The moment all cricket fans were anticipating for months has finally arrived as the T20 World Cup gets underway in Australia from Sunday. While it has staged two ODI World Cups in the past, Australia will host the T20 edition for the very first time. The event is all set to be the biggest carnival of cricket as 16 top teams play 45 matches in seven cities across Australia over the next month. Reigning T20 World Cup champions, Australia will look to use their home conditions to advantage and retain their crown. But with several countries, led by top-ranked T20 side India, vying to win the prestigious trophy, the World Cup promises to be full of thrilling encounters and high-voltage action of the highest quality.
The T20 format is the most dynamic and the most unpredictable. But the form in bilateral series and multilateral tournaments since the last World Cup suggests that some of the teams start as favourites. Most experts feel that Australia, India, England and Pakistan are the top picks to reach the semi-finals. The Aussies have always been formidable at home and were the winners of last year’s T20 World Cup.
No team has ever won the T20 World Cup at home but the Aussies have a settled unit without any major changes since last year. Most fans wonder why Cameron Green, the star of the series in India recently, is not a part of the squad. The teams were announced before the India series but many think that Australia could well spring a last-minute surprise and finally field Green to bolster the all-round strength of their powerful line-up. They already have a fine middle order with Maxwell and Wade in terrific form and the new entrant, Tim David, is a strong addition to the team since the last World Cup.
The world champions of the One-day format, England, are also tipped by cricket pundits as one of the top contenders. While some star players are missing from last year’s squad, Ben Stokes is back in the team and is a huge plus. They also have a new captain in Jos Buttler but Jason Roy has been dropped after a torrid summer and in his place, Alex Hales has made a comeback. The aggressive batting approach of the English has now been adopted by many other teams including India. Ranked second in T20I Team Rankings, England has been a consistent force in white-ball cricket for some years and it will be interesting to see how they evolve their strategy further so that they can grab their second T20 championship.
This brings us to India and Pakistan! The clash on October 23 is one of the biggest attractions of the World Cup – tickets for this mouth-watering clash were sold off months ago. Pakistan surprised India at the T20 World Cup last year. But in the recent Asia Cup, the two arch-rivals had scored one win each. Both sides are in great form. Post the Asia Cup, Indian batting is firing on all cylinders – not just Surya Kumar Yadav who bats like a dream these days but skipper Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli are now in fine nick. But the absence of pace-ace Bumrah and the all-round skills of Ravindra Jadeja are a major setback for Team India which is facing serious worries over the bowling unit.
In contrast, Pakistan will be bolstered by the return of Shaheen Afridi – the most fearsome weapon in their campaign in the last T20 World Cup. While Pakistan’s bowling remains a ferocious armoury, their batting despite the exploits of captain Babar Azam and his opening partner Mohammed Rizwan has often been fragile. Ultimately, the crucial encounter may well turn out to be a contest between India’s formidable batting and Pakistan’s powerful bowling battery. Overall, the India-Pakistan contest promises to provide a blockbuster start to the World Cup.
Besides these firm favourites, there are some Dark Horses who can spring a big surprise – West Indies, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. With their natural flair and raw talent, the West Indies are always a potent threat. Their new-look squad under new skipper Nicholas Pooran is looking for a fresh start after the ageing, a star-studded group of players flopped in the 2021 tournament. Similarly, despite much turmoil at home in recent months, Sri Lanka triumphed at the Asia Cup last month which suggests they could be potential winners if they progress. But like in 2021, Sri Lanka will begin the tournament in the First Round and will need to first qualify for the Super 12 stage. Last year’s beaten finalists New Zealand are also a fighting unit with terrific all-round skills. Though the Kiwis are coming to the World Cup flying a bit under the radar, they sure can stun more fancied sides as they did a year ago.
Finally, all T20 World Cups have delivered drama of the highest quality – from Yuvraj Singh’s six sixes in the inaugural championship in 2007 to Shaheen Afridi’s new-ball fireworks last year. With most teams evenly matched and close contests anticipated, the T20 World Cup 2022 could well outdo earlier editions and produce a memorable spectacle for all fans and cricket experts!