T20 World Cup: Battle Down Under

This tournament comes only a year after the last one in the UAE



By Sumit Chakraberty

Published: Sat 15 Oct 2022, 11:55 PM

Last updated: Sun 16 Oct 2022, 8:45 AM

World Cups Down Under are different. For one thing, folks on the sub-continent and in the Middle East will tune in to watch matches in the morning and afternoon, instead of in the evening after work. And they will be tuning in for sure, even if this T20 World Cup comes only a year after the last one in the UAE, because Australian pitches are pacy and bouncy, ideal for adrenaline-pumping cricket.

Fast bowlers and leg-spinners revel in these conditions, but wily finger-spinners can also use the large Aussie grounds to snaffle batsmen taking the aerial route, with catches in the deep. At the same time, attractive strokemakers like Rohit Sharma and Jos Buttler will turn the speed at which the ball comes to their advantage. Those adept at horizontal bat shots like the pull and slash will thrive more than those presenting a straight bat.

Which are the teams with the arsenal in batting and bowling to revel Down Under and come out on top? Who are the batsmen and bowlers likely to light up the 2022 T20 World Cup? Here’s our pick and why:

Top 5 teams

Australia: Home Advantage

They’re used to playing on fast, bouncy tracks, and that’s a big advantage. The Aussie fast-bowling trio is as experienced as it gets: the left-armer Mitchell Starc who can rattle batsmen with bodyline bowling and then take them out with yorkers; the world’s No.1 bowler in Tests, Pat Cummins, desperate to make a bigger mark in the shorter formats; and the metronomic Josh Hazlewood whose T20 performances have improved by leaps and bounds over the past year-and-a-half. And the diminutive leg-spinner Adam Zampa is a perfect foil for the tall fast bowlers.

The experienced David Warner leads a familiar batting lineup, but there’s an exciting addition in big-hitter Tim David who was playing in Singapore and T20 leagues before being roped in for Australia’s World Cup campaign. As for wicketkeeper-batsman Matthew Wade, who almost hung up his gloves last year, he continues his merry way after helping Australia emerge unlikely champions in the UAE. The only catch is the form of Aaron Finch, which almost suggests a non-playing skipper role for him.

Pakistan: Fast & Furious

Pakistan have always been an exciting, unpredictable team. But under the calm captaincy of Babar Azam, soothing nerves with his classy batting, they look a more assured side and it shows in improved performances over the past couple of years. They seemed on track to win the last T20 World Cup, but Matthew Wade stole it from them, smacking pace spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi for three consecutive sixes in the 19th over of the semi-final in Dubai.

The six-foot-six-inch left-arm speedster, who looked likely to miss this World Cup with a knee injury, claims to be rehabilitated and rearing to go in Pakistan’s first match against India in Melbourne on October 23. Indian fans will remember only too vividly how he took out openers Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul in his first two overs exactly a year earlier in Dubai. But he’s not the only one they’ll worry about. Nineteen-year-old Naseem Shah has been a sensation this year with 150 kmph rockets homing in unerringly.

With Azam and his opening partner Mohammad Rizwan among the top-ranked T20 batsmen currently, Pakistan have what it takes to reprise Imran Khan’s feat in 1992 of winning a World Cup Down Under. They have a point to prove after tripping in Dubai.

India: Batting Powerhouse

It used to be said that India’s batsmen and Pakistan’s bowlers would be world beaters. It appears like that in this World Cup, with Pakistan’s array of fast bowlers matched by India’s string of sparkling batsmen, each of whom can be a match-winner on his day. But the pacy Melbourne pitch favours the former in the marquee opening encounter.

It makes one scratch one’s head and wonder why India went into this World Cup with a bevy of medium-pacers. To be fair to the selectors, Avesh Khan and Mohammed Siraj went off the boil this year, and Prasidh Krishna got injured. But it’s hard to fathom why the experienced and pacy Mohammed Shami, a force behind Gujarat Titans winning the IPL title, has played no part in India’s T20 plans this year. Now he comes in as a likely last-minute replacement for the injured spearhead Jasprit Bumrah. Wouldn’t it be a new page in the “glorious uncertainty of cricket” if Shami emerges as India’s World Cup hero, given his propensity to strike with the new ball? That would be a get-out-of-jail card for the new coach, Rahul Dravid, and new skipper, Rohit Sharma.

