MUSCAT: Oman and Papua New Guinea get the Twenty 20 World Cup underway on Sunday in the humble surroundings of Al Amerat with both sides determined not to be reduced to the role of warm-up acts at the global showpiece.
The seventh edition of the event begins with a double-header at the 3,000-seat venue outside Muscat where later in the evening, Bangladesh face Scotland before Ireland, Namibia, Netherlands and 2014 champions Sri Lanka join the fray on Monday.
United Arab Emirates (UAE) will host the Super 12 stage and the knockout matches across three venues — Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi.
The 16-team tournament is the biggest global cricket event since the Covid-19 pandemic struck and the event had to be shifted even though the Indian board retains its host status.
The eight teams in the first round of qualifying are chasing four places in the Super 12 round-robin stage.
England, Australia, South Africa, defending champions West Indies, India, Pakistan, New Zealand and Afghanistan will be waiting with all matches in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
The top four will then progress to the semi-finals before the final in Dubai on Nov 14.
There is plenty at stake for the teams having to qualify. A place in the next round guarantees a spot in the 2022 T20 World Cup. There is also a financial incentive. Teams exiting at the first hurdle take home a modest $40,000 (34,500 euros) with the same amount awarded for each victory. The eventual champions pocket a $1.6 million winner’s cheque.
Oman are playing in their second T20 World Cup having shocked Ireland at the 2016 tournament. Their team is made up almost exclusively of semi-professional South Asian expatriates who combine cricket with full-time work. Many train at 5:30 in the morning.
Papua New Guinea are making their T20 World Cup debut. They have already acclimatised to conditions in the Gulf having been in Oman for a month.
“It is really a proud moment for me and the boys,” said PNG skipper Assad Vala.
Bangladesh have just one victory at the tournament since 2007 but with a world ranking of six, will be heavily fancied to make the second round. They go into the tournament with home series wins over Australia, New Zealand and Zimbabwe under their belts.
The Scots have fallen at the first hurdle in their three previous T20 World Cup appearances, in 2007, 2009 and 2016. They claimed their first and only win at the tournament five years ago — an eight-wicket triumph in a rain-affected match against lowly Hong Kong.
HIGH OCTANE CLASH
Asian giants India will begin their campaign against arch-rivals and fellow former champions Pakistan on Oct 24 with Virat Kohli looking to go out with a bang before stepping down as captain of the T20 side.
Pakistan will enter the tournament slightly undercooked but motivation will be high.
Babar Azam and his team-mates were outraged when New Zealand and England pulled out of their Pakistan tour over security concerns, and plan to channel their anger to improve their performance on the field.
Pakistan have used the UAE as a home-away-from-home for years. That makes the opening Group 2 encounter between arch-rivals India and Pakistan all the more intriguing at the Dubai Cricket International Stadium next Sunday (Oct 24).
India have never lost a World Cup game to Pakistan in either the One-day International or T20 formats. But Pakistan are unbeaten in six T20 Internationals at the Dubai venue dating back to 2016.
Pakistan went close to beating India in the inaugural T20 World Cup final in South Africa in 2007, but eventually Dhoni’s side went on to win the game when Misbah-ul-Haq was caught at short fine leg off an extravagant paddle shot.
Many see Eoin Morgan’s England as narrow favourites to become double world champions.
The top nations will join the event — played in stadiums 70-percent full — next Saturday (Oct 23), with Australia and South Africa meeting in the opener of the Super 12 stage and England up against West Indies.
England beat New Zealand to win the 50-over title at Lord’s in 2019. Morgan’s team will, however, be without Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer, who played key roles in their one-day World Cup triumph.
England had to defend 19 runs in the last over of the 2016 T20 final in Kolkata but West Indies’ Carlos Brathwaite famously hit Stokes for four straight sixes, giving the Caribbean side their second world T20 title.
Many of that winning team will be back, led by Kieron Pollard and old war horses Dwayne Bravo, 38, and 42-year-old Chris Gayle.
