Today we continue with our World T20 preview. Thus far we’ve looked at the three favourites: India, Australia and South Africa. I’d like to examine some of the dark horses now. Are New Zealand, England and the West Indies genuine challengers or are they headed for apocalyptic doom?
Let’s start with everyone’s second favourite team, the Kiwis. The bad news, of course, is that Brendon McCullum won’t be playing. He’ll be sitting at home supping pina coladas resting up for May’s IPL. McCullum is the leading scorer in international T20 history, so he’ll obviously be missed.
The good news, however, is that Kane Williamson is a capable skipper who should motivate the troops equally well. What’s more, McCullum hasn’t actually played a T20 for his country for nine months. In his absence New Zealand have actually coped pretty well: they’ve won six of their last eight matches. Not bad at all.
New Zealand also have several very watchable T20 players. The batting should be strong enough and the bowling is quite experienced even without the retired Daniel Vettori. In terms of firepower, I’ve always though Guptill and Ross Taylor were dangerous players. Williamson himself is also capable of moving though the gears. I’m also looking forward to seeing what Henry Nicholls and Colin ‘Matt’ Monro can do.
New Zealand also have a decent attack. We all know about Trent Boult and Tim Southee, but the man to watch could be Adam Milne, who should be one of the quickest bowlers in the tournament. Mitch McClenaghan is a good cricketer too. The Kiwis also have a couple of bums-on-seats all-rounders in Grant Elliott and Corey Anderson.
Having said all that, I actually believe New Zealand might find it tough this time. It’s become quite fashionable to talk up the Kiwis chances before major tournaments, so I’m going to do the opposite (just to be bloody-minded). Their World T20 record is surprisingly poor: they haven’t made it out of the group stage since 2007.
My fear is that Boult and Southee haven’t bowled particularly well in recent weeks. Conditions are also unlikely to suit them. What’s more, I can see their batsmen getting into trouble against high quality spin bowlers (a bit like England’s usually do).
New Zealand’s own spinners aren’t exactly world class either. There’s a lot to like about Nathan McCullum and Co, but there’s no real mystery. Ish Sodhi is an interesting leggie, but like Australia’s Adam Zampa he’s quite inexperienced at international level. He’ll be under a great deal of pressure.
Moving on to the West Indies, I have to admit I’m flummoxed. Of all the teams in this year’s competition, the Windies are probably the hardest to assess. They have enough talent to win the whole tournament (like they did in 2012), but equally I can see them flaming out ingloriously in the group stages in a hurricane of disharmony and hubris.
The positive news is that most of their big guns are available – with the exception of Kieron Pollard, who isn’t fit, and Sunil Narine, whose action sadly isn’t fit for professional cricket. In fact, the Windies have eleven survivors from their victorious 2012 squad. That should give them a great deal of confidence – as will their victory over Australia in their recent warm-up match.
Although I’m not a fan of the West Indies bowling (which clearly lacks match-winners) they still have enough talent to shock the big teams. It’s not all about Chris Gayle either these days. Dwayne Bravo adds talent, experience and a calm head to both the batting and the bowling. Meanwhile there’s more than enough muscular hitters to score competitive totals: Andre Russell, Darren Sammy and particularly Marlon Samuels, we salute you.
Last and probably least, we move on to England – although perhaps I shouldn’t be so downbeat? England do have some exciting players, a knowledgeable coach, and are capable of beating anyone on their day. In fact, the recent defeats to South Africa might work in our favour by lowering expectations somewhat. Everyone knows that England aren’t the finished article yet, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be dangerous.
As we’ve discussed before, England’s main weakness is their seam bowling, which is surely as bad as any major team in the tournament. Steve Finn will be a big miss, and I have very little faith in the likes of Topley, Willey and Jordan. Average bowlers can get away with it to a certain extent in English conditions, where there’s a little swing and seam, but I expect top batsmen to climb into them with relish in India.
Fortunately, however, England’s spinners should fare a little better – although I can’t quite believe I wrote that (it’s the complete opposite in test cricket). I’m still not totally convinced by Adil Rashid, but I can’t deny he’s made good progress. Meanwhile, Moeen Ali might not be the second coming of Jim Laker, but his unflappable temperament should serve him well. Mo averages under thirty with the ball in T20 cricket, and his economy rate is a respectable 7.5.
England’s strength, although I say this with a degree of trepidation, should be our batting. Alex Hales is a good T20 player and is full of confidence at the moment. Jos Buttler should embrace the opportunity to show the world just how talented he is (although I’m not yet convinced he can play high quality spin), while Eoin Morgan is an experienced and reliable player in this format. Then there’s Joe Root, who should provide class and solidity.
The depth of England’s batting is also impressive. It’s ridiculous that someone as gifted as Rashid might be batting as low as ten. There’s also plenty of firepower. If Jason Roy has tightened up his technique a little since South Africa, he could emerge as one of the tournament’s storylines. Then there’s the emerging Ben Stokes, who hasn’t yet announced himself to the Indian market.
The big caveat, however, is that England invariably get tied in knots by spin in major tournaments in this part of the world. We’ve seen it so many times before: our batsmen struggle to read it, look hesitant, get bogged down and eventually implode. Will it be any different this time?
I suggest we simply try to attack from the word go. This can obviously end in two very contrasting ways: glorious victory or dismal capitulation. Our highly encouraging series win against Pakistan in the UAE suggests the former is actually possible this time. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.