England: The New Deal

England’s new deal reform began after being booted unceremoniously out of the 2015 ODI World Cup Down Under by Bangladesh. Eoin Morgan’s men got a licence to hit, and they transformed limited overs batting, making anchors look antediluvian. One of the agents of that change, Jos Buttler, has now taken over the captaincy and leads from the front as an opener. The elimination of Jonny Bairstow from that firebreathing batting lineup, after twisting his leg on a golf course in a PG Wodehouse sort of scenario, is no joke for Buttler. But in his place comes Alex Hales, like the spy who came in from the cold. Hales was banished in 2019 for his attachment to recreational drugs and plied his trade in the Big Bash league in Australia. Now he will be Buttler’s partner at the top.

In the 150-kmph-plus speed of Mark Wood and the two-metre height of left-arm pacer Reece Topley, England have firepower to match Australia and Pakistan. Leg-spinner Adil Rashid and all-rounders Chris Woakes, Ben Stokes, David Willey, and Moeen Ali give the team great depth. The current ODI champions can set the record straight after Graham Gooch’s men lost to Pakistan in the 1992 ODI World Cup final Down Under.

South Africa: Dark Horse

South Africa have always looked like a team that could win a World Cup, right from 1992 when they came out of apartheid to compete in the ODI World Cup Down Under. A now defunct rain rule that required them to score 21 runs in one ball after a sudden truncation in their semi-final robbed them of a win over England. Similar misfortunes have dogged them in both ODI and T20 World Cups since. But as ever, they remain strong contenders, especially in Australia where the Proteas pace attack will be second to none. Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Wayne Parnell, and Marco Jansen are going to be quite a handful on the bouncy tracks of Perth, Melbourne, and Brisbane.

Two new batsmen in the squad, Rilee Rossouw and Tristan Stubbs, who attracted the highest bids in South Africa’s new T20 league auction last month, will add to the already familiar hitting prowess of Quinton de Kock, David Miller, and Aiden Markram. IPL fans will remember that Miller played a key hand in Gujarat Titans winning the title this year. Three of these five batsmen are left-handers, who are somehow always more exciting to watch.

Like hosts Australia, however, South Africa have a problem at the top of the order in skipper Temba Bavuma, who is woefully out of form. With so many crackling batsmen in the wings, like Reeza Hendricks and Heinrich Klaasen, perhaps here too there’s a case for a non-playing captain.

Top 5 Bowlers

Mitchell Starc

The Aussie spearhead had a forgettable T20 World Cup last year in the UAE, but it will likely be different at home. A tall left-armer who can move the new ball at high speed will challenge most batsmen on Aussie pitches. He’s a wicket-taker and can transform a match in a matter of a few balls at any stage. Australia’s hopes of lifting the trophy will depend a lot on the injury-prone Mitchell Starc staying fit through the tournament.

He’s also a feisty character who brings some of the old Aussie in-your-face attitude to the field. The latest instance was a threat to run out Jos Buttler when he was taking a start at the non-striker’s end — sort of a reprisal for Buttler making a song and dance over not appealing for obstruction against Matthew Wade.

Naseem Shah

Naseem Shah is the find of the year for Pakistan, becoming the youngest fast bowler in Test history to take a five-wicket haul. The 19-year-old tearaway speedster clocks 150 kmph without losing control. He has a whippy action reminiscent of Waqar Yunus. But Yunus himself says his action reminds him of Aussie legend Dennis Lillee.

Shah actually made his Test debut in 2019 in Brisbane, Australia, where his first scalp was David Warner. Thereafter he was sidelined with injury before making a strong comeback this year, spearheading the Pakistan attack in the absence of the injured Shaheen Shah Afridi. Now he may get a chance to bowl alongside the tall Pashtun on pace-friendly pitches. It promises to be heady stuff.

Reece Topley

Tall left-arm pacers tend to do well on bouncy tracks and in Reece Topley, England have a six-foot-seven-incher for the role. While Mark Wood works up an express speed at the other end, Topley is the one more likely to nick right-handed batsmen out with away-going deliveries. In July this year, he took six for 24 in an ODI against India.

Topley first came into the limelight as a 15-year-old for the wrong reason. Former England captain Kevin Pietersen smashed a ball straight back at the youngster in a net session, hitting him on the side of his head and sending him to hospital. Now it may be Topley’s turn to make batsmen hop. With Joffra Archer still missing from action, England will hope the Topley-Wood combination works just like the Afridi-Shah opening pair for Pakistan.

Kagiso Rabada

The easy flowing action of the South African speedster reminds one of the great Caribbean fast bowler Michael Holding. Kagiso Rabada has somewhat belied expectations after becoming the youngest bowler to take 150 wickets in Tests at the age of 23. He has been plagued by niggles, and often bowls within himself. But South Africa will hope that he goes flat out in this T20 World Cup being played in conditions that suit his style of bowling.

