Are you ready for the T20 World Cup?

Published October 16, 2021
Illustration by Ziauddin
Illustration by Ziauddin

The coming four weeks will surely quench the thirst of cricket-starved fans. Why? Because the much-awaited T20 World Cup finally begins in the unfamiliar surroundings of the United Arab Emirates and Oman, after the already-

delayed seventh edition was shifted from India in the wake of the rising coronavirus (Covid-19) cases in that country.

Needless to say, the crescendo will exacerbate when the so-called big boys enter the fray from next week (October 24). In the meantime, focus will be on watching out which four teams from the eight contesting the group stage, qualify for the Super 12s. Among those bidding to qualify for the tournament proper are Sri Lanka — the only side ever to make the final three times but title winners only in 2014 — and Bangladesh, alongside fellow Test-playing nation Ireland.

Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam
Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam

All of them were unable to stay among the top nine teams in the ICC rankings at the December 31, 2018 cut-off date to earn automatic entry to the Super 12s, alongside tournament hosts India, Pakistan, England, Australia, New Zealand, West Indies, South Africa and Afghanistan.

Zimbabwe are the only notable absentees from the list of Test-playing nations, since they didn’t compete in the qualifying event for the upcoming edition — they were serving a temporary ICC suspension at the time — after having competed in five of the six past tournaments. But their absence would hardly matter considering the sorry state of their current game — a far cry from the side that caused arguably the biggest shock in the T20 World Cup; Zimbabwe clinched a penultimate-ball cliff-hanger over the might of Australia, in New Zealand during the inaugural tournament.

If any format has the capacity to generate huge interest, then it has got to be T20 cricket, given the short duration it requires. The previous six editions — held in South Africa (2007), England (2009), West Indies (2010), Sri Lanka (2012), Bangladesh (2014) and India (2016) — then simply titled as ICC World T20, had thrown up a plethora of upset results.

Each time when the World Cup season arrives, the focus is on teams that will be taking the field on the biggest stage for the very first time after going through a qualification process in their respective regions under the umbrella of the International Cricket Council (ICC). On this occasion, the centre of attention will be Papua New Guinea and Namibia.

While Papua New Guinea are greenhorns, Namibia had been to a World Cup before, when they appeared in the 50-over global competition in southern Africa in 2003. But this will be their maiden appearance in a 20-over world competition.

Both Namibia and Papua New Guinea have a tough road ahead of them whilst they battle it out in the group-stage qualifying round. Who knows they might create ripples on the way and punch their tickets for the main phase?

Pakistan winning team 2009
Pakistan winning team 2009

West Indies, perhaps, to this day are still figuring out what happened at the Wanderers during the inaugural tournament. They were left stunned by Bangladesh’s Mohammad Ashraful, whose 50 runs off 20 balls was then the fastest in all Twenty20 Internationals. The West Indians, who are born to play this format more than any other, given their cavalier style of play, had no answer to Ashraful’s onslaught in Johannesburg as Bangladesh cruised to victory with six wickets and two overs to spare.

Bangladesh themselves were embarrassed in their own backyard by first-time qualifiers Hong Kong, in 2014. They lost seven wickets for 23 during a sensational collapse, before going down by two wickets.

No nation can feel as mighty proud as the Netherlands. They have qualified just three times for the World Cup, and yet made their presence emphatically in two of those appearances. And both times, England were at the receiving end.

Assad Vala (captain, Papua New Guinea)
Assad Vala (captain, Papua New Guinea)

The Dutch made the Englishmen eat humble pie in 2009. Playing only their fifth-ever T20 at the international level and their maiden World Cup, the Dutchmen chose the iconic Lord’s to seal probably the greatest-ever upset World Cup win.

England suffered again five years on, as the Netherlands shot them out for 88, to complete a shock 45-run victory after gate-crashing through to the Super-10s stage, following a remarkable chase against arch-rivals Ireland in the qualifying round.

At least T20 World Cup history has definitely ensured that even the minnows deserve a share of the limelight and the upset galore is surely one segment where established giants no longer consider the lesser-known as a kind of punching bag. The gap between the so-called big boys and the ‘kids’ isn’t as yawning as pundits generally think, and the prospects of playing slow and low-bounce pitches does encourage the smaller teams not to lose hope at any given time.

The Oman T20 team
The Oman T20 team

Considering the unpredictable nature of T20 cricket, don’t rule out Oman replicating their act of 2016, because playing on familiar territory can be serve as a boon for their squad of expatriates, mainly from Pakistan with some Indians thrown in as well. The last time, they clinched a sensational victory against all odds as they chased down 157 against Ireland on their World Cup debut.

Can anyone out there recall the famous line of Ian Bishop after the 2016 final at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata? “Carlos Brathwaite, remember the name” after the giant all-rounder smashed four consecutive sixes in the last over against poor Ben Stokes to secure West Indies their second T20 title.

Nobody can predict with conviction now whether the West Indies will rewrite history by retaining the crown they snatched from England’s grasp at the Eden Gardens more than five years ago. Brathwaite and Marlon Samuels, the architects behind that four-wicket success, are missing while the once incomparable Chris Gayle — who proclaims to be the ‘Universe Boss’ — has definitely started to feel that advancing years is catching up with him.

Sarfaraz Ahmed / Sarfaraz Ahmed
Sarfaraz Ahmed / Sarfaraz Ahmed

Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are yet to taste what it’s like soaking the charged-up emotions of being T20 world champions. While Australia came close to winning the trophy in 2010 but old foes England, captained by Paul Collingwood, denied them in the ultimate decider, New Zealand and South Africa both reached semi-finals twice.

However, the New Zealanders do carry a lot of weight on this occasion and the make-up of their squad does make them one of the favourites. The two-time runners-up in the 50-over format are not only the top-ranked T20 side, but also winners of the inaugural ICC World Test Championship, under the astute leadership of Kane Williamson.

In every T20 tournament, the expectations are always high and there are no half measures, to speak of, at the mention of India — who are chasing their second title after Misbah-ul-Haq’s ill-fated flick handed Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men victory in the 2007 final. Dhoni may have quit international cricket, but the celebrated former captain returns as mentor to the Virat Kohli-led side.

Kane Williamson / Eoin Morgan
Kane Williamson / Eoin Morgan

The Indians, quite understandably, will be more desperate than before this time round as Kohli prepares to quit the T20 captaincy after this edition. South Africa are probably, yet again, hoping against hope in their desire to clinch their maiden global trophy.

After weeks of dramatic happenings off the field, sanity has prevailed in Pakistan cricket. Despite the pandemonium over team selection, everything seems fine at the moment. The return of former captains, Sarfaraz Ahmed and Shoaib Malik, made the headlines for good reasons. The initial selection of the team — led by ace batter Babar Azam — was somehow deemed as unpopular.

The big question on the mind of every diehard fan of the national side is whether it has the capability, and capacity, to repeat the glory of 2009, when the Younis Khan-led Pakistan team clinched the title.

Chris Gayle
Chris Gayle

There will be several firsts coming up at this edition due the Covid-19 pandemic. The Decision Review System (DRS) will be in operation for the first time in the World Cup, while there is a 2½ minutes break for drinks at the midpoint of each innings during any single game. Teams will be strictly confined to the biosecure bubbles and monitoring will be done at all points, of all personnel coming under the perimeters designed by the ICC.

Published in Dawn, Young World, September 16th, 2021

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