The ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka is just three months away and there are only a handful of Twenty20 internationals left for each team to find some form. England (defending champions, remember) will have to overcome their jitters on the subcontinent without Kevin Pietersen, while West Indies could be the dark horses with Chris Gayle, the master of Twenty20, returning. With all the usual suspects, as well as Afghanistan, Ireland and Zimbabwe, gearing up for September’s tournament, Chris Knight takes a look at how the teams in Group A and Group B are shaping up…
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Verdict: Defending their crown on the turning pitches of Sri Lanka would have been a difficult enough task for England but to lose Kevin Pietersen to a premature one-day international retirement leaves them with a major headache. Pietersen averages 38.67 in Twenty20 World Cups and there is a gaping hole in the batting line-up without him, particularly as his nearest equal, Eoin Morgan, didn’t hit a ball in anger at the recent IPL. Captain Stuart Broad will have to shoulder a huge burden and there could be room for a Michael Lumb-esque left-field pick.
Key Man: Stuart Broad – will have to lead by example with the ball.
Wildcard? Luke Wright – out of the England set-up for a while now but a badge-kissing and record-breaking hundred in the Australian Big Bash suggests that Twenty20 could be his route back in.
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Verdict: Despite boasting a batting line-up that many an IPL franchise owner would give their right hand for, India are ranked a lowly seventh in Twenty20 cricket and have won just one of their last five games. However, it would be foolish to rule them out in Sri Lanka, particularly with Virendr Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir finding some form in the recent IPL. Everywhere you look there are runs in the side, with MS Dhoni capable of winning games on his own, while Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina are two of the finest batsmen in the world in this format.
Key Man: MS Dhoni – his brutal batting can turn an average score into a formidable one and his ability to time a run-chase is unmatched.
Wildcard? Umesh Yadav – yet to make his Twenty20 international bow but impressed in Tests and ODIs on the international stage and enjoyed a breakthrough season for Delhi Daredevils in the IPL, where he took 19 wickets at 19.26.
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Verdict: The rapid rise of the Afghanistan cricket team has been well documented and they will be keen to build on their 2010 ICC World Twenty20 exploits, where they certainly weren’t embarrassed. They made this year’s event by virtue of reaching the final of the qualifying championship, where they eventually lost to Ireland by five wickets. The defeat means they are in the same group as England and India in September and they should be competitive with more experience under their belts. Plus, there is a potential upset in the making if England are as accommodating as they have been against Netherlands and Ireland in the past.
Key Man: Hamid Hassan – the fast bowler has taken 14 wickets at 12.14 in eight Twenty20 internationals and his undoubted potential has earned him selection for the MCC and an ICC Combined Associate and Affiliate XI during the past 18 months.
Wildcard? Karim Sadiq – Afghanistan’s answer to Virender Sehwag holds nothing back at the top of the order.
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Verdict: Australia’s selection policy in Twenty20 cricket has looked a little confused in recent times, not least with the recent recall for then 40-year-old spinner Brad Hogg. It is the lack of a quality spinner that could hold them back in Sri Lanka, with Xavier Doherty, who has taken one wicket at 118 in four Twenty20 internationals, the man in possession. The prospect of Shane Watson and David Warner walking out to open the batting is a mouth-watering prospect though. They have yet to fire in tandem in two Twenty20 innings together but when they do, expect fireworks
Key Man: David Warner – Twenty20 specialist turned Test star, Warner rocked up at the IPL for eight games and left with a tournament-high strike rate of 164.10.
Wildcard? Dan Christian – much-hyped allrounder will need to start producing on the big stage to justify his whopping IPL price tag.
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Verdict: Dark horses. A run of form that hardly sets pulses racing and a ranking of ninth wouldn’t appear to be a great mix for potential tournament winners, but a look at the West Indies squad suggests they could go close in Sri Lanka. Chris Gayle, who returns from international exile after scoring over 1,000 Twenty20 runs already during 2012, ensures that the Windies should get off to a flyer, while Kieron Pollard’s performances against Australia in the spring suggests that he is ready to consistently produce the goods. Add in Dwayne Bravo, Marlon Samuels and Sunil Narine, who all enjoyed successful IPL stints, and you have the make-up of a very fine Twenty20 unit.
Key Man: Undoubtedly Chris Gayle – the best Twenty20 batsman in the world. He scored 733 runs at 61 in the IPL and he currently averages 57.57 in all Twenty20 cricket – with a strike rate of 164.26 – during 2012.
Wildcard? Sunil Narine – the young mystery spinner rose to prominence during the recent one-day series with Australia and he showed an appetite for the big stage when taking 24 wickets at 13.50 for Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL.
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Verdict: A look at the form column would suggest that Ireland are potential tournament winners but that is tempered by the opposition they have faced in their last five – Kenya, Scotland, Canada, Netherlands and Afghanistan. They are however proving to be the strongest of the non-Test playing nations and will be buoyed by their World Cup heroics against England last year. If Kevin O’Brien can fire again then an upset or two could well be on the cards, particularly with spinner George Dockrell likely to thrive in Sri Lankan conditions.
Key Man: George Dockrell – the 19-year-old twirler continues to impress wherever he plies his trade, whether taking 24 wickets at 11.79 in Twenty20 internationals or topping the Division One wicket-takers list for Somerset.
Wildcard? Paul Stirling – the shorter format is ideally suited to his powerful hitting, with a matchwinning 79 in the World Twenty20 qualifying final against Afghanistan testament to his ability.