Intrigue and upsets on the menu as T20 World Cup begins in Australia | T20 World Cup
Injuries, recoveries, surprising selections, awe-inspiring feats with bat, ball and in the field, on-pitch controversy and off-field scandal: as the world’s elite cricketers have gathered in Australia over the last couple of weeks all of these boxes have been ticked – and the T20 World Cup has not even started.
That changes on Sunday, when the action gets under way in somewhat understated style with a double-header in Geelong, where Namibia play Sri Lanka and then Netherlands face the UAE. Though Sri Lanka are a team on the rise, and recent winners of the Asia Cup, these are not exactly the kind of blockbuster fixtures that will grab the world’s attention, nor are they being played on one of Australia’s legendary grounds.
On Monday, while the second group of the opening phase – which includes West Indies, as well as Scotland, Ireland and Zimbabwe – begins in Tasmania, many cricket fans will be distracted by events in Brisbane, where the eight teams that have automatically qualified for the second round play each other in warm-up matches.
This, though, is the more intriguing group, particularly for British fans. Scotland start against West Indies, the overwhelming favourites, not that the prospect is likely to daunt them. They opened last year’s World Cup by playing the side generally considered the outstanding team in that group, beat Bangladesh and surfed into the Super 12s with a 100% record.
But there is one statistic that puts into focus the nature of the challenge facing the Scots: since Australia lifted the trophy in Dubai last November West Indies have played 24 T20 internationals, Ireland and Zimbabwe have played 22 and 16 respectively, and Scotland have played two . That is half as many as Botswana, a third of Vanuatu’s total and a fifth of Hong Kong’s. There were two unofficial warm-up games scheduled in Australia over the last week and they beat the Netherlands impressively in the first; but the second was rained off without a ball bowled on Thursday. They head into the tournament not so much undercooked as still a collection of raw ingredients.
“We haven’t played a lot of T20 cricket as a group since last year’s World Cup but we know what we can do in this format,” their coach, Shane Burger, said as the rain fell in Melbourne. “I have faith that the guys are going to step up to the mark again when the tournament gets under way.”
Ireland’s preparation has been strong – India, New Zealand, South Africa and Afghanistan all visited over the summer and, though the first three left with 100% records, the Afghans were beaten 3-2. Despite the absence of their key bowler Craig Young, ruled out last week by the recurrence of a hip injury, a place in the Super 12s looks within their grasp. Motivation will certainly not be an issue, with memories still fresh of their failure to beat Namibia in their final group match which led to elimination .
Despite the curious absence of Shimron Hetmyer, cut from the squad after failing to turn up for his flight to Australia, West Indies surely have enough quality to progress – as do Sri Lanka, by a margin the outstanding side in Group A. The Netherlands will aim to join them in the Super 12s despite the retirements of Ryan ten Doeschate and Pieter Seelaar. In their absence the Dutch have found a potential new leader in Bas de Leede, the 22-year-old batter who scored half-centuries in both T20s against New Zealand in August and 89 against Pakistan in an ODI.
If the rankings are accurate, Sri Lanka will top that group and join England, Australia, New Zealand and Afghanistan in the Super 12s while West Indies should win the second to move into the other pool. But should either of those sides come second, the result would be to tick another significant box and provide that crucial ingredient for any classic tournament: a group of death.