Stars to set the World T20 alight . . . . reports Debdoot Das
Predicting the ultimate winner of the upcoming World Twenty20 could be as risky as guessing the London weather, but it requires no rocket science to conclude that the champions’ campaign would be propelled by some electrifying star performances.
Not only the winner, every side in the March 15-April 3 cricket extravaganza has players who have the potential to emerge as heroes in the battle between the willow and the leather.
For India — the hosts who won the inaugural edition of the tournament back in 2007 — top-order talisman Virat Kohli is on a scoring spree of late. The aggressive man has struck four 50s in his last seven T20 outings with an unbeaten 90 against Australia being the cherry on the cake.
The Delhi boy would be raring to carry his brilliant form into the World T20 and help his side better the runners-up finish in the previous edition.
Teammate Rohit Sharma has a somewhat incredible up-and-down graph. He might delightfully smash a delivery right into the stands, but could end up edging the next ball behind the wicket.
He has, however, come off age in the last year and a half and India would require his services to win the trophy again. In the previous five editions, Rohit batted in 20 innings where he has made 585 runs at an impressive average of 48.75.
Youngsters Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya have it in them to shine with the ball. The former has been difficult to pick because of his action and has reaped rich rewards for it. On the other hand, Pandya can hit the long ball and is a spritely fielder who latches on to anything that flies around.
If neighbours Pakistan, who arrived for the tournament after a lot of hoopla, are to win, their fast bowler Mohammad Amir has to deliver. The left-arm seamer, who returned to international cricket after a five-year ban for spot fixing, has taken the world by storm.
Be it a hat-trick in the Pakistan Super League (PSL), or cleaning up Rohit and Ajinkya Rahane against India in the Asia Cup, he has done everything right and will be Pakistan’s trump card for the tournament.
Coming to Australia, who have never won this title before, one would look up to captain Steve Smith to lead the charge. Smith is a brilliant player of spin and therefore would be the fulcrum of the Australian batting. All-rounder James Faulkner could also be quite a handful with his slower deliveries on the flat-belters.
Defending champions Sri Lanka look a depleted outfit, especially after the retirement of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara who were instrumental in their triumph in Bangladesh two years back.
If the islanders are to replicate their success, all-rounder Angelo Mathews has to play a key role. He is a wily cricketer who plans according to situations. Though his teammate Lasith Malinga has lost a bit of his sharpness of late, he loves the world stage. And if he is fit, the man with the ever changing hairstyle can indeed be lethal with his yorkers.
For England, Alex Hales might be the show-stealer. If Hales fires more often than not and with the likes of Joe Root to support him, the 2010 winners could make the last four. Hales has an average of 33.94 in the format with a strike rate of 135.12.
The West Indies, who dominated world cricket in the 1970s, had won the trophy back in 2012 and they have a team to go the distance this time as well. However, their talisman Chris Gayle needs to be at his best. The burly Jamaican is capable of turning a game on its head with a few huge hits into the stands.
The World T20 has eluded South Africa and this time they would want to grab it at any cost. AB de Villiers and spinner Imran Tahir would have to play key roles if they are to win. The likes of all-rounders JP Duminy and David Miller, who have been part of Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises, can be a handful too.
For New Zealand, who played the final of the 50-over World Cup last year, Brendon McCullum’s loss would be irreplaceable. Captain Kane Williamson would not only have to be a major contributor, he has to bind the team together with his words too.
In the last year or so Bangladesh have been impressive. The unfancied ‘Tigers’ have the likes of pacer Mustafizur Rahman and all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan who can grab the limelight at the big stage.