'All a bit of a hit or miss'
As the World Twenty20 comes to Sri Lanka, we ask if this year's tournament is the most open of all so far. Former batsmen Sanjay Manjrekar and Ramiz Raja, in conversation with Harsha Bhogle, preview the competition.
Excerpts from the discussion below. The numbers in brackets are the duration for each segment.
Is this the most open World Twenty20 yet, and what's different about this year's tournament compared to the previous ones? (2.14 - 4.43)
Ramiz Raja: I think so, yes. Also, because Australia have been neutralised to a certain degree. For the first time, during the Pakistan-Australia series, during some of the interviews, the players looked just a bit defensive. It was difficult for them to defend why they've become so weak and are below Ireland [in the T20 rankings]. But they will still put in a big effort. Some of the teams have become stronger. Some teams do have the ability to self-destruct in the longer versions of the game, but not so much in T20, as the format just doesn't allow them to. That's why they become a little more dangerous.
Sanjay Manjrekar: The obvious difference we'll see is that the players will be more experienced than two years ago. That the tournament is in Sri Lanka will help the Asian teams. This is a bit of a lottery. It's a shorter format, so the weaker teams have the best chance of surprising the stronger teams, and the tournament itself is pretty short. It just runs for around three weeks. A team that reaches the final would play a maximum of seven matches, which is not enough in comparison to the IPL, which runs for a month and a half. We have had, in the three World Twenty20s, three different winners, so that also tells you something.
There is much talk of pitches in Sri Lanka having changed in recent times, providing more assistance for the seamers. What impact will that have? (4.50 - 6.51)
RR: I was there [for the SLPL]. You'll get the subcontinent flavour: good batting sessions, and the ball will grip and spin as well. [The pitches] have changed just a little bit, but nothing dramatic. I still feel a team from the subcontinent will cause a lot of problems to the rest.
SM: I was there recently for the India-Sri Lanka series. The curator in charge for all pitches in Sri Lanka, [Anuruddha] Polonowita… it's very striking when you see those pitches. They look good, like foreign pitches, where the grass is well-manicured. Guys like Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan, they won't be sitting ducks on those pitches. There's something there for those kinds of bowlers to get the ball to just nip around a bit. They're not quick, bouncy pitches, but there's just enough for slow-medium bowlers to make things a little more difficult for the batsmen. That's why India was able to do well there, despite a weak seam attack. The pitches are different from the Murali era.
But many teams have three spinners and they seem to have picked sides suited to typical Sri Lankan conditions. Will the side that plays slower bowling better stand the best chance? (6.52 - 9.14)
RR: Absolutely. Recently the Australians didn't find playing spin that easy against Pakistan. The teams that have got the bowling balance - you don't load your team just with spinners - but you're looking for a balance where you can swing the ball [and] bring the spinners in early. The team that plays spin well and has more spinning options is going to do better in Sri Lanka.
SM: I have a slightly different view, and it's purely because of what I saw on that recent visit to Sri Lanka. Irfan had a great one-day series, so that tells you something about the pitches there. Zaheer wasn't at his best but he enjoyed bowling there. So I'm not so sure this will be a tournament dominated by spin.
How big a problem is Australia's inconsistency? (9.15 - 9.57)
SM: Australia's problem is that they'll always be compared to past Australian teams. But this is an ICC event and teams tend to be more fired up than usual. You can expect them to play like a major team in the tournament.
Pakistan beat Australia but their batting has been erratic. (9.58 - 11.14)
RR: Batting is going to be their big problem. They've been hot and cold, and been inconsistent. In T20 cricket, you also need big names. You can't expect [just] youngsters to absorb the pressure and deliver. Pakistan have got the big names in the line-up - they've reintroduced Abdul Razzaq, Shoaib Malik is back. There is a lot of all-round depth. But there are not enough specialists. For example, in Pallekele, where it seams a bit, they'll have to deal with that extra bit of movement, so they'll need to find, maybe, another specialist in the middle order.
