The 2021 edition of the T20 World Cup is all set to be held in the UAE and Oman from October 17 to November 14. The ICC event begins immediately after the conclusion of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021, which is also being held in the UAE. The IPL 2021 final will be played on October 15 in Dubai. The T20 World Cup will start with Round 1, which will see eight teams, including Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, battle it out for four Super 12 spots. The top eight teams automatically qualified for the Super 12s. They are India, Pakistan, Australia, England, West Indies, Afghanistan, South Africa and New Zealand. In the feature, we profile four dark horses of the T20 World Cup.
Yes, Pakistan are no longer as strong as they used to be till the era of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. They have been among the weak sides in international cricket in recent years and haven’t been able to build on their 2017 Champions Trophy win. Too much chopping and changing have proved to be detrimental to their white-ball fortunes. Still, you can never write Pakistan off.
In captain Babar Azam, they have one of the finest batters of the current era. If he gets going, Azam can single-handedly win games for Pakistan. Mohammad Rizwan has been highly impressive in recent times. Their bowling will be led by Shaheen Shah Afridi. Lack of options has meant Pakistan have had to revert to Shoaib Malik and Sarfaraz Ahmed. It is a move that can work either way.
Australia had torrid tours of the West Indies and Bangladesh in the build-up to the T20 World Cup. The tours did not serve many purposes as most of the big names pulled out of the series. As a result, the Windies hammered Australia 4-1. However, it was the loss by the same margin in Bangladesh that was more embarrassing for the Aussies. Even though they were without their main players, Australia were expected to do better.
Despite their poor recent record, teams cannot take Australia lightly at the T20 World Cup. Most of their key players will be back in action at the mega event. Glenn Maxwell has displayed brilliant form in the IPL while Mitchell Marsh has raised his game as an all-rounder. Skipper Aaron Finch and David Warner have the ability to overcome poor form. Also, in Ashton Agar and Adam Zampa, they have spinners who can exploit the conditions in the UAE.
3. South Africa
Like Pakistan, South Africa too are not as strong as they once used to be. As such, it would be a surprise if they make the semis. However, they cannot be completely ruled out. In the likes of Quinton de Kock and Aiden Markram, they have two form batters. David Miller has been retained on the basis of his experience. It is the bowling that could win the Proteas big matches. Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada are excellent in the format while Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi are quality spinners. So, South Africa could make an impression although they are not the same force of the 90s and 2000s.
Yes, Afghanistan are nowhere close to the above-mentioned three teams in terms of experience and quality. But the beauty of T20 cricket is any team can win on a given day even if they are not strong. One super cameo or one brilliant bowling spell is often enough to decide a T20 game. Leggie Rashid Khan would undoubtedly be the biggest weapon in the team’s armoury. Skipper Mohammad Nabi is a quality all-rounder while Hazratullah Zazai and Mohammad Shahzad are reasonably experienced and highly explosive batters. Further, Rahmanullah Gurbaz is an exciting talent and there are a few others who can make their mark. Afghanistan could pull off an upset or two at the T20 World Cup.