Not surprisingly it has been a rather slow start to the T20 World Cup with little interest in most matches over the first week. With two top teams and a minnow in each group lop sided games have been the order of the day and the inclement weather too hasn’t helped. The unpredictable nature of cricket’s newest format could mean upsets but over the past few years the leading teams have honed their skills.
Yes, T20 calls for skills, it is not just hit and giggle cricket as any keen follower will readily tell you. It is also no more just a batsman's game with bowlers being willing slaves. While this has been known for some time the current competition in Sri Lanka has underlined it. Who would have expected a bowler - and a spinner at that - to finish with figures of six wickets for eight runs in a T20 international?
At the end of the first week then the minnows have predictably gone back home while the top teams have all quite comfortably made it to the Super Eight stage where the men will be separated from the boys. Clearly now there will be much more interest in the proceedings and a tournament which looked quite open with as many as eight teams having an almost equal chance of emerging triumphant will now burst into high octane action with every group match sure to have an impact on which side will make it to the semifinals.
It might be too early in making predictions and it is always dangerous to stick one's neck out as far as a format like T20 is concerned. It is well known that is the form displayed on a given day that matters not the rankings. However it must be said that South Africa who as a matter of fact are ranked No 1 are looking really good. I am aware of the fact that South Africa have almost always looked the best team at the preliminary stage only to falter in the second stage or the quarterfinal or semifinal so that they have not been able to completely shrug off the choker’s tag. But the manner in which they batted, bowled and fielded in the seven-over bash against Sri Lanka once again marks them out as the team to beat. Winning that truncated game by as many as 32 runs is absolutely incredible. This following a ten-wicket romp over Zimbabwe has made them favourites as the Super Eight stage gets underway but I am sure it is a tag they would not like to have.
Australia is another team that is shaping well. For some reason their record in T20 has not been in keeping with their record in Tests and ODIs. But early indications are that they are dead serious this time of setting it right by taking the one trophy missing from their cabinet. They certainly have the right blend of players any side would love to have in this format - swashbuckling batsmen, bits and pieces cricketers, good fast bowlers and an unorthodox spin bowler. The manner in which they approached a tough task while getting the better of the West Indies speaks highly of their caliber.
Whereas the trend has been these days of planning the innings studiously in the first ten overs and keeping wickets intact for a final flourish over the last ten the Australians fully aware both of the steep required run rate as well as the fact that rain would almost certainly disrupt the proceedings went hammer and tongs at the bowling right from the start with the result that when the match was halted because of the weather they were well ahead on Duckworth/Lewis.
West Indies for their part have provided more than enough evidence that they have the personnel required for this brand of cricket and this constitutes their best chance of winning a major trophy for the first time since they most unexpectedly won the Champions Trophy in England in 2004.
By topping their groups comfortably former champions India and Pakistan have shown that they could well be there at the finish. Holders England will like to quickly forget their woeful showing against India but their susceptibility against spin bowling will give their opponents in the Super Eight an avenue to expose them further. New Zealand’s inconsistency mean that they will continue to be the perennial bridesmaids and elimination at the Super Eight stage looks very much on the cards. Hosts Sri Lanka will have to raise their game a few notches if they want to remain serious contenders for the title.
The two groups in the Super Eight are quite ill balanced with one having most of the heavyweights - Australia, South Africa, India and Pakistan - while West Indies, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and England are the contestants in the other. However there are unlikely to be any one sided games and the prospects for an engrossing tussle to gain a semifinal berth are very bright. Will England retain the title? Will Pakistan or India retain it? Will there be a new champion? One can feel the excitement in the air as the Super Eight stage gets underway from Thursday. After all the real action starts now!