September 14, 2012

The most open World Twenty20 so far

No home advantage, no points for familiarity with the conditions, no guesses for who could win it

There was a time when the subcontinent was mystery, assigned dark and exotic shades. It was the land of the unknown, rendered even more so by inventive prose. You got the feeling that visiting teams were waiting for the unexpected, that, peculiarly, they expected it, and were almost ready to succumb to it. Either they weren't aware of how to combat the conditions or, more likely, they were just unwilling to. A tour to this part of the world brought out the best in cricket writers, rarely in cricketers.

A couple of days ago I saw two giant New Zealanders, they of the land that had seemed beyond the unknown to us, understand the subcontinent like it was their own. And it struck me that the mystique had gone. Jacob Oram and James Franklin seemed so at ease that they might have been bowling at Eden Park, indeed that the Feroz Shah Kotla might have been as familiar to them as Eden Park was. The world had shrunk and India was now the playground of the cricket world. Two New Zealanders had beaten India playing an Indian game.

And so, as the World Twenty20 begins across the Palk Strait, I wonder if knowledge of local conditions is a qualification anymore; whether slow bowlers who take the pace off the ball speak only in our accents. Wristy players with exotic shots now hail from Ireland, mystery spinners from Trinidad, and even those from Dunedin and Hobart are increasingly at home in Pallekele and Visakhapatnam.

And so this is as open a World T20 as any you will see. You could argue, and you would argue fairly, that the smaller a match the more open it is anyway, but in earlier editions the format was still unfamiliar and there were times when the slow, low pitches of the subcontinent could negate teams like New Zealand, South Africa and England. Not anymore. The IPL is now five years old, the Big Bash has gathered steam, there is excitement around England's T20, and little leagues have sprung up in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. As cuisines go global, so does short-form cricket.

The groups don't matter anymore, and the rankings still have insufficient data to make for fair and informed assessments. As Australia have shown, the number ten ranking can be made to look both correct and ridiculous in the space of two days. Look at their matches against Pakistan. In the 2010 World Twenty20 semi-final they got 80 in six overs; recently they struggled to make that many in 20 overs, and a couple of days later they bowled Pakistan out for 74. Any of those days could have been a final, so predictions will be foolhardy.

The news coming out of Sri Lanka is that the pitches have a bit of the spice normally associated with the fish curries there; that the ball is allowed a decent carry in Pallekele, and that spinners of doubtful pedigree will have to do more than just turn a doorknob to get help from the pitches

That is especially so because the news coming out of Sri Lanka is that the pitches have a bit of the spice normally associated with the fish curries there; that the ball is allowed a decent carry in Pallekele, and that spinners of doubtful pedigree will have to do more than just turn a door knob to get help from the pitches. I hope that assessment is right because good pitches will favour better cricketers. I also hope that boundary ropes are placed a respectable distance away from the batsman.

The unpredictability makes this edition even more alluring. West Indies, once the home of fast bowling, could play with Samuel Badree, Sunil Narine, Marlon Samuels and Darren Sammy (three of them slow, one just going past that definition); Sri Lanka could throw up another couple of unorthodox sensations to go with Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis (have been told to keep an eye out for Dilshan Munaweera and Akila Dananjaya); and even South Africa, the land of the braai and seam-up bowlers, might play three slow bowlers. With Sohail Tanvir and Umar Gul in form, Pakistan are the one team that need not bother about the surface, having bowlers to suit all kinds.

If the tracks are indeed really good, India will be forced to play with five bowlers, which is how it should be anyway. A team that has six quality batsmen and can play Irfan Pathan, R Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh thereafter shouldn't need the security of another batsman at No. 7. If there is a weakness in this team, it is the absence of a death bowler, and the selection of Zaheer Khan, never the most enthusiastic T20 cricketer, is probably an attempt to fill that position.

For the first time in years the team to watch out for is West Indies. I suggested a couple of years ago that T20 might be the path to the revival of West Indies cricket, and they certainly seem to play it with the joie de vivre that the format encourages. A team of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Smith, Darren Bravo (or Lendl Simmons), Samuels, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Denesh Ramdin, Sammy, Andre Russell, Narine and Fidel Edwards (with Ravi Rampaul and Samuel Badree around) offers much for the senses. Gayle will still be the talisman, the enforcer, but there are many match-winners down the line. And almost all of them have played a lot on the subcontinent.

To me, this World Twenty20 will be a search for the joy in West Indies cricket. Anyone can win it but West Indies will bring more smiles to faces.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jay on September 17, 2012, 3:11 GMT

    Harsha - Even a broken clock is right twice a day! The NZ-India T20 finale came down to a bat-ball showdown: Rohit Sharma vs James Franklin. Both Mumbai Indians. Two balls, two chances. This time the older MI outfoxed his famous "last-ball 6" team-mate. Just think of the odds: NZ started 2 for 2 on a foreign field, and won by 1 run! Yes, T20 is a crapshoot. An unpredictable game with weird bounces, bizarre deflections, death overs & suspense. And changing day-night playing & weather conditions. It's anybody's game. Rankings don't matter. Nor do home fields. Nor is it a young man's game: 10 of the 22 players were 30 or over in age; and only 3 below 25! Yes, IPL brings many of the best from around the world together. Secrets are left behind in the dressing-room; none to hide on-field. Competition's level. There's parity. Yes, the World T20 race is wide open. Like Disney's "It's a small world after all"! And "flat" too! And full of "broken clocks"! Your guess is as good as mine, Harsha!

