The third annual edition of the World Twenty20 is underway, and the hype surrounding it has finally taken shape, following the somewhat-successful, always-entertaining IPL circus. As a preview to the World T20 tourney, here are my takes on key points to ponder on all the participating teams.
Why they might win: They are riding the wave of sudden and giddy success, with unexpected wins in the qualifiers followed by solid performances in the warm-up games. Also, they have a suprise, almost unknown, element to them --- not many teams know much about them, and that might be their trump card.
Why they will not: Beating Ireland, Scotland and USA is one thing, and taking the field against the likes of Dhoni, Kallis, Steyn and Zaheer is quite simply an altogether different strata of difficulty. The Afghans have done well to reach the Windies, but their debut is likely to be akin to a roookie-hazing ceremony. Talent and experience-wise, they will find themselves out of depth.
Obvious Superstar: Mohammad Nabi, the off-spinner who is part of the MCC Young Cricketers squad, and took 13 wickets at 10.50 at the ICC qualifying event.
Unsung Potential Hero: Mohammad Shahazad, the 18-year-old batsman who has the shots, the aggressive demeanor and the tenacity to score some big runs. Solid technique against the quickies, and propensity to hit big shots.
Why they might win: Because they usually do. The Aussies ought to be the favorites in every tournament they partake in, irrespective of their form and interest in the abridged version of the game. Individual talent-wise, they have match-winners like David Hussey, Watson and Warner, plus the non-flamboyant, yet solid, presence of the Mikes (Clarke and Hussey). Also, a bunch of their players were an integral part of the IPL and that experience should hold them in solid stead.
Why they might not: Because they do not respect T20 enough. Again, if they want, I think they will win. But I just get the sense that T20 is still not the Aussie vision of the pinnacle of cricketing success. It might have been just a warm-up game, but there was something to that defeat to Zimbabwe two days back that re-instilled the sense in me.
Obvious Superstar: The Davids (Warner + Hussey) and the Mikes (Clarke + Hussey)
Unsung Potential Hero: Shane Watson. He is ideally-suited for T20s, with fierce hitting, military medium bowling, speedy running between wickets, and the natural ability to be an Instant Havoc (or IH, my rating for someone who, given an over either with bat or ball, can completely transform the proceedings of a game).
Why they might win: Let me say this with absolute guarantee that Bangladesh will win the World T20 sometime in the next 5 years. In fact, this will be the only global cricket tournament that the Banglas are equipped to win in the next decade or so. Reason #1 = their batting is super-aggressive, bordering on bravado; Reason #2 = their bowling strength is in left-arm spin, so the stock delivery angles across the right-hand batsman. Never easy to hit, and might be the driver to their potential success in T20 cricket.
Why they will not: The team lacks three basic ingredients --- Application, Intent and a True Match-Winner. Frustratingly, neither of these tenets can be coached or taught. You either have it or you do not. And the Bangladeshis absolutely do not.
Obvious Superstar: Mohamad Ashraful and Shakib-al Hassan
Unsung Potential Hero: Mahmudullah might well be what Shakib was at the 2007 ODI World Cup --- a little-known allrounder who wracks up match-winning performances. Tidy off-spin, knack of bagging wickets, and aggressive hiting --- Mahmudullah might be the stand-out for Bangladesh at this year's T20 WC.
Why they might win: They invented T20, right? So they have the experience, and have 'mastered' the strategy of what it takes to win in T20.
Why they might not: Because the driver to a successful strategy is the ability to execute it to a hilt. And in that respect, England has been an abject failure. The team for this year's event is bereft of IHs (barring KP, maybe), has limited pedigree of success in international T20s, and is in an unsettlingly tough Group with South Africa and Ireland.
Obvious Superstar: Kevin Pietersen. Love him or hate him, cannot deny that when he gets going, he can be destructive. Four overs of KP in the middle = an extra 40-50 runs for England.
Unsung Potential Hero: Graeme Swann. Spin has proved to be a huge weapon in T20s, and in Swann, England have a game-changer. He has turn and bite, and the verve and energy to raise the ante with his positivity.
Why they might win: They are sufficiently exposed to the nuances of T20, and the players have undergone all the stress, nerve-wracking moments, and ups-and-downs that are part and parcel of T20s, courtesy the three IPLs. On top of that, the Indian outfit is filled with IHs --- Dhoni, Vijay, Pathan, Raina, Youvraj (much as it pains me to name him, the six 6s remain firmly etched in mind).
Why they might not: The tendency to under-perform in trying circumstances, plus the 'boredom' of having played too much T20, and the over-confidence of having done so.
Obvious Superstar: Take your pick from MSD, Yuvraj, Raina, Harbhajan, and Pathan
Unsung Potential Hero: M Vijay. No Chennai bias here, but Vijay's technical correctness coupled with his exhilarating strokeplay, could make him the star of this year's T20 WC. India's missing Sehwag, but I feel Vijay will more than compensate for that.
Why they might win: They have the spunk, they like to surprise at the the big stage, and have some experience playing T20s. Plus, they have had morale-boosting victories against major nations in the last couple of years --- Pakistant and SA in WC 2007, and Bangladesh in last year's T20 championship.
