Nishad Pai Vaidya previews the teams ahead of the Super-Eights.
The ICC World T20 is approaching its business end – with only the strongest contenders in the fray for the coveted prize. Having played the two league games and a few warm-up affairs in the lead-up, the teams have a fair idea about the conditions and the form of their respective players. While their strengths and positives would give them hope of aiming for the ultimate, the negatives may prompt them to exercise a bit of caution. Every game is crucial from this point onwards as a defeat can significantly affect their chances of progressing through to the semi-finals.
Let us have a round-up of all the sides who have qualified for the super eights and analyse their strengths and weaknesses.
India: The comprehensive win against England has heightened the expectations levels of Indian fans – a hope that was once crushed by the defeat to arch-rivals Pakistan in the warm-ups. India’s strength lies in the batting with Virat Kohli leading the way. Rohit Sharma’s return to form is a welcome development. The biggest talking point would be the side Mahendra Singh Dhoni picks on the day. The win against England has strengthened the argument to play five bowlers. However, who would Dhoni drop to accommodate key players such as Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag and Ravichandran Ashwin? It is a problem that a captain wouldn’t mind having.
Australia: Australians have been rallied by Shane Watson – player who contributes with both bat and ball. Getting past Ireland wasn’t a big challenge. However, their bowling was demolished by the West Indian batsmen in the second game – but one mustn’t forget the fact that the surface was a batsman’s paradise. The top order comprising Watson, David Warner and Michael Hussey looks very strong. On the bowling front, Mitchell Starc holds the key as he is in fantastic form. The only question that may be asked is: Where does David Hussey fit in? It is bizarre that T20 cricket’s highest run-scorer and a game-changer doesn’t find a place in the eleven. At some stage in the championship, Australia may have to bring him in.
South Africa: It is fair to say that South Africa haven’t been tested in the group stages. Zimbabwe weren’t much of an opposition and they got past them with ease. The game against Sri Lanka was a rain-shortened affair and it would be a mistake to read too much into it. South Africa are probably the most balanced side in the contest with fantastic batsmen, threatening bowlers and brilliant fielding to top it. The only thing that can haunt them is their history of choking in crunch games. Gary Kirsten’s management has taken them to the top of the Test world and it is their chance to take the monkey off their backs. Can they recover from the psychological scars of the past?
Pakistan: Pakistan have been a dominant side in T20 Internationals and have done well at all the World T20s so far. Their top order comprising Mohammad Hafeez, Imran Nazir and Nasir Jamshed looks in good touch and would provide them the impetus upfront. Saeed Ajmal continues to be their trump card as he has been brilliant this year. Then there are the likes of Umar Gul and Sohail Tanvir – pacers who have the ability to run through sides. With Shahid Afridi in the line-up there is always a danger lurking. Fielding may be a concern for them and also their unnecessary tendency of playing mediocre cricket on the odd occasion – something that may cost them dearly.
Sri Lanka: In their own backyard, Sri Lankans are serious contenders for the title. Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara – the three musketeers of the Lankan batting – form the crux and have to rally the team. Lasith Malinga’s toe crushers would be a huge threat to the batsmen. However, Ajantha Mendis is on a comeback and he announced his arrival with a brilliant spell against ZImbabwe. It is difficult to pick a weakness in this side and the home surfaces may give them more assistance to fulfil the dream of a nation.
West Indies: In 2010, England qualified for the Super Eights without winning a game in the group stages and went on to win the World T20. West Indies move into the second round in similar circumstances, but can they do what England did then? A look at the squad would tell you that West Indies have the side to go all the way and are the favourites. On their day they can dominate the opposition, but they also have a tendency to capitulate and implode. They lost to Australia on the Duckworth-Lewis method at a stage when they still had a chance of pulling things back. The game against Ireland was washed out without a result. Thus, we haven’t had much of a look into their performances in Sri Lanka.
New Zealand: A side that has always performed at World Championships needs an encore of their previous performances. Brendon McCullum’s belligerent batting would give them tremendous hope and he needs to perform consistently to take the Kiwis through. They have game-changers such as Jacob Oram, James Franklin, Ross Taylor and Daniel Vettori. All they need to do is get their act together as a team. Their batsmen’s weakness against spin may work against them as their contenders Sri Lanka and West Indies have good spin bowling units.
England: The defending champions were given a serious workout by India and they were tangled in the web of spin. It was a heavy defeat and was probably one of the worst exhibitions of batting against spin in the recent past. Alex Hales, Craig Kieswetter and Luke Wright form a strong top order and they must give England a good launch pad. Steve Finn and Jade Dernbach can produce good spells in these conditions. Graeme Swann must be licking his lips and while his batsmen struggle against tweakers, he would be looking forward to get the better of his opposition with his art.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)