How much will Kevin Pietersen's absence affect England? (11.15 - 12.52)
RR: He's an impact player and it's going to hurt England. If England can get runs on the board, they've got the bowling to do the job. They've got variation, good fast bowlers, [Danny] Briggs, the left-arm spinner, who looked pretty impressive, and Graeme Swann. You don't want the tension in the dressing room… that you're missing a match-winner, not for cricketing reasons.
SM: They'll miss him, given how he played in Barbados in the World Twenty20 [in 2010] and the way he played in the IPL as well. The obvious setback is going to be on the batting front - ability-wise and impact-wise. But looking at things from the outside, the dressing-room atmosphere, they may believe, will be a lot better without Pietersen. Maybe they'll feel nicely balanced coming on to the field.
Many West Indies and South Africa players have had plenty of experience playing T20 in the subcontinent. How big an advantage is that? (12.53 - 16.23)
SM: South Africa are different from West Indies, in the sense that you're looking at 11 good players. With West Indies, you're looking at four almost-great T20 players. West Indies are not a team packed with 11 good players. There might be some that could do silly things under pressure. They have four game-changers in Sunil Narine, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Smith and Chris Gayle. But, as I said, a maximum of seven matches to get through to the final. There is a very good chance that you may see the strongest team taking the flight back home before the semis. It's all a bit of hit or miss, this tournament.
South Africa's batting test will come against spin. Under pressure, against two quality spinners, when they need to get ten an over. The moment South African batsmen come in, Asian teams that have quality spinners will just bring them on.
RR: South Africa don't have a one-dimensional attack anymore; they've got spinners. They are probably the best fielding side at this level. They've got to address the issue when it comes to crunch matches and crunch situations. Everyone will be keeping an eye on how they operate when the pressure is on.
India had two forgettable World Twenty20s after their win in 2007. How are they shaping up? (16.24 - 17.59)
SM: I will not judge India under MS Dhoni based on their performances in the World Twenty20, because the tournament's so short. I regard India purely on ability as one of the strongest teams in the tournament. They've got plenty of experience and it's not just [about] big names commanding hefty prices at auctions. All batsmen in the top four or five can win you matches on their own. The bowling is also looking better, with L Balaji coming in, Irfan gaining in confidence… there is a choice of spinners as well. It's a wonderful team that India has. One of the best teams but that doesn't necessarily make them strong contenders to win it for the reasons I've stated earlier.
What about Sri Lanka in home conditions? (18.00 - 18.48)
RR: Sri Lanka will be difficult to beat because the SLPL experience will help some of their younger guys come to grips with pressure. It's about pressure and thinking quick on your feet. They've got a good all-round team. I'll put them in the top four.
How has the T20 game evolved since the 2007 World Twenty20? What are the trends? (20.42 - 24.02)
SM: Trends are seen better in a longer tournament like the IPL. You could see in the first two editions of the World Twenty20 that the batsmen were in too much of a hurry, playing far too many shots, being caught up with the fact that they can only face 120 balls. But now you see the batsmen have a better understanding of the time and overs involved. Even if they need ten an over, they're pretty relaxed in a chase. Bowlers are typically up to tricks. Irfan has just bowled one of his new slower deliveries in the last T20. Players now know the concept a lot better and you see a more mature approach in the way they bowl and bat.
RR: Now you're getting [specialist] T20 players coming through the ranks. Earlier it used to be Test players becoming 50-over players and them becoming good T20 players. Now you've got a generation of cricketers brought up on T20 stuff. Look at England: they've got Jos Buttler, Craig Kieswetter, who just play T20 for England. You see a lot of variations in the bowling, the fielding has definitely improved. There's a lot of strategy and input, and it's become a specialist art. It's become better, robust and more scientific.
Numbers Game: How many T20 internationals have Sri Lanka won when batting second at home? (24.07 - 27.31)