World T20 2014: Bold Predictions for the Best XI of the Tournament
Cricket's most thrilling and spectacular event has now arrived, with the ICC World Twenty20 set to captivate the cricketing world over the coming weeks.
With a plethora of stars among the tournament's major teams, it's almost certain that we're ready to witness some of the most exhilarating exhibitions ever seen on the international stage.
Yet perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this year's edition is sheer unpredictability of the competition. While each team owns a number of heavyweights, the proliferation in T20 cricket around the world has seen each nation develop of wealth of limited-overs talent, making it possible for a number of emerging stars and lesser names to rise to prominence at this year's event.
Here, we make some bold predictions on which players will shine brightest during a cricket's most frantic tournament.
Explanation of Selections
Rather than simply picking an all-star XI of the biggest names in the T20 game, we wanted to select a collection of players who, for one reason or another, could potentially overcome the world's more fancied superstars to shine at this year's event.
Those players might be on the rise after seizing some recent opportunities, may be looking to return to former glories, or simply might already be elite performers but appear set to step out of the shadows of their more spectacular counterparts.
Consequently, you won't find Chris Gayle or Brendan McCullum or Kumar Sangakkara on this list. Nor will you find Dale Steyn, Umar Gul or Saeed Ajmal. Those players are better reserved for world and all-star XIs.
Here, we've gone with a bolder approach by searching wider in the field to find a team that could unexpectedly define the tournament.
1. Aaron Finch
With 398 runs, no player has been more prolific in T20 internationals since the beginning of last year than Aaron Finch. Perhaps more significantly, his colossal strike rate of 173.04 during that time is also the best mark by some distance among the world's top 52 run-scorers.
Sitting at the top of a brutal looking Australian line-up, Finch looks well placed to be among the tournament's standout performers over the coming weeks.
The thumping right-hander's form has also extended beyond the international arena and into the domestic scene, which was made evident in his thrashing of 262 runs at a strike rate of 148.02 in the latest edition of Australia's Big Bash League.
Provided the dashing opener adapts to the subcontinental conditions and the spinning threat posed by the West Indies and Pakistan in Group 2, it's highly likely that he'll be responsible for a number of blistering Australian starts in this competition.
2. Kusal Perera
Kusal Perera appears to be on a mission to carry forward the legacy of Sri Lanka's great Sanath Jayasuriya.
Short in stature and with a similar technique and mentality, the 23-year-old left-hander is an emerging star in the limited-overs formats for his nation.
From only 11 T20 international appearances, Perera has crashed his way to 386 runs at an average of 35.09 with four 50s.
That run of form was backed up by a consistent collection of performances against Bangladesh and in the subsequent Asia Cup, leaving the opener well placed to make a strong charge for Sri Lanka in the World T20.
Of course, there a far bigger names at the top of other line-ups in the tournament, but with his team well-fancied and playing in familiar surrounds, Perera's emergence could be accelerated by an impressive campaign in this competition.
3. Mohammad Hafeez
There are others in the tournament who will undoubtedly prove more spectacular, but few will have the doubled-up impact of Mohammad Hafeez.
At the top of Pakistan's order, Hafeez is among the most consistent accumulators of runs in the world, having enjoyed another stellar 12 months in the T20I arena with 323 runs at an average of 35.88.
However, unlike many of his counterparts, the 33-year-old is regularly prolific with the ball as well, which has seen the versatile all-rounder become the 10th highest wicket-taker in the history of this format.
On the back of a productive campaign in the recently concluded Asia Cup, the Pakistani all-rounder looks set to be a key figure in the World T20, with his consistency likely to anchor some of his more enigmatic teammates.
4. Yuvraj Singh
When Yuvraj Singh gets it right, no one else compares. When he gets it wrong, it's ugly.
However, the international T20 stage may just bring about a revival for India's paradoxical left-hander.
With the expectations for his struggling team apparently lowering by the day, Yuvraj could become the beneficiary of a nothing-to-lose mentality inside the Indian camp.
Indeed, Yuvraj's problems at international level have tended to be the result of a cluttered approach; a lack of clarity in his role and purpose often placing a handbrake on his phenomenal talents.
But with MS Dhoni's outfit arriving at the tournament as underdogs rather than expected conquerors, Yuvraj may embody a sense of freedom that could pave way for his blistering best.
It might not be enough to steer his team towards the trophy, but should the left-hander be unleashed, there'll be a handful of teams looking over their shoulders.
5. Corey Anderson
On the back of destroying both the West Indies and India at home in recent months, New Zealand appear set to make a major statement at the World T20.
Much of that bullish confidence can be attributed to an explosive batting line-up, with Corey Anderson standing as possibly the most destructive of them all.
