The ICC World T20 gets underway on Sunday in Bangladesh, and whilst the big boys of world cricket don’t come out to play until Friday, the tournament promises much from its first week.
This time around, the format is changed, as there is essentially an elimination series before the tournament ‘proper’ begins. It sees the smaller affiliate teams in world cricket face off to win the chance to compete against the world’s best, and with such high stakes, expect thrills aplenty.
There are two groups vying for two spots in the 2nd stage, and group B is where the action looks to be most even. It contains Ireland, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe. Only one of them will qualify into Group 1, which contains England, New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka – but who will do it?
Ireland are the favourites to come out of this group – on paper, at least. They qualified well, winning the qualifier final to ensure they’d be placed in Zimbabwe’s group and not with the hosts Bangladesh. Ireland’s batting line up is very strong, as shown by that qualifying final where they posted 225/7 against Afghanistan – all that without Niall O’Brien and Ed Joyce, two of their more prominent batsmen. In their recent two match T20 series in the West Indies, they recorded an excellent win and a narrow defeat.
Where Ireland struggle most is their bowling – they can post a decent total with the bat, but they can struggle to defend it. George Dockrell is the man they’ll need to fire with the ball, and the 21-year-old Somerset spinner will need to restrict runs if Ireland are to defend their totals – particularly if they are to qualify to the tournament’s latter stages. William Porterfield and Paul Stirling look likely to open the batting, and they are more than capable of providing a good platform for the rest of the innings. Ireland’s progress relies on the bowlers bringing their standard up to that of their batsman. They are favourites to take the group’s top spot.
Also in contention however are the Netherlands, but the Oranje are will be without Ryan ten Doeschate, who has opted to continue his T20 exploits in New Zealand. Netherlands supporters will be hoping that the World Cup inspires their team on to greater heights than the warm up games have, after being beaten by Hong Kong and Afghanistan. The game against Hong Kong in particular was disastrous, as the Oranje were skittled for 73 off just thirteen overs chasing 158.
Captain Peter Borren top scored in that match with 20, and the skipper will need to lead from the front if the Netherlands are to have any chance of progression. Wesley Barresi is a solid wicketkeeper batsman, and has hit a knock of 75 not out – something he may be required to replicate if the rest of the team continues to fail to find their form. The Netherland’s may find it tough, but they have the potential to cause an upset in the group standings.
The United Arab Emirates are the third team in Group B, and also the lowest ranked. But don’t let that take away from the remarkable effort it has taken the UAE to get to this tournament after 18 years in the international tournament wilderness. The semi-professional squad is quite literally batting above its average, and performed very well in qualifying. Their warm up games have consisted of a victory against Hong Kong - who let’s not forget battered the UAE’s fellow group B member the Netherlands – and a narrow defeat against Bangladesh. They will go into this group as underdogs, but they are on good form and you’d bank on them causing a couple of upsets.
They will need big performances if they are to do that however, and they have a couple of men capable of producing them. Opener Amjad Ali has played three T20 games and scored 164 runs at over a run-and-a-half a ball. He is a potent threat at the top of the order for UAE, and his opening partner Faizad Asif has produced knocks of 41 and 31 leading into the team’s opening fixture on Monday afternoon against the Netherlands. UAE will fancy that, and if their big players deliver, don’t bet against them in this group.
The final team from group B is Zimbabwe, who will come into this tournament after months of turmoil off the pitch. They haven’t played international cricket in any format since September, thanks to the financial crisis that has gripped their nation. Series against both Sri Lanka and Afghanistan have been cancelled, and domestically a players’ striker caused chaos. But, Zimbabwe will hope it’s all behind them. Because of the lack of preparation, Zimbabwe are something of an unknown quantity, but their side unquestionably has talent.
Most notably captain Brendan Taylor, who will really need to stand up as a leader to get Zimbabwe through an unquestionably tricky group. Taylor has experience and ability in abundance, and he made his name in this competition in the famous Zimbabwe victory over Australia in Cape Town in 2007. From then on, it’s been downhill for Zimbabwe in the T20 form, but they could be dark horses to repeat their 2007 heroics.
If Group B promises anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Any team can beat each other in the group, and whilst Ireland head into the group as favourites, in Twenty20 cricket anything can happen.
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