September 18, 2012

Eight men to watch out for at World Twenty20

ESPNcricinfo staff

Jonny Bairstow
A former Leeds United schoolboy footballer and also a decent rugby player at St Peter's School in York, Bairstow went his father's way when he chose cricket. David "Bluey" Bairstow, his father, was a former Yorkshire captain and wicketkeeper and was regarded as one of the most popular cricketers in Yorkshire's history. Bairstow's cricket is characterised by ebullience and adventure. His attitude to a high-pressure situation is to meet it aggressively, and although the need to suppress such inclinations and to find a more measured tempo might have contributed to his uncertainty at the start of his Test career, the liberating atmosphere of the World Twenty20 might have come along at a perfect time. His ability to understudy Craig Kieswetter as deputy wicketkeeper is another bonus.

Richard Levi
Before Levi, the last international cricketer the Wynberg Boys' High School produced was Jacques Kallis. So to say Levi operated in a shadow would be an understatement. It probably helped that Levi was not in the mould of Kallis. Instead of technical perfection, power was his forte. Levi always found himself playing in a team at least one age-group level above his, because he was, in the words of headmaster Keith Richardson, "too good to play with his peers".

"Stand and moer" is how South Africans would describe his style of operation. Smack, hit, bang, crash is the way Levi plays, although he is now learning the softer touches. He is strong in physique and in the mind - which is what he needs to blaze a start - and favours the on side.

Sunil Narine
Narine is tougher to read than James Joyce. He spins the ball both ways and varies his pace and length, giving little discernible indication of the changes in his action. In Test cricket he is yet to really make his mark, but such bowlers are invaluable in T20, where batsmen cannot afford to take a cautious approach. It's the reason Saeed Ajmal and Ajantha Mendis are not only in the top ten T20 international wicket-takers but have the best bowling averages among the top ten. This is his first opportunity at a major international tournament and, especially given the conditions in Sri Lanka should help spinners, few players will enter the World Twenty20 with higher expectations on them.

Rohit Sharma
Unfulfilled, yes, but there has never been any doubting Rohit's talent. He made his first-class debut at India A level, and his List A debut at zonal level. Rohit is so languid he makes getting dismissed in the nets look beautiful. He has plenty of backing from the team management; the vice-captain, Gautam Gambhir, even called him the best talent India have ever had. Rohit in flow is a delight to watch; he can play outrageous strokes, both orthodox and unorthodox, is unhurried against pace and unflustered against spin. But how much has the recent tour to Sri Lanka, where he made 5, 0, 0, 4 and 4, undermined his confidence? He won't have the luxury of trying to rediscover form in the chaos of T20.

Kamran Akmal
Akmal has been cast in the Adam Gilchrist mould, though without his inspiration's sustained neatness behind the stumps. As the possessor of six Test centuries and five of the ODI variety, Akmal can turn matches, and a domestic T20 average of 26.84 and strike rate of 133.10 are nothing to be sniffed at. At the age of 30, Akmal's strengths and weaknesses are well known, and the selectors are gambling that he will play more to the former than the latter this time around. They were also encouraged by the clearing of his name by the PCB's Integrity Committee last month.

George Bailey
Level-headed and astute captaincy will be critical to Bailey's success, but so too will runs. It is vital that his arrival at the crease does not coincide with a drop-off in Australia's scoring rate, after the early aggression offered by the likes of David Warner and Shane Watson. Bailey has made runs in difficult circumstances for Tasmania on many occasions, but has not quite shed the battling tag he was handed by observers early on. His ODI and T20 displays for Australia have shown an appetite for the struggle, if an occasionally limited array of shots. In some ways he so far resembles the national selector John Inverarity - a useful and highly thoughtful cricketer who never quite proved himself as an international combatant.

James Franklin
For many years Franklin was viewed as a batsman whose talents lay more in occupying the crease than in playing lavish strokes. At times he can still be a slow starter but he has expanded his repertoire to fit the T20 top-order role and is happy to go over the top, although typically with textbook shots rather than slogs. His T20 bowling is useful rather than incisive, but he has proven a versatile enough player in the short format to earn contracts with the Mumbai Indians, Essex, Glamorgan, Gloucestershire and the Adelaide Strikers, as well as his home side, Wellington. He will enter this tournament fourth amongst New Zealanders on the all-time T20 run list.

Shaminda Eranga
Discovered in an all-island pace competition in 2006, Eranga made history when he became the first bowler to take a wicket in his first over of international cricket in every format. Eranga is among the finest swing bowlers in Sri Lanka, and is perhaps the first Sri Lankan to move the ball appreciably in both directions since Chaminda Vaas. He has also added a well-disguised slower ball to his armoury over the last 18 months, which has proved particularly productive in T20s. His pace has dropped slightly since his latest return from injury, but he is hopeful it will come back in time. In the meantime, his guile, control and movement promise much for Sri Lanka.