Against the West Indies in December, Anderson clubbed the fastest century in ODI history when he scorched his way to 131 not out from a staggering 47 deliveries to shatter the record books. Since, the left-hander hasn't completed an innings at a strike rate below 120.83.
Certainly, doubts persist over whether the 23-year-old can produce such a breathtaking exhibition at a major international tournament, and questions will be raised over his ability to adapt to conditions in Bangladesh.
However, on the back of a stunning New Zealand summer which has propelled Anderson to the riches of the Indian Premier League, it appears that he's ready to take the tournament by storm.
6. Jos Buttler
England's chances of claiming victory in the World T20 appear slim, but in Jos Buttler they have one of the most exciting and in-form keeper-batsmen in the tournament.
While his team's performances in the West Indies were indifferent, the right-hander's displays with the bat were outstanding, crushing 67 from 43 balls in the second T20 of the tour after falling an agonising one run short of a sublime hundred during the ODI series.
Additionally, with England possessing a batting line-up that lacks the power of other teams, it's likely that Buttler's penchant for sending the ball into the stands will be required in the majority of his nation's innings.
While a number of impressive keeper-batsmen are set to take part in the World T20, Buttler appears capable of outshining them all.
7. James Faulkner
For those who have kept tabs on James Faulkner's recent exploits in the One Day International arena, the Australian all-rounder's inclusion in this team will come as no surprise.
Against both India and England, Faulkner has been emphatic, twice hammering Australia to remarkable second-innings victories in Mohali and Brisbane, while also proving himself to be among the world's most versatile seamers in limited-overs cricket.
Of course, the true extent of Faulkner's contributions will be governed by the success of Australia's strong top-order, with the right-hander's chances potentially limited by the likes of David Warner, Aaron Finch, Shane Watson and George Bailey.
But over the course of the tournament, it's likely that Faulkner's thunderous hitting will be called upon, which combined with his intelligent bowling, will see him among the most prominent all-rounders in the competition.
8. Mitchell Starc
Mitchell Starc's Test place may have been lost for the foreseeable future to a fellow left-armer of the same name, but his position in Australia's T20 outfit is secure.
In fact, Starc's record in T20Is is outstanding, having claimed 19 wickets from 14 matches at a superb economy rate of 6.07.
With the advantage of his unusual angle to the batsmen and an ability to consistently bowl reverse-swinging yorkers, the 24-year-old Australian is an extremely difficult opponent in limited-overs formats, with his ODI record suggesting much the same.
Given the strength of his team's batting line-up, opposing batsmen will have no choice but to relentlessly hunt Australia's bowling attack, which should present Starc with countless wicket opportunities.
9. Chris Jordan
Unlike others on this list, Chris Jordan has little in the way of an extensive record suggesting he's capable of starring at this year's World T20.
Yet, after a superb showing in the final T20 in the West Indies, one gets the sense that the Barbados-born speedster is ready to enjoy a breakout tournament in Bangladesh.
With genuine pace and hostility, the right-armer's threat with the ball looks to be continually increasing, while his emphatic hammering of four sixes in the final over from Dwayne Bravo last week suggested he owns the capacity to become a lethal lower-order hitter.
Of course, Jordan's performances are unlikely to steer England to a tournament victory given the under-strength nature of the side. But the event does represent a fantastic chance for a star of limited-overs cricket to be born.
10. Sunil Narine
Made obvious to England fans during recent weeks, Sunil Narine is a mightily effective limited-overs spinner.
Through the use of deceptive variations, the West Indian has forged at excellent T20I career, having claimed 30 wickets from 24 matches at a miserly economy rate of 5.97.
On the low and turning wickets of the subcontinent, Narine should prove extremely important for the defending champions, who will look to limit their opposition through spin before unleashing a batting line-up of blistering potential.
While the off-spinner is yet to make a genuine impact in the Test arena, his efficient and economic ways should lead to a considerable build-up of pressure for opposing batsmen, which should see Narine claim a significant haul of scalps at this year's tournament.
11. Ajantha Mendis
Like Narine, Ajantha Mendis has failed to become bonafide star for his nation at Test level.
However, as a limited-overs performer, few bowlers can compare with Sri Lanka's deceptive off-spinner.
Across his 36 appearances in this format, Mendis has claimed a staggering 62 wickets at an average of 13.61 and an economy rate of 6.16. The right-armer also owns the best figures ever recorded in T20Is when he took 6/8 against Zimbabwe in the 2012 edition of the World T20.
Yet, despite that phenomenal record, Mendis has never reached the iconic status of other stars of T20 cricket, nor been associated with the superstar tag. Teammate Lasith Malinga still retains a higher profile despite an inferior record.
Now, however, Mendis looks ready to be the key figure in Sri Lanka's pursuit of T20 glory—something that will rapidly enhance his standing in the game.