The Men’s T20 World Cup will get underway in the UAE starting next week with the warm-up and the qualifier games.
The main tournament, called Super 12s, has been expanded to include 12 teams, which are split into two groups of six each. Eight of those 12 have qualified automatically, and the remaining four will come out of the qualifying matches preceding the main tournament.
Eight teams are split into two groups of four that will vie for four spots in the Super 12s.
Sri Lanka, Ireland, The Netherlands and Namibia.
Bangladesh, Scotland, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Oman.
I expect Sri Lanka, Ireland, Bangladesh and Scotland to make it to the main tournament. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have the better teams in the qualifiers, and their experience should carry them to the next stage.
Ireland has a good team as well and has impressed at every world competition. Papua New Guinea plays an attractive brand of free-spirited cricket. With a better domestic system for cricket, the Scottish might edge past the PNG team this time.
The most likely line-up of the two groups will be as follows.
England, Australia, West Indies, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Scotland.
India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Ireland.
The Super 12s will be followed by the two semi-finals and then the grand final.
Which two from Group 1?
I expect England and the West Indies to qualify for the semi-finals from this group. England has had the best limited-overs team and thought process for the past four years. The West Indies are the other T20 powerhouse, with dazzling power hitters and clever bowlers. Data already prove that the teams that hit most boundaries tend to win T20 games.
The threats for these two could come from Australia and South Africa. However, I reckon the challenge will be feeble at best, more academic than real.
Since the format’s inception the Australian T20 team’s underperformance on the world stage has remained a mystery. They have a thriving domestic league and their players are sought after in the IPL. However, their method of play in World T20s has been behind the curve on two key aspects. One, their batsmen, except Glenn Maxwell, play too many singles and twos, particularly in Subcontinental conditions. Two, their bowling line-up lacks mystery and variations.
Until the team addresses these two aspects, I don’t think Australia will reach the last four, leave alone winning the cup.
The South African team has worsened drastically during the past decade. It is an abomination that Faf du Plessis is not the World Cup team. The problems of the South African team are like that of Australia but on a larger scale.
I think it will be a comfortable ride for England and West Indies to the semi-finals. I expect England to top the group with West Indies place No. 2.
Which two from Group 2?
Group 2 has shaped up to be the group of death. I expect at least four teams – India, Pakistan, New Zealand and Bangladesh – to be vying for the two slots in the semi-finals.
India will start as favourites in this group considering the firepower in the batting and enough mystery in the bowling. The one major cause of worry will be Hardik Pandya’s batting form. Others have looked in fine fettle during the IPL. The experience of having played in the UAE will help the Indian team against the rest.
New Zealand is my second favourite in this group. I base this on their excellent T20 team and their great ICC tournaments record. They are a bowling-dominated team; though the unit lacks mystery, it has brilliant exponents. I expect Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi to play a significant role in these spin-friendly conditions. They are playing their crucial match against Pakistan in Sharjah, and the slow pitch conditions will help New Zealand more than Pakistan.
Pakistan is the tournament favourite in the books of some pundits. I would rate them as the dark horses of Group 1 and not more. This Pakistan team is a good one-day international team. However, when it comes to T20, they lack power-hitting depth in their batting line-up. Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq are good one-day international players but are not power hitters in T20. Asif Ali is the only batsman with power-hitting prowess, albeit seen before only in Pakistan Super League (PSL). The bowling unit is strong with skilled fast bowlers and spinners. Pakistan will hope for low-scoring encounters to make their way into the semi-finals.
Bangladesh is another dark horse in Group 1 and can cause headaches for the favourites. Their team has been stable for the past five years and play good cricket. However, this sameness is their weakness as well. There is no mystery in their line-up, and teams know how to beat them. They lack power-hitting in their batting, and their bowlers are now known commodities. Yet I think that they will give India, Pakistan and New Zealand a strong run for their money.
I think India and New Zealand will make it to the semi-finals from this Group 1. However, I will watch out for an upset in this group.
The semi-final line-up that I have called out is the same as the one we saw in the 2016 World Cup. I think Pakistan is the only team that has improved from then on. Other teams that didn’t qualify to the semi-finals in 2016 are still plagued by similar problems and are yet to solve them.