By Kishan Vaghela
After the extravagant nature of the 50-over World Cup last year, the shorter format will now take centre stage to determine the new champions. Hosted by India, this will be the sixth edition of the Twenty20 World Cup, and only the second in which 16 teams will feature. With sub-continent conditions, India will ultimately determine the success of Asian sides in the competition. The team they defeated in the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy final, England, are also strong favourites to go far in the competition and possibly, just like the hosts, add to their previous success.
Hosts India will consider themselves as strong candidates to add to their 2007 success following their success in the recently concluded Asia Cup, claiming the crown by beating Bangladesh in the final. Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli have been in impeccable form since the series in Australia in January, the former with 6 scores of over 30 in his last 11 T20Is, and the latter has only been dismissed under fifty twice in his last seven T20I innings.
In keeping with captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s approach to major competitions, India look to have a settled side that exudes both youth and experience. Ashish Nehra, Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni have a combined age of 104 and therefore represent the older statesmen of the team, whilst Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, and the aforementioned Sharma and Kohli bring further expertise, having played 220 T20Is and 591 IPL matches between them.
By contrast, seamers Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya are the latest fresh faces on the scene, both having made significant impacts since their debuts. Bumrah, although only 22 years old, is seen as the answer to India’s persistent ‘death bowling’ problem in limited overs cricket, whilst all-rounder Pandya gives Dhoni another pace option.
However, India’s reliance on Sharma and Kohli with the bat is still a cause for concern, particularly given the poor form of opener Shikhar Dhawan, who, despite his Twenty20 career-best of 60 in the Asia Cup final, has only managed one other fifty in his last 10 T20Is. Raina, whose last T20I score over 50 came back in June 2010 against Zimbabwe in Harare, has also struggled to contribute significantly. With the ball, Nehra’s fitness may be a concern at the age of 36, whilst the pedigree of Bumrah and Pandya will be put to the test if indeed India reach the latter stages of the competition.
Nevertheless, experimenting with youth is the gamble Eoin Morgan’s England side have taken, and consequently arguably pose a more potent threat than their victorious side of 2010. Their new approach to limited overs cricket after the 2015 World Cup disaster has been nothing short of breathtaking. The instigators of said revival such as the ever-reliable Joe Root, wicketkeeper Jos Buttler and all-rounder Ben Stokes, will hope to demonstrate to the cricketing world the extent of their progression individually and collectively over the last twelve months.
Nonetheless, that is not to suggest that head coach Trevor Bayliss and director Andrew Strauss, in addition to Morgan, have not had to make brave calls. The inclusion of 25-year-old Hampshire and England Lions all-rounder Liam Dawson, who Bayliss had never seen play before his call-up, whilst overlooking Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes, the former who was involved in the successful 2010 campaign, shows a fascinating divergence from the ‘traditional’ methods employed under Peter Moores.
Luke Wright’s recent form in domestic T20 cricket in Australia and Dubai has not merited a return to the side, whilst Kevin Pietersen’s 323 runs for the Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash were completely disregarded by the management, with Bayliss stating that the 35-year-old “wasn’t even discussed”.
These absentees have given the likes of James Vince, Chris Jordan and Reece Topley to stake a claim in the side should they be called upon, as surely at least one of the latter two will accompany Steven Finn, who is currently suffering from a side strain, in the starting XI.
Whilst the batting line-up looks to be amongst the most settled, the inexperienced pace bowling attack may destabilise the balance of the team. In terms of spin, Moeen Ali has always performed adequately when called upon, and Adil Rashid seems to be improving slowly having waited so long to participate internationally. Nevertheless, the pressure of a T20I tournament will provide a stern examination of whether they have the prerequisites to succeed and to deliver the trophy.
Both teams are fully capable of replacing Sri Lanka as World Champions, and perhaps the side that does win it could set a precedent for the future of T20I cricket.
Photograph: himanisdas via Flickr