Events in the first three Twenty20 World Cup competitions mirrored the thoroughly unpredictable nature of cricket’s newest and shortest format and it is highly likely that the fourth edition of the tournament commencing in Sri Lanka on Sept 18 will not be very different. The experts are picking this team and that as favourites to win the cup but I dare say that deep inside even they are aware that it is an open tournament with as many as eight teams having the credentials to emerge triumphant.
Who for example would have picked India to win the inaugural World Cup in South Africa in 2007? They had played just one T20 international when they opened their campaign, apparently did not have the squad for Twenty20 just as they were ill-equipped for the first Fifty50 World Cup in England in 1975.
Like Fifty50, India appeared lethargic in adapting to the intricacies of Twenty20. England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa all seemed to have better qualifications and little wonder then that lucrative odds were being quoted on an Indian title triumph. And yet none of these teams made it to the final which was contested by India and Pakistan.
Of course at the time no country had much experience of playing T20 internationals as the ICC quickly realizing the enormous potential of the format staged the first World Cup some 2-1/2 years after the first such game was played between Australia and New Zealand at Auckland.
Now all the participating teams have had their share of playing T20 matches and but for Afghanistan none could be termed as no-hopers. Even Ireland, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe cannot be termed as such though perhaps they can be termed outsiders.
The groupings too are a sort of guarantee that even the more highly rated teams cannot take their places in the Super Eight stage for granted. The easiest predictions can perhaps be made about Group A which comprises India, England and Afghanistan.
Despite their gallant showing recently against Australia one just cannot see Afghanistan challenging India and England strongly enough to storm into the Super Eight though one cannot forget England’s sensational loss to the Netherlands in the group stage in 2009.
Group B however is a much more slippery course with Australia, West Indies and Ireland in the fray. One recalls how West Indies, considered one of the favourites for the title in 2007, lost to Bangladesh to go out of contention at the preliminary stage itself.
Group C should see hosts Sri Lanka and South Africa make it at the expense of Zimbabwe though one cannot be absolutely sure.
The group which should see the closest contest for a place in the Super Eight is group D which comprises Pakistan, New Zealand and Bangladesh. While they may lack the firepower to win the tournament, Bangladesh have the players to steer them into the Super Eight so Pakistan and New Zealand must be on their toes.
The record in the previous World Cup tournaments also clearly indicate that unlike in Tests or in ODIs it is almost impossible for any team to maintain a clear-cut superiority in Twenty20 cricket. It has nothing to do with the strengths or the weaknesses of any particular team; it’s just the unpredictable nature of the format makes it hard for any one side to dominate.
Defending champions England for example were eliminated at the Super Eight stage in both 2007 and 2009. India on the other hand after winning the inaugural edition bowed out at the Super Eight stage in both 2009 and 2010.
Australia who were expected to be the dominant team in T20 internationals have had a bit of a roller coaster ride – semifinalists in 2007, shock elimination at the group stage in 2009 following losses to Sri Lanka and West Indies, runners-up the last time around.
West Indies another team who were expected to do very well in Twenty20 given the fact that they have the players for this kind of slam bang cricket has performed below expectations – elimination at the group stage in 2007 following a surprise loss to Bangladesh, semifinalists in 2009 and elimination at the Super Eight stage in 2010.
Another favoured side South Africa too has had mixed fortunes – semifinalists in 2009 but elimination at the Super Eight stage in the two other editions. Sri Lanka on the other hand have a better record than other fancied teams – elimination at the Super Eight stage in 2007 but getting to the final two years later before losing to Pakistan and semifinalists last time around.
Pakistan have arguably the best record of all participating teams in the World Cup over the years – finalists in 2007, winners in 2009 and semifinalists in 2010. New Zealand perhaps not unexpectedly have a record in keeping with their reputation of eternal bridesmaids of international cricket – semifinalists in 2007 and elimination at the Super Eight stage in the next two editions.
So much for the senior Test teams. As for the others, Afghanistan made their debut in 2010 but not unexpectedly were eliminated the preliminary stage. Ireland made it to the Super Eight in 2009 thanks to a surprise victory over Bangladesh but their challenge petered out in the group stage the last time around. Zimbabwe have not progressed beyond the group stage in the two editions it has figured – 2007 and 2010. Bangladesh made it to the Super Eight in 2007 thanks to that victory over West Indies but were eliminated in the preliminary stage in 2009 and 2010.
And so the battle lines have been drawn and one can expect non-stop action and entertainment for 20 days starting September 18 – and do expect the odd sensational result!