  • Dummy4 on September 16, 2012, 19:17 GMT

    In this World T20 Bangladesh will play better cricket than Australia. India or SA will take the trophy home.

  • S on September 16, 2012, 11:41 GMT

    I am not entirely happy with the team's selection. Badly miss uthapppa, Yusuf Pathan and Sreesanth. Tiwari's selection is not bad but should not have come ahead of the three i have mentioned. Sehwag has to fire. he has not done much of late be it in the tests or ODIs or T20s, ignoring the IPLs. If India has to win or does win, it will be because of lots of luck like they had in the WC 2011 despite having a mediocre bowling attack then.

  • Dummy4 on September 16, 2012, 10:41 GMT

    when dhoni cant hit james franklin for a six than india in my books wont be able to get very far..however all teams have their mad batters at teh top of teh order...which include imran nazir, mcullum, gayle, kohli, warner,tamim,kieswetter etc and even england can play two spinners so it should be the battle of teh slow bowlers...australia can play three and so can westindies and bangladesh...pakistan have a celebrated lot of spinners if afridi is fit...i suppose that in pacemen the south africans and australians might have an advantage even though pakistan have teh men for the t20 in umar gul and tanvir...while teh top of the orders maybe solid teh middle order probably is stronger in teh australian team having more experience...pakistan go in with the weakest middle order...narine and adre russel can take on any team we might have a tournament in which teh aussies and indians have a lot of older guys but teh teams are evenly matched and have the ability to outdo each other

  • Dummy4 on September 16, 2012, 9:03 GMT

    i have a strange feeling that this time its gonna be the Aussies or Proteas , Aussies because this is the only cup that has eluded them so far and we all know what they can do when determination creeps into them and look to be a determined lot, they have the arsenal to do it, perfect group of bowlers specially McKay who is in my view one of the best limited over bowler in the world and their batting seem to be in place with Hussey's and Warner & watson at the top.. in short i see them going the distance. Proteas on the other hand too has a complete squad with lots of experience and youth as well. AB can be the most destructive batsman in this format. they have Morkel's Styen Kallis Amla and not to forget Botha who is also a brilliant bowler in this format. Since they are in the same group in super eights, so they can both qualify and meet in the finals India can dream about the cup, but can never come close to it, i am sure about it. Dhoni will play politics more then cricket for sure

  • Simon on September 16, 2012, 8:42 GMT

    Slight correction Harsha. English players don't get picked by IPL franchises, except a very small number, and except KP these sit on the benches. Presumably because all franchises consider English players poor players in subcontinent conditions (or just not good enough) and Aus and SA players are considered better. And the England team's record isnt great and supports this. Therefore the theory purported that we are all as competent in these conditions based on experience in the IPL is not quite right. Funny the reigning champions weren't mentioned. So I'll give it a go. English batsman are far better batsman against pace bowling, and these will be targeted, captains will need to rely on good spinners and using their seamers wisely. Variation in flight and pace in the England bowling unit will be ramped up to counter the brutal hitting of some of the batting line ups. Possibly Semi final spot. Looking forward to it.

  • A on September 15, 2012, 21:08 GMT

    My bet is on the Windies too. Gayle is in sublime form and is probably the most destructive T20 batsman around. They will also have a lot of passion and pride riding on this tournament, to try and reclaim their rightful place as one of the cricketing big boys again. Sri Lanka, Australia and England seem to have lost a bit of T20 oomph recently, but no one in their right mind can categorically write off any of these. Too many mercurial players in each of these sides. After the Windies though, the next two best contenders for me would be Pakistan and India. They understand this format better for a variety of reasons, have the firepower, and have enough at stake. India probably wants to cement its place as the true champions of limited overs cricket, whereas Pakistan want to fight the case that they desperately deserve to be back on the international touring schedules, at home. The dark horse, as usual, will be South Africa. If Amla is in form, the tournament can be good to them.

  • Ramana on September 15, 2012, 18:40 GMT

    Dhoni & Co will surely have high hopes for this tourney. After all this is where Dhoni had his first major success in 2007. After the battering of Test defeats in Eng and Aus, i believe India are mending well, after beating NZ 2-0 in tests. And now comes the format that Dhoni's boys really love, and play with freedom and passion. If Dhoni can whip up some of the 'fearless' cricket magic of a few years ago, they can very well win again this time !

  • Neuen on September 15, 2012, 13:33 GMT

    The "news" coming out of Sri Lanka...... Do not believe they have already finished with the pitches cause a groundsman can go 2 days before a mathc take his hoover collect all the dust and add some water and other ingredients making it completely different. Sounds like a trick played by the home team to fool other teams. Seeing is believing as hearing is no evidence

  • rajesh on September 15, 2012, 12:42 GMT

    Harsha if 20/20 was an individual game west indies would win it hands down...extremely unpredictable nature of the game is anybody including Bangladesh can play more than fingers heart says India but I see Pakistan going very far...Let's see!!!

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