Glenn Maxwell, for example, scored 513 runs, including six half-centuries, in the world’s most popular cricket league, a performance that will boost Australia’s hopes of a maiden T20 title. They head into the tournament having lost their last five Twenty20 International series, including a 4-1 thumping of their depleted team in Bangladesh.
Trans-Tasman neighbours New Zealand, led by Kane Williamson, will also be eyeing two successive world crowns after they won the inaugural Test championship, beating India in the final in June.
Among other Test-playing side Afghanistan had an even more tumultuous buildup since the Taliban swept to power in August.
Schedule (all times PST)
Group A: Ireland, Namibia, Netherlands, Sri Lanka.
Group B: Bangladesh, Oman, Papua New Guinea, Scotland.
Oct 17: Oman vs Papua New Guinea (Muscat), 3:00pm; Bangladesh vs Scotland (Muscat), 7:00pm.
Oct 18: Ireland vs Netherlands (Abu Dhabi), 3:00pm; Sri Lanka vs
Namibia (Abu Dhabi), 7:00pm.
Oct 19: Papua New Guinea vs Scotland (Muscat), 3:00pm; Oman vs Bangladesh (Muscat), 7:00pm.
Oct 20: Namibia vs Netherlands (Abu Dhabi), 3:00pm; Sri Lanka vs Ireland (Abu Dhabi), 7:00pm.
Oct 21: Bangladesh vs Papua New Guinea (Muscat), 3:00pm: Oman vs Scotland (Muscat), 7:00pm.
Oct 22: Namibia vs Ireland (Sharjah), 3:00pm; Sri Lanka vs
Netherlands (Sharjah), 7:00pm.
Super 12 round
Group 1: England, Australia, South Africa, West Indies, A1, B2.
Group 2: India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Afghanistan, A2, B1.
Oct 23: Australia vs South Africa (Abu Dhabi), 3:00pm; England vs West Indies (Dubai), 7:00pm.
Oct 24: A1 vs B2 (Sharjah), 3:00pm; Pakistan vs India (Dubai), 7:00pm.
Oct 25: Afghanistan vs B1 (Sharjah), 7:00pm.
Oct 26: South Africa vs West Indies (Dubai), 3:00pm; Pakistan vs
New Zealand (Sharjah), 7:00pm.
Oct 27: England vs B2 (Abu Dhabi), 3:00pm; B1 vs A2 (Abu Dhabi), 7:00pm.
Oct 28: Australia vs A1 (Dubai), 7:00pm.
Oct 29: West Indies vs B2 (Sharjah), 3:00pm; Pakistan vs Afghanistan (Dubai), 7:00pm.
Oct 30: South Africa vs A1 (Sharjah), 3:00pm; Australia vs England (Dubai), 7:00pm.
Oct 31: Afghanistan vs A2 (Abu Dhabi), 3:00pm; India vs New Zealand (Dubai), 7:00pm.
Nov 1: England vs A1 (Sharjah), 7:00pm.
Nov 2: South Africa vs B2 (Abu Dhabi), 3:00pm; Pakistan v A2
(Abu Dhabi), 7:00pm.
Nov 3: New Zealand vs B1 (Dubai), 3:00pm; India vs Afghanistan
(Abu Dhabi), 7:00pm.
Nov 4: Australia vs B2 (Dubai), 3:00pm; West Indies vs A1
(Abu Dhabi), 7:00pm.
Nov 5: New Zealand vs A2 (Sharjah), India vs B1 (Dubai), 7:00pm.
Nov 6: Australia vs West Indies (Abu Dhabi), 3:00pm; England vs South Africa (Sharjah), 7:00pm.
Nov 7: New Zealand vs Afghanistan (Abu Dhabi), 3:00pm;
Pakistan v B1 (Sharjah), 7:00pm.
Nov 8: India vs A2 (Dubai), 7:00pm.
Nov 10: First Semi-final (Abu Dhabi), 7:00pm.
Nov 11: Second Semi-final (Dubai), 7:00pm.
Nov 14: Final (Dubai), 7:00pm.
Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2021