The ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka is fast approaching and there are only a handful of matches left for each team to find some form ahead of the showpiece tournament. Defending champions England look in good shape having disposed of West Indies at Edgbaston, thanks to a sparkling 99 from young gun Alex Hales, but let’s take a look at how the teams in Group C and Group D are shaping up.
Words: Chris Knight
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Verdict: Beaten finalists in 2009, Sri Lanka boast a strong unit ahead of another tilt at the World Twenty20 trophy this year. They will have few better chances to finally get over the line and win the tournament, particularly as playing on home soil should provide them with a huge advantage. The batting line-up looks formidable as an interchangeable top four of Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Dinesh Chandimal is as good any in the world game. The all-round talent of Angelo Mathews ensures they can win games from any position, while a certain Lasith Malinga will provide toe-crushing yorkers with the ball.
Key Man: Lasith Malinga – whether opening the bowling or coming on at the death, there is no better operator in Twenty20 cricket. He showcased his talents with 22 wickets at 15.90 in the IPL and expect a few matchwinning performances from him this September.
Wildcard? Ajantha Mendis – the mystery may have deserted the Sri Lanka spinner since he burst onto the international scene with a bucket load of wickets but he remains a dangerous Twenty20 operator, taking world-record bowling figures of 6-16 against Australia last year.
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Verdict: Pre-tournament form counts for very little when discussing South Africa as they consistently reach the latter stages before the ‘chokers tag’ rears its ugly head. The Proteas will hope to finally shake it off this year, although they don’t look entirely sure of how to approach Twenty20 cricket. They have included a lot of ‘bits and pieces’ players in recent matches, with Wayne Parnell enduring a particularly difficult time, but it’s the tried and tested AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Morne Morkel who will be relied upon to win matches. A weakened South Africa suffered shock defeats to Zimbabwe during their unofficial Triangular Series recently and it highlights the need for their big guns to fire.
Key Man: Morne Morkel – came of age in Twenty20 cricket when topping the IPL standings with 25 wickets at 18.12 this year.
Wild Card: Richard Levi – the stocky opener announced himself to the world of Twenty20 with a brutal 117 of 51 balls against New Zealand in February, including a record 13 sixes. His hundred came off 45 balls and was the quickest in Twenty20 history.
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Verdict: They’re beginning to find their feet in international cricket once more and the Twenty20 format will offer them an ideal opportunity to showcase their talents. They are progressing well under coach Alan Butcher, who has them well drilled, with recent wins over Bangladesh and South Africa in an unofficial Triangular Series a sign of their upward curve. They have pushed New Zealand and Pakistan close in matches during the past year, with their batting proving stronger than their bowling, but getting over the winning line against established nations remains the ultimate goal.
Key Man: Brendan Taylor – the captain was their stand out batsman at the 2011 World Cup and his contributions at the top of the order will be vital if Zimbabwe are to cause a few upsets.
Wildcard: Hamilton Masakadza – has had plenty of ups and downs since scoring 119 on his Test debut as a 17-year-old against the West Indies in 2001. Masakadza has firmly established himself in the side in the past year though and he will need to share the run-scoring burden with Taylor.
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Verdict: It is difficult to know quite what you’re going to get from the 2010 World Twenty20 champions but they will fancy their chances of progressing from Group D. Their recent form has been shaky as they lost a three-match ‘home’ series to England in the Emirates before sharing the spoils 1-1 with Sri Lanka in their latest foray into the shortest format of the game. Their top order looks woefully short of runs but any side with spin twins Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi will be a danger in Sri Lanka, particularly if Afridi can find consistent runs to match his potent wicket-taking threat.
Key Man: Saeed Ajmal – currently ranked second in the Twenty20 bowler rankings, Ajmal was economical and took wickets in the recent series in Sri Lanka and he is likely to be a shoo-in for most people’s fantasy teams when the World Twenty20 gets underway.
Wild Card: Shahid Afridi – more a bowing allrounder nowadays but he is still ‘box office’ when he gets going with the bat.
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Verdict: New Zealand always seem to defy the odds to reach the latter stages of major tournaments and they are sneaking under the radar again this year. Their ranking has been enhanced by four Twenty20s against Zimbabwe during the past nine months but the batting form of Martin Guptill has been a revelation, while Tim Southee should improve for his experiences in the IPL. The main concern would have been the lack of a world-class spinner but Daniel Vettori has come out of Twenty20 retirement for the World Twenty20 in September and he could be the missing piece of a quietly impressive outfit.
Key Man: Martin Guptill – pigeon-holed as a plodder in the past, Guptill has enjoyed an Alastair Cook-esque renaissance at the top of the order as he averages 35.81 at a strike rate of 126.48 in Twenty20 Internationals.
Wild Card: Jesse Ryder – a wild card in every sense. Ryder is never far from controversy but if his head is in the right place then he could provide some matchwinning runs alongside Guptill.
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Verdict: The Twenty20 format of the game would appear to offer Bangladesh their best chance of regularly competing with the big boys in international cricket but the schedule has counted against them so far. They have played just four official Twenty20 Internationals since May 2010, narrowly beating West Indies last year, and their development has been stunted as a result. The introduction of the Bangladesh Premier League suggests that they are taking this format very seriously at domestic level but much will rest on the shoulders of Shakib Al Hasan.
Key Man: Shakib Al Hasan – rarely has one man carried the hopes of a nation like Shakib but he keeps on producing the goods. He is the number one ranked allrounder in ODI cricket but Bangaldesh’s lack of Twenty20 action has counted against him in the shortest format.
Wild Card: Tamim Iqbal – bizarrely dropped and then recalled for the Asia Cup in March, Iqbal showed what he was all about by helping Bangladesh reach the final with 253 runs in four matches. The Twenty20 format looks perfectly suited to his aggressive style.
Click here to read a progress report on the teams in Groups A and B