Nine years ago when the T20 format first burst on to the scene, it was thought that the bowlers would run for cover. Cricket being overly loaded in favour of batsmen as it is, the new version at first glance tilted the game further in favour of the willow-wielders. But then, as in life, things evolve with experience and today, with the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka barely hours from the start, the shortest version is no more thought of as a “batsman’s paradise”.
That being the big picture, the fact that there is no clear favourite to win the Cup, though on the face of it, one of the three big Asian sides – India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – seem to have a clear advantage in terms of playing conditions.
Of course, it is the most obvious assumption to begin with, but in reality, there is little to separate the three Asian sides from the rest in terms of ability and all-round strength. That explains the majority view that this is probably the most open World Cup since its inception in 2007 when Dhoni’s men in blue beat Pakistan in the final at Johannesburg, South Africa.
This time around, the draw has India and Pakistan in the same group of the Super Eights stage. The two are to meet on September 30 in a league game and we already had a preview of sorts last night when Pakistan beat India in warm-up game.
Prior to going to Sri Lanka, the Indians had lost to the touring Kiwis in Chennai by one run. The defeat cruelly exposed India’s well-known chink, the bowling. And last night in Colombo, India could not defend a total of 185, though Ashwin again underlined his growing stature with a four-wicket haul.
That being the case, I give India only an outside chance, but would rather go with the West Indies or even England with Pakistan and Sri Lanka being the other top options. The Aussies are no more the superpowers while South Africa are known as the biggest chokers the game has seen and the Kiwis are not consistent enough. Having said that, I will keep a sharp eye on Ireland and Bangladesh, both of whom can trip the big boys on their day.
The fact that I have mentioned 10 of the 12 participating teams (the ones left out are Zimbabwe and Afghanistan who both only make up the numbers) reflect that we cannot go by the previous World Cup records or for that matter, even the previous game. What would eventually influence the result is the form on the day of the game.
From India’s perspective, I feel that the team management needs to give a closer look at their batting openers, Gambhir and Sehwag. Neither is in good touch and it is about time that form rather than reputation is given weightage in team selection.
But then, the composition of the squad is such that there is no specialist stand-by opening batsman, but it contains two specialist off-spinners (Ashwin and Harbhajan) whom I doubt will ever operate in tandem in the World Cup. That being the scenario, the Indians, despite the familiarity with the conditions, have their task cut out.
India probably reflected the up-and-down nature of T20 format. They successfully defended a score of 146 against Sri Lanka, but lost to Pakistan despite making 185 in the two warm-up games ahead of the World Cup.
Thus, for all the pre-tournament predictions, speculations and whatever, the suspense over the eventual winner will last until the last ball is bowled three weeks from today. That alone makes the format interesting to the fans who for sure will have their moments of highs and lows.
It is to be hoped that the tournament will be without talk about match or spot fixing, for we have had enough of these imbroglios. While there are no clear favourites to win the Cup, here’s wishing that may the best team emerge champions.