Will this year's World Cup be yet another coin-tossing competition or will it live up to the excitement?
Much like with buses in London, you wait five years for a T20 World Cup to show up, just for two to appear in the space of a year. As this is being written the qualifying for the Super 12 stage of the 2022 T20 World Cup is well underway, with outsider nations hoping to qualify to play against the superstars of the cricketing world.
When I wrote about this tournament last year, I spoke of the unpredictability which made the tournament so exciting. The large range of potential winners and the scope for upsets all make it a tournament to keep you on the edge of your seat. It turned out to be quite the opposite. While the result of a game remained unpredictable before it started, the eventual winner became glaringly obvious once the game was underway; no, not once the first ball was bowled or once the first six was hit. The winner was decided once the coin was tossed. An astonishingly disproportionate number of teams won their matches when batting second. The quality of the pitches meant that they quickly deteriorated from lightning-fast bowling-friendly greens to rancid dustbowls that allowed for easy run scoring.
Batting second was key, and while I run the risk of sounding like a salty pom, en route to their victory Australia won six out of seven tosses (choosing to bat second each time) and, as a result, six out of seven matches. The only time they lost the toss was against England in the group stages, a match they would lose by 8 wickets with 50 balls remaining. While his batting left a lot to be desired, it turns out that Aaron Finch’s skill at calling heads or tails alone should have seen him receive player of the tournament. While it is unfair to criticise the Australians for something that was completely out of their hands, the glaring impact of the toss on the outcome of a match severely diminished the excitement that makes T20 cricket what it is.
This year’s tournament will in fact be held in the country of its last victors, Australia. The early qualifying matches look to show good signs of pitch consistency, as there have been a mix of teams batting second and first winning matches. The fact that Australia is a larger cricketing nation than the UAE will also hopefully aid the prevention of poor-quality pitches, with seven venues across Australia being available this year, instead of last year’s four.
In terms of predictions for this year’s tournament, the hosts Australia are the favourites at 11/4 and it is easy to see why. They not only have the number one T20 bowler in the world in the shape of Josh Hazlewood, but also possess other formidable pace bowlers Mitch Starc and Pat Cummins. The Aussies will also rely heavily on an inform David Warner (49.3 average in 2022) at the top of the innings and if they fire on all cylinders, then they will be a force to be reckoned with.
While batting is the money maker of T20 cricket, often it is good bowling attacks which win tournaments. While India have been on an exceptional run of form in T20s since 2021, winning eight out of nine series and drawing the other one, they have been dealt a major blow to their hopes with the injury to Jasprit Bumrah. The form of Virat Kohli (44.1 average in 2022) and Suryakumar Yadav (801 runs in T20s, the most of any batsmen this year) would have given Indian fans hope at winning their first T20 World Cup since its inception in 2007, but they will need to hope that Arshdeep Singh can step up to the plate and fill Bumrah’s shoes.
Similarly to India, England too possess an extremely talented batting line up, especially with the return of Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes. Harry Brook, Dawid Malan, Philip Salt, Alex Hales and Moeen Ali have all been in good form in the lead up to the World Cup, but like India, England appear to be lacking in the bowling department. On the pacey Australian pitches, England will rely on Mark Wood to stem runs in the middle overs and, alongside Adil Rashid, will be crucial to England’s success.
A powerhouse of cricket over the last few years, New Zealand will be coming into the World Cup hoping to go a step further than they managed last year. Unfortunately for them this tournament is coming at a bad time with Kane Williamson in a bit of a slump. While New Zealand have performed adequately in T20 series this year, most of these matches were against outsider nations, in matches against the big nations they performed less well, getting thrashed by South Africa in the warm up matches by nine wickets. If they are to succeed in this tournament Trent Boult will be crucial at the top of the bowling order and Devon Conway (56.5 average in 2022) will need to score big with the bat.
One team that looks set in all areas is South Africa. In the lead up to the tournament David Miller has been enjoying the best year of T20 cricket of his career, averaging over 50 this year, alongside Rillee Rossouw (57.8 average in 2022) and Aiden Markram (54.5 average in 2022) it appears that South Africa have a lot to offer in the batting department. When it comes to the bowlers it must be admitted that they do not appear to be in the same form as they were in 2021, but class is permanent and if Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje and Tabraiz Shamsi can all find form, then the South Africans could be a team to watch in their pursuit of their first international tournament.
Pakistan will still be having nightmares about their loss to Australia in last year’s competition. Having swept away every team in the group stages, they looked set to capture the trophy until Hasan Ali dropped Matthew Wade, who chased down 22 runs in the last 2 overs to knock Pakistan out. Pakistan will be desperate to right this wrong in Australia and still possess two of the most devastating batsmen in T20 cricket, Babar Azam (38.2 average) and Mohammad Rizwan (54.7 average in 2022). In addition, the balance in Pakistan’s squad appears to be there, with genuine quicks Shaheen Shah Afridi and Harris Rauf expected to have a good World Cup.
Overall, I expect both Australia and England to qualify through group A with New Zealand’s lack of T20 form putting them at a severe disadvantage. Group B is slightly harder to call, with India, South Africa and Pakistan all having the potential to go through. It is a difficult decision, and I believe that it will go down to net run rate regardless, but if pushed to come to a decision, it seems that South Africa and Pakistan’s bowling attacks may just give them the edge over India despite their recent form in T20s. Either way it is looking promising that this World Cup will far surpass the last one.