T20 World Cup up for grabs
Ian Callender (Belfast Telegraph)
IT IS, by common consent, the most open global event in ICC history with at least half of the 12 teams capable of winning the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, which gets under way tomorrow. And, for the first time, the two qualifiers can play a significant part.
Ireland and Afghanistan proved in the qualifying tournament in the UAE, last March, they were head and shoulders above the rest of the non-Full members and produced one of the highest quality matches ever seen at Associate level in the final.
They have continued to impress in the warm-up games in Colombo with Ireland going into their final match, against Bangladesh today, with a record of three wins out of three and Afghanistan, a much later arrival, making 209 for seven in their opening match against Sri Lanka A to announce they will also be no-push-overs. They played West Indies today.
ICC High Performance manager Richard Done and Global Development Manager Tim Anderson have both arrived in Sri Lanka with expectations of two wins from the teams' four games, with Done going further and saying that either Ireland or Afghanistan could even top their group.
Ireland, as winners of the qualifying tournament, were put into Group B alongside Australia and West Indies while Afghanistan would appear to have the harder task of facing England, the holders, and India, who won the ICC World Cup on home soil last year.
The Afghans, who were watched by England coaches Andy Flower and Graham Gooch in their warm-up game on Saturday, will be wary of the Asians who threaten to be another banana skin. In 2009, England lost the opening game of the tournament to the Netherlands and in 2010 only rain denied Ireland victory in a game which, had it reached its conclusion, would have seen the eventual winners eliminated.
Assuming they do not slip up when the teams meet on Friday, England have a No 1 ranking in the shortest form of the game to live up to, although because of the limited number of matches played in this format, even by the top teams, no-one takes too much notice of them, as England captain Stuart Broad admitted in his pre-tournament press conference.
India, for example, are currently seventh after losing to New Zealand but no-one seriously believes there are six better teams than MS Dhoni's talented side where the great Virender Sehwag can win a Twenty20 match on his own.
Indeed, a look through the line-ups shows every team, bar none, with an opening batsman who could be a match winner. New Zealand's Brendon McCollum goes into the tournament as the No 1 ranked T20 batsman, ahead of West Indian Chris Gayle with Australia's David Warner in fourth.
Paul Stirling, already moving into the world class category, can be Ireland's answer in the group stages to Gayle and Warner, while in Group C, Richard Levi is South Africa's new big-hitting star at the top of the order and he will come up against Tillakaratne Dilshan of Sri Lanka and Hamilton Mazakadza who will aim to give rank outsiders Zimbabwe a fast start.
Pakistan are ranked to finish top of Group D, ahead of New Zealand and Bangladesh although they will be more reliant on their bowling than most with four, including new number one Saeed Ajmal, in the top 20.
Bangladesh struggled to get past Ireland in two of three matches in Belfast in July and it looks a huge ask for them to force either Pakistan or New Zealand out at the group stage for the first time in this the fourth World Twenty20.
The format is unchanged from 2010 with the top two in each group going through to the Super Eights (September 27-October 2). Points are not carried forward and the top two at the second stage go through to the semi finals (October 4-5). The final will take place in the Premadasa Stadium, the venue for both Ireland's group games, on Sunday October 7.