Team India Specials
Same game, different settings
The shortest form of the game has till now been on the fringes of public consciousness and it was the T20 Cup of 2007 followed by the subsequent IPL in India that increased its status manifold; and now two world class tournaments in succession are bound to ring in the T20 tune big-time. There have already been concerns about the status of the format with Tim Nielsen, the Australian coach, demanding better recognition for the format and in turn, more bilateral contests. As players get back home after a long South African sojourn, regroup in their teams, re-energize and head towards England to face a few of their own team mates in the premier league, here’s a look at what to watch out for in the Mecca of cricket:
The Minnows: Alongside the 9 Test playing nations, the tournament will feature 3 qualifiers in Ireland, Netherlands and Scotland. Though the presence of the weak teams threatens to make a few games one-sided and drab to watch, the qualifiers also stand the best chance of upsetting their fancied rivals in the shortest form of the game. The presence of Ireland in Group A though gives Bangladesh a huge opportunity to qualify for the super 8’s along with India, the third side in the group.
Bangladesh themselves went on to upset West Indies in the inaugural T20 cup and Zimbabwe went one better by beating Australia in a nail-biter just to emphasize the fact that T20 gives the underdogs their best chance. Among the many mantras of T20 cricket, ‘Underestimate at your own peril’ is a very relevant one.
IPL Aftereffects: Some of the best players of all teams come into this tournament having featured in a long IPL season and are most likely to carry their forms from that event. A player’s form is a combination of his individual form, the teams form and his psyche. Therefore while on one hand, a Rohit Sharma or a Suresh Raina will be in right frame of mind for the tournament, an Ishant Sharma would struggle to get going. Though a Ross Taylor might continue from where he left off in his innings in the final, the naturally flamboyant Brendon McCullum might not be the best New Zealander on view.
The coaches’ ultimate test lies in getting these players with different mindsets to jell together, to get his form players continue the good work and in the meantime get the struggling stars up the ante.
Group of Death: Every big tournament sporting the group format has a group packed with stars, often titled the ‘Group of Death’. This tournament also has one of its own with Group C consisting of Australia, Sri Lanka and the West Indies. Though it would be sad to see one of these teams go out in the group stages, this group would nonetheless make the league stages more exciting. Though the Aussies start with the best chance of making the super 8’s, Chris Gayle who recently in support of T20 cricket said that he ‘would not miss Test cricket’, would be extremely keen to make a mark which augurs well for the West Indies. With all of Fidel Edwards, Dwayne Smith and Dwayne Bravo coming good in the IPL, nobody can count the Caribbean’s out. The Lankans would typically rely on the Malinga/Murali duo coupled with a strong middle order in Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Dilshan
The Pakistan Factor: Stung by the exclusion of its players from the IPL, and later being stripped off as a co-host of the 2011 WC not to mention the omission of Sialkot Stallions from the CL T20, Pakistan returns to the international scene after a long hiatus.
It doesn’t require a mind-reader to tell you that the players would be all the more fired up and eager to prove a point. They would love to avenge two heartbreakingly close losses to India last time around, one of them in the finals. Shahid Afridi and Sohail Tanvir amongst others have already expressed their disappointment at missing out on the IPL, and would be eager to make up for the loss.
Legendary cricketers like Zaheer Abbas and Wasim Akram have expressed their shock at Pakistan’s alienation from world cricket and of mixing politics with sport. As much as Pakistan needs world cricket, it is also true that the cricket fraternity needs Pakistan and its exciting cricketers!
The English Pitches: The two seasons of the IPL have been very different from each other, and the reasons could very well be explained by the difference in Indian and South African pitches. The first season was high-scoring, the second not so much; the first was dominated by big-hitters while the second by well paced knocks and also, surprisingly spinners.
Much would depend on how the English pitches behave. The first few games would be enough to set the tone, and the side that has the best mix to make use of the conditions available would surely have the best chance.
Coming on the heels of the IPL, comparisons between the two big tournaments are inevitable and the professional approach of the ICC would certainly be welcomed by the purists. No cheerleaders, sane commentary and a general sense against any over-hype should work in favor of the lovers of the game, transferring attention where it is most desired.
Defending champions India along with South Africa and to some extent Australia are being touted as the favorites for the trophy but in a format where a short nap might be enough to miss an entire innings, it’s not really possible to point at a particular team. Almost all competing teams have players, who on their day can take the game away and the best you can do a fan is to sit down (probably with beer and chips) and enjoy the game.