
The defending champions are still searching for a winning combination, as the lacking of planning and foresight by successive selection committees has meant a last minute change in the team–and the selectors–was required on the day of departure to the tournament.
The big shake up also saw former captain Kumar Sangakkara being appointed as a selector for 40 days and while the ethics of that decision can be questioned with apparent conflicts of interest, the presence of the batting great in the dressing room, along with Aravinda de Silva will serve to motivate the team during this difficult tournament.
The success at the 2014 tournament means that Sri Lanka have been drawn in the easier group, but given the form they are in, qualification to the semis is not a foregone conclusion.
Will home advantage help India?
Not only are the Indians in ominously good form, they also have the advantage of playing at home in front of their raucous supporters who will expect nothing less than a world cup title. They have lost only one of 11 T20s they have played this year–winning with relatively big margins.
Leading the team is the cool-headed, ice-veined M.S. Dhoni, whose experience in leadership will as valuable a factor to India’s successful as Virat Kohli’s run scoring as the hosts look to replicate the success of 2011, when they won the Cricket World Cup at home. They have also blooded some good young talent who have made significant contributions to team this year, with Hardik Pandya proving to be a stud with bat and bowl.
They start as favourites but will have to earn it, sitting in the harder of the two groups, alongside Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and most likely Bangladesh.
Which Pakistan will show up?
Pakistan is cricket’s unpredictables, playing like world beaters on one day, only to beat themselves the next. Playing in India, there is an added motivation for the Pakistanis, who have a good mix of old and young in their World T20 squad, to win the tournament.
Their bowling overpowers their batting, and they have one of the more impressive contingents of pace bowlers at the tournament. Coached by fast bowling great Waqar Younis, Pakistan will have atleast three left arm pace-bowlers, all with impressive skill sets, in the team but none more than Mohammed Amir, who is making a stunning comeback after a suspension for match-fixing and has been in incredible form. In a game dominated by batsmen, Amir is one of the most watchable bowlers in world cricket and will be the source of many battles during this tournament.
Likely to be the last we’ll see of Shahid Afridi in international cricket, Pakistan will look to bounce back from a disappointing Asia Cup campaign, where they finished behind India and Bangladesh. They have also had to be flexible with spinners, after Saeed Ajmal’s remodelled action has seemingly nullified his threat, subsequently costing him his spot at the tournament.
Will the West Indian players unite?
Best defined as mercenaries, the IPL playing West Indians are oddly placed as one of the teams to beat. Though board politics threatened to short-hand the 2012 champions, with an impasse between players and administrators, embarrassment was averted when the players chose to sign their contracts days before the deadline ran out. West Indies managed to field a competitive side with big names like Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell and captain Darren Sammy, all included.
There are some significant omissions too, with Keiron Pollard and Sunil Narine not playing–the latter a big loss given the spinning conditions. With half an eye on the upcoming IPL season, West Indies will be motivated to do well, and much like when they won the tournament in 2012, cannot be written off.
Can Australia be the first team to be double champions?
No team in cricket history has held both Cricket World Cup and World T20 titles at the same time. Under new leadership, of the ever improving Steve Smith, Australia will hope to finally win what would also be their first World T20 titles.
They bring with them exciting batsmen in David Warner, Glenn Maxwell, Shane Watson, Mitchell Marsh, Aaron Finch and Smith himself, and have with them one of cricket’s best bowling all-rounders in James Faulkner, who is excellent when bowling in the death overs. Josh Hazlewood will likely lead the attack in Mitchell Starc’s absence and will ably be supported by Nathan Coulter-Nile and John Hastings.
Familiarity, with most of the squad playing the Indian Premier League, would also benefit Australia but the lack of an established spinner–inexperienced Adam Zampa and one hit wonder Ashton Agar are their choices–could define their campaign.