The final of the IPL was a week ago today – andin 5 days time the opening match of the T20 World Cup, between hosts England and the Netherlands, takes place. It really is a crowded international schedule these days.
The previous, and inaugural, T20 World Cup was hosted by South Africa and won by India two years ago. The hype and excitement of that tournament added energy and freshness to the cricket world, yet this years edition has been more understated. That probably has a lot to do with the circus that is the IPL, yet one has to feel that those marketing the World Cup in England could perhaps do a better job. World Cup’s shouldn’t sneak up on you. The IPL should have been the appetizer to the main course, which starts next week. Lets hope the cricket does a better job and all the right noises are made after.
When T20 cricket launched itself onto the world stage it was viewed as pure entertainment, a hit and miss form of the game, and not taken too seriously by those on the field. There was almost a feel that it was more about luck than skill and not much could be done to curtail the individual. It wasn’t cricket – it was glitz. Barely two years since and how things have changed. T20 is very much a skill based, tactical battle, that seems to sharpen skills, rather than deplete them. The cream always rises, and T20 has seen it mastered by the great players, the players who have excelled in Test and ODI cricket, and not the close your eyes and swing variety. T20 is real business and will be fought out by the best players over the next few weeks.
The favourites for the crown will be the same for any cricketing competition held at this team, no matter what the format. Defending champions India have perhaps benefited the most from the IPL as their pool of players playing at a higher level has increased to one meaning a squad of 50+ players could easily be assembled. Their opening combination of Sehwag and Gambhir didn’t really fire during the IPL andwill be looking for form in England. The early swinging ball may not be to their liking, but both will be looking to get the team out of the boxes fast and not just solidly. There after the hitting power in the Indian squad is phenomenal. Anyone of Dhoni, Yusuf Pathan, Raina, Yuvraj and Rohit Sharma will be able to single handedly build a total. If the batting comes off India will be hard to beat. The bowlers have a less solid look to them. Sharma, Pathan, RP Singh and Kumar will be complemented by the spin of Harbhajan and Ojha, but the key may be the form of Zaheer Khan. Zaheermissed the later part of the IPL with a shoulder njury. India’s success may depend on how quickly he recovers his form back.
Australia go into this World Cup without the favourites tag that has accompanied them for much of the last 15 years. Their squad is solid if not spectacular, but would have benefited from the rest they forced on much of their IPL contingent. The Aussies will be looking to get their hands on the only ICC competition that isn’t there’s right now. They will also be using the World Cup to get them off to a good start to their Ashes series. The dark horse tag, rather than favourite tag, may help the Aussies this time, although they have never been burdened by being favourites.
South Africa crashed out of the last edition with a loss to India in their last 2nd phase group game. It was their only loss in the competition and heir only poor performance. Smith’s men felt hard done by, given that 3 of the 4 semi final teams had lost more than them. They will be looking to get things right this time around, and maybe without the expectation of being hosts or favourites, may have more freedom to carry them forward. The balance of the squad is perhaps the best since South Africa returned to international cricket in 1992. Half the squad didn’t feature much in the IPL and should be well rested. Albie Morkel and Smith had poor showings with the bat last month and will be looking to fare better for their country then they did for their IPL teams. Yusuf Abdulla was the revelation of the first hald of the IPL, leading the wicket table at that stage, before being left out for the returning Brett Lee. He will look to carry on with that form, while at the same time showing the Kings 11 that they should have stuck with him. Abdulla, Albie Morkel, Kallis, Steyn and Parnell all offer swing, while Morne Morkel, with bounce and pace, and the spin twins of Botha and van der Merwe, make the attack a potent and balanced one. JP Duminy and AB de Villiers stared with the bat in the IPL and will be looking to carry that form. The squad boasts some of the best fielders in the world, and carries no real weakness. Solid batting, big hitting, depth, pace, swing, bounce, and spin. South Africa are looking good.
With England looking to make the most of home conditions, and momentum, following an easy convincing series win over the West Indies, and New Zealand always handy on the big stage, there are a fair amount of dark horses to watch out for. Pakistan have had very little cricket and havemuch to prove. The best outside bet however may be Sri Lanka. The seeding for the World Cup is based on the previous edition. This means that if all the top teams get through the opening phase, and they should have little trouble here, the big three favourites, India, Australia and South Africa willfind themselves in the same group, playing for 2 semi final places. Sri Lanka will be in the other group and should have an easy march trough to the semi’s. The batting lineup is a strong one, with Jayasuriya, Sangakkara, Dilshan and Jayawardene all able to adept to the needed situation, and in Murli and Malinga, they have two bowlers who won’t make any total look safe.
Sri Lanka will be hoping that the big three all batter and bruise each other, weakening themselves for a possible semi andfinal show down, while the big three will be hoping that a harder run in, and an easier one for Sri Lanka, will leave them better prepared.
The winners should come from those four. However little will be taken for granted, and with a World Cup crown up for grabs, all will be giving there all to get their hands on the crown. The shorter format leads to greater chances of upsets, so the slightest complacency will be punished. If the weather plays its part we should be treated to some great cricket, hopefully cricket worthy of being the main course to the IPL appetizer.
pic from cricinfo.com