He’s now an experienced campaigner, having played leading roles in IPL franchises, apart from spearheading the South Africa attack in all formats of the game. He’s surrounded by a bunch of good fast bowlers in the current Proteas World Cup squad and at 27, he’s at the right age to hit his peak performance.

Rashid Khan

Afghanistan’s role will be that of a spoiler and the man who can fulfill that is the 24-year-old leg-spinner Rashid Khan. His quick action and delivery speed force batsmen to play back or from the crease, which proves their undoing if they can’t pick his googlies and other variations. He has excelled in T20 leagues around the world, and although batsmen have gotten more used to him by now, he’s still a constant threat. And even if a team decides to play out his four overs safely, they end up losing wickets as they take risks against other bowlers. That was a contributory factor in Gujarat Titans winning the IPL title this year.

Rashid Khan is the reason Afghanistan pre-qualified for the Super 12 stage of the World Cup, ahead of Asia Cup champions Sri Lanka and two-time T20 world champions West Indies. He’s always fun to watch and a man for the big occasion.

Top 5 Batsmen

Suryakumar Yadav

His breath-taking 117 in 55 balls to bring India close to chasing down a mammoth England total of 215 in Nottingham in July prompted comparisons to the magic of AB de Villiers. He has mastered the scoop, ramp, and uppercut to become a so-called 360-degree player. His 69 in 36 balls recently clinched a home series against Australia, followed by two fifties against South Africa. Suryakumar Yadav is currently No.2 in the T20 batting ranks.

The No.4 slot in the Indian team has been a revolving door, but Yadav appears to have cemented his position there at long last. The 32-year-old was a late entrant to the Indian T20 team last year, but his strike rate of 179 with an average of 39 in 34 matches since then sets him up for a stellar World Cup.

Mohammad Rizwan

The top-ranked T20 batsman currently, Mohammad Rizwan is as much a pocket-sized dynamo for Pakistan as David Warner is for Australia. His opening partner and skipper Babar Azam is the classier batsman, playing with silken grace. But it’s Rizwan who is the risk-taker at the top getting Pakistan off to flying starts.

The wicketkeeper-batsman’s role model is former Aussie star Adam Gilchrist. But the pickup shot off his legs that he uses to such good effect is more like a right-handed version of Sanath Jayasuriya of Sri Lanka who was one of the pioneers of exploiting the field restrictions at the start of limited overs matches.

Tim David

Born in Singapore to Australian parents, Tim David did his schooling in Western Australia and tried to make it as a cricketer there. But when he didn’t make the cut, he moved back home and played for Singapore and T20 leagues. The six-foot-five-inch-tall batsman’s big-hitting caught the eye of Mumbai Indians who paid Rs82.5 million for him in the 2022 IPL auction. That and his exploits in other leagues prompted Australia to poach him for the World Cup under liberal ICC rules.

Now he’s an X factor in the late order, capable of turning a match around in the space of a few balls. Andrew Symonds was a late entrant to Australia’s 2003 ODI World Cup side and proved to be a match-winner. David may well do the same to help Australia lift the T20 World Cup trophy at home.

David Miller

David Miller’s T20 career had a huge revival in this year’s IPL where he shifted to the new franchise, Gujarat Titans, led by Hardik Pandya. He had been a virtuoso hitter, who famously quoted his father coaching him, “If it’s in the arc, it’s out of the park; if it’s in the vee, it’s in the tree.” But being in and out of franchise and national teams, and moving up and down the order, didn’t help him settle. At Gujarat Titans, he was valued with an assured position and it all clicked.

Now he’s one of the most dangerous hitters in T20 cricket, who can go deep at an express strike rate. Miller has to do what he did for the Titans if South Africa are to win their maiden World Cup title. He’s ready and capable.

Jos Buttler

The England wicketkeeper-batsman also found his mojo in the IPL for Rajasthan Royals. Now he’s England’s skipper and also responsible for getting the team off to a flier in the powerplay. But Buttler is not just a swashbuckling hitter. He has matured to play a waiting game if the situation demands it and go big in the latter half of his innings. England have a policy of attacking under all conditions and in all situations, but Buttler has earned the right to be adaptive.

The pace and bounce of Australian wickets will suit his hitting, which was evident in his 68 off 32 balls in Perth and 65 in 41 balls at Canberra in England’s 2-0 triumph over Australia in a T20 series just before the World Cup. Captaincy doesn’t seem to have crimped his batting, which will be one of the highlights through this World Cup. He was the highest run-scorer in IPL 2022, with 863 runs at a strike rate of 149, and could well be the top gun Down Under too.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru. Write to him at chakraberty@gmail.com


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