Why they might not: They also have lost a few times to Afghanistan, Scotland and Kenya in recent months. Need I say more?!!
Obvious Superstar: William Porterfield and Niall O'Brien. Solid batsmen with tons of experience in English County scene.
Unsung Potential Hero: Andre Botha, the old warhorse. 4th-leading ODI batsman, and 2nd-leading ODI bowler for Ireland. Does a bit of everything.
Why they might win: So much talent, with a balanced recipe of top-class batting (Ross Taylor, Guptill, McCullum) and strike-bowling (Vettori, Bond); combined with an enviable track record of consistency (have consistently reached the semi stage of most international tournaments over the past several years). Reasonable exposure to T20s at the IPL this season.
Why they might not: One way to look at their performances at global tournaments is to call it 'consistent'; the other, more plausible, way is to call it mediocre and mundane. Also, they have too many jack-of-all-trades-but-master-of-none types like Oram, Styris, N McCullum, Butler, Southee etc. Great supporting cast, but with absolutely no match-winners here.
Obvious Superstar: Brendan McCullum, Taylor and Daniel Vettori. Maybe Bond.
Unsung Potential Hero: Jesse Ryder. Troubled, fat, drunkard, and prone to violence. At the same time, could turn game around with a quick 50 at the top and/or his dibbly-dobblies with a ball.
Why they might win: Because they did last year. And raw talent-wise, they have it in them to do it again this year. You just cannot discount the potential of a team that has Afridi, Razzaq, Misbah, Aamer, Asif and the two Akmals in its ranks.
Why they might not: Addicted to self-destruction. More than any other team, Pakistan could as easily beat the Aussies as they could get throttled by Ireland (no match-fixing needed!). Too mercurial to be relied on for consistent success. Plus, they have lost their bowling star, Umar Gul, to injury.
Obvious Superstar: Shahid Afridi. Fastest century in an ODI. Man of the Tournament at last year's T20 WC. As perfect an IH as one can define.
Unsung Potential Hero: Abdul Razzaq. Battle-hardened veteran, has a cool temperament (unlike Afridi) and is a man-of-the-match candidate with bat or ball.
Why they might win: Again, in terms of talent and experience, the Proteas have as much right to win this tourney as any other team. A true cricketing superpower, and a team filled with cricketing wealth with the likes of Graeme Smith, Kallis, Steyn, AB, etc.
Why they might not: Choke Artists Extraordinaire. How many times have we seen SA put their hands around their throats in crunch time. They are the epitome of how to screw things up when there is now way, shape or reason to do so. Also, the Proteas can get bogged down while batting (e.g Kallis, Smith), and lose their marbles while bowling (Morkel brothers at the IPL).
Obvious Superstar: Smith, Kallis, Steyn, JP
Unsung Potential Hero: Johan Botha. The fella can tweak the cherry in a mean manner, and can also give it a few hefty blows. Was one of the stars for the Rajasthan Royals at last year's IPL, and is ideally suited for the slow, low pitches of the Caribbean.
Why they might win: Like the other sub-continent teams, the Lankans have no shortage of world-class talent. Moreover, in Mahela, Sangakkara, Jayasuriya, Murali and Malinga, Sri Lanka has the ideal combination of talent and experience at the highest level. On paper, their line-up is outright scary!
Why they might not: Age. Sanath and Murali need to get an AARP card, and others like Mahela and Sangakkara have a lot of wear-and-tear from non-stop cricket in recent years. And I might be killed for saying this, but Malinga has shown the tendency to melt in big moments. With an over to go and 15 to get, I will NOT hand the ball to Lasith.
Obvious Superstar: Sangakkara, Dilshan, Mahela, Murali, Jayasuriya, Dilshan
Unsung Potential Hero: Angelo Mathews. Terrific striker, and savior for the Kolkatta KnightRiders a couple of times at last month's IPL. Plus, a decent wicket-to-wicket medium pacer who keeps it tight. Can win a game by scoring 40 off 22, and taking 2-28.
Why they might win: At home. Chris Gayle. Dwayne Bravo. Kieron Pollard. Need much else?
Why they might not: They do not play well together. Might be a result of in-foghting/lack of team chesion, but this is a team with sparkling individual stars that just do not gell well together.
Obvious Superstar: Chris Gayle
Unsung Potential Hero: Jerome Taylor and Kemar Roach. Sheer pace can trouble anytime, anyone, anywhere. Taylor and Roach are two true pacemen, and can rattle the top of any order. Plus, playing on familiar pitches always is an advantage.
Why they might win: For one reason --- they just beat Australia in a warm-up gig two days back, and looked good in doing so. Plus, Australia was not playing out the string either.
Why they will not: Sheer lack of talent and experience. They have a few intriguing players --- Utseya, Taibu, Taylor, Chigumbura, etc. But, overall, this is a team that will do well to gain experience playing with the heavyweights.
Obvious Superstar: No one.
Unsung Potential Hero: Anyone. Chigumbura has shined with the bat in the two warm-up games, so maybe he is a star in the making. But no one stands out.