2020 hit the world of sports like a ton of bricks!
Almost every major league and international tournaments were postponed, while some of the showpiece events had to be cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The cricketing world too felt the wrath of it, with the much-awaited 2020 T20 World Cup, which was scheduled to take place from October 18 to November 15 in Australia, being postponed to 2022.
It came as a huge disappointment to the cricketing fraternity, but there were