With the second ICC World Twenty20 less than a week away, everyone is wondering who will have the best chance of knocking off defending champion India.
By Peter Della Penna
With the second ICC World Twenty20 less than a week away, everyone is wondering who will have the best chance of knocking off defending champion India. Based on recent form, including performances in the IPL, South Africa is the team to beat. The youthful infusion of talent over the last year is reminiscent of India's team from two years back and will be a major reason why South Africa will be raising the winner's trophy on June 21 at Lord's.
South Africa's selection policy heading into the first World Twenty20 was quite nebulous. On the one hand, they wanted to pick some raw talent and so players like the Morkel brothers were included while Jacques Kallis was controversially dropped. However, this eye towards the future was contradicted by the inclusion of Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini.
This time around, with more time to prepare and a better way of evaluating players best suited to the format, the South Africans are fully loaded.
The top three are loaded with experience in Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Herschelle Gibbs. While Gibbs has been left out of the Test format for more than a year, he is still formidable in the shorter versions of the game. Kallis is back and has shown with the Royal Challengers Bangalore that he is a formidable talent in Twenty20 cricket.
The middle order provides an embarrassment of riches. AB de Villiers scored one of only two centuries in this year's IPL. Unlike Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, JP Duminy was worth every penny that the Mumbai Indians shelled out for him at this year's IPL auction. Albie Morkel was a star in the first World Twenty20 and will continue to be a dual threat. Mark Boucher is no slouch either.
The bowling unit is chock full of Twenty20 performers. Yusuf Abdulla was one of the early finds of this season's IPL. Roelof van der Merwe and Johan Botha tormented the Aussies before the IPL and continued to perform over the last month in South Africa. Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn provide consistent pace for this squad. If anyone falters, 19 year-old Wayne Parnell is more than ready to step up.
Of the players who are missing out from the last time, the key name is Justin Kemp, who kissed his international career goodbye by signing up for the ICL after the first World Twenty20. This will only give Duminy a bigger chance to shine. It's hard to believe that Duminy did not play in every match for South Africa at the first World Twenty20. Then again, Yusuf Pathan only played in one match for India during their title run, scoring 15 runs in the final against Pakistan.
Looking at the other contenders, Australia seems to be a trendy pick, especially since Aussies have been so dominant over the first two years in the IPL. However, the three best Australians in the Twenty20 format won't be donning the green and gold at this tournament. Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist have retired from international duty while the selectors felt Dirk Nannes wasn't good enough to get in ahead of Australia's established list of talented bowlers. So Nannes will be suiting up for his ancestral country of the Netherlands instead. With the exception of David Warner, Australia's roster looks more like a Test or 50-over team than a true Twenty20 squad. The fact that so many players skipped out on the IPL may be great for the Ashes, but not so good for their World Twenty20 preparations. Australia also has a tremendous Twenty20 record at home, but abroad they are abysmal.
England, unsurprisingly are in total disarray. Paul Collingwood was made captain of the Twenty20 team despite giving up the job less than a year ago. They don't seem to know what their best lineup is, with different players being shuffled in and out. Dimitri Mascarenhas is a prime example of this.
New Zealand is full of talent. Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder, Brendon McCullum, Jacob Oram and Daniel Vettori can be great performers. The problem for them is inconsistency. New Zealand is largely made up of hit or miss players. They tend to do much more of the latter.
The West Indies boast one of the most exciting players in any format with Dwayne Bravo. Chris Gayle scored the first ever century in Twenty20 internationals by opening the inaugural World Twenty20 with 117 against South Africa. But his attitude since the beginning of the West Indies tour of England has been poor and it's clear that it has spread to the rest of the team. They didnít make it out of the group stage at the first World Twenty20 and it's doubtful if they can make it out this time either, especially since they are placed in the group of death with Australia and Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is stacked at the top with Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardena and Tillakaratne Dilshan. Lasith Malinga will be well supported by Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis in the bowling department. The question is who will step up to fill in those final four lineup spots. This will also be the first time the team will be playing together since the terrorist attack in Lahore. Winning the World Twenty20 would go a long way towards healing those wounds, but the odds are not in their favor.
Pakistan might pose a great challenge and they certainly hold some of the most talented Twenty20 players on the planet. Shahid Afridi, Umar Gul, Sohail Tanvir and Misbah-ul-Haq form the backbone of their squad. The problem with Pakistan is the overall lack of cricket they have played in the last 18 months.
India's success in the first World Twenty20 was based on giving the next generation a chance to shine. The tag team of captain and vice-captain, MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh, guided them throughout the tournament in South Africa. Batting will not be an issue, especially with the addition of Suresh Raina to this year's squad. The pressure will be on the bowling to succeed. Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha come in at the expense of Ajit Agarkar, Joginder Sharma and Piyush Chawla from the title-winning team of 2007.
Of the minnows, the Netherlands looks to have the best chance of making a splash in this tournament. If they can get enough support for Nannes and Ryan ten Doeschate, England could wind up with egg on their face as the Netherlands and Pakistan advance while the host country watches the rest of the tourney on the telly.
Ireland and Bangladesh will have to duke it out with India. With Ireland having their top talent raided by England, specifically Ed Joyce and, most recently, Eoin Morgan, Bangladesh seems better placed to advance. Meanwhile Scotland is coming off an unconvincing performance in the World Cup Qualifiers in South Africa where they barely managed to hold on to ODI status. It's hard to see them be anything but cannon fodder for New Zealand and South Africa.
South Africa's biggest issue seems to be figuring out who to sit out for each match. In their 15-man squad, Justin Ontong and Robin Peterson will have permanent spots warming the bench through the two weeks. But Abdulla and Parnell deserve to play. It is going to be hard being twelfth man on this team. However, this is not the worst problem to have and such depth should see South Africa all the way to the finish line.
(Peter Della Penna can be contacted through Twitter @DPMilGaya.)