On the 23rd October, the most unpredictable of international cricket tournaments will commence. Over the course of the next three weeks, cricket lovers will be treated to big hitting and tense finishes as twelve teams from around the World battle it out for international T20 supremacy. Amongst the front runners for the tournament are India (11/4) and England (9/2), but in a competition where giant killings are common place, you can never count on a favourite. Throughout this article I will consider some of the favourites’ short comings and outline why outsiders like South Africa (14/1) and Pakistan (10/1) should instead be seen as the front runners for the tournament.
The first question to consider when pondering a potential winner is the quality of the pitches. Previously believed to be a dust bowl, the first few qualifying matches have highlighted that the pitches are actually very green. Seamers such as Bangladesh’s Mustafizur Rahman and Scotland’s Josh Davey are amongst a few of the seamers who have already enjoyed success in the qualifying period. As the tournament progresses, the pitches quality will begin to deteriorate and that is when the spinners will begin to come into their own.
Unlike most T20 tournaments I believe that this rendition will be dominated by the bowling, with scores of over 160 being very competitive. Therefore, it is the teams with the best mix of express pace and quality spin that will dominate. Look no further than South Africa, who not only possess the #1 T20 bowler in the world in left arm spinner Tabraiz Shamsi, with 28 wickets in 2021 (25/1 top wicket taker), but also have two 90+ mph, experienced IPL bowlers through Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje. Keshav Maharaj and Lungi Ngidi are equally as capable with the ball. In the batting front, South Africa are not short of talent either, with long term keeper Quinton De Kock enjoying a fine year with an average of 56, as well as David Miller who’s enjoying his best season in over a decade, averaging 47 in 2021. Rassie Van Der Dussen also capped off an impressive set of warm up matches with an excellent 101* against Pakistan. Van Der Dussen has long threatened to be a world-beating batsmen; if he can come into his own in the tournament, then he could be a good shout for top run scorer at 66/1.
The other teams in group A, England, Australia (15/2) and West Indies (13/2) are both seen as having a better chance than South Africa. This does seem strange considering Australia are in the midst of a dismal run in T20I, losing their last five series, while the West Indies may also find themselves in trouble in the tournament with a poor supply of T20 bowlers, especially after the emission of Sunil Narine who enjoyed a fantastic IPL campaign. If South Africa can overcome their tournament jitters, that have always hindered them in the past, then they could be a major contender for the tournament and at the long odds of 16/1, are definitely worth a punt.
Another outsider to consider is Pakistan. Surprisingly, Pakistan find themselves at 10/1 for the tournament despite having played most of their cricket in the UAE over the last few years, making this more or less a home tournament for them. As well as this, Pakistan have enjoyed a fantastic 2021 losing only one T20I series, away to England. Amongst their star players are of course their Captain Babar Azam but surprisingly Babar is not the star batsmen heading into the tournament. Mohammad Rizwan has enjoyed an astonishing 2021, scoring 752 runs in 14 matches at an average of 94, the most T20I runs ever in a calendar year. Keep an eye out for him as top run scorer in the tournament (20/1). Pace bowlers Shaheen Shah Afridi and Hasan Ali, the latter taking 18 wickets in 2021 at an average of 14, will also bolster Pakistan’s chances. Backed up by experienced spinners Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan, Pakistan will be a force to be reckoned with in this tournament and will represent a challenge for any team. India and Pakistan will kick off Group B on the 24th October in what promises to be a thrilling match, watched by over a billion people around the world.
Amongst the other teams to keep an eye on in Group B are New Zealand (7/1), whose exceptional bowling attack will make them a strong contender for the tournament, with Lockie Ferguson definitely being a good pick for top wicket taker (20/1). India will have a hard time against two teams (Pakistan and New Zealand), whom they have a history of struggling against in major tournaments. Afghanistan (66/1) will also be looking to cause an upset and are more than capable with two fantastic spinners of their own in Rashid Khan and Mujeed ur Rahman. Pakistan’s experience on UAE pitches gives them a definite edge going into what, in my eyes, appears to be the harder of the two groups. It will be interesting to see who qualifies, but don’t be surprised if India fails to progress in a tournament which hasn’t been kind to them since they last won it in 2007.
England are heading into the tournament as reigning champions in the One Day World Cup and are bidding to become the first dual holders of short form World Cups. Despite being second favourite for the tournament, only behind India, English players have displayed poor form in recent T20 tournaments, with the likes of Liam Livingston and Eoin Morgan performing dismally in the IPL and star men such as Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow missing out on the IPL due to fatigue. Despite Dawid Malan’s ranking as the #1 T20 batsmen in the world he has also struggled this year, with an average of only 26 in 11 matches. In a tournament where scores over 160 will be competitive, England will miss the likes of Joe Root, who was key to England’s run to the final in 2016 and could have acted as an anchor for the team in making sure at least a par score of 140 is reached. England’s batting-heavy line up may struggle if run scoring is difficult and bowling becomes the key to winning matches.
In conclusion, I believe that in looking for the potential winners of the tournament it would be wise to look outside of the tournament favourites and turn attention towards outsiders such as Pakistan and South Africa. While the depth of India’s squad makes them a formidable side, their tournament record against both Pakistan and New Zealand could be their undoing and could see them go out at the Super 12s. Either way, the upcoming tournament remains extremely exciting as a whole host of teams stand a chance at lifting the trophy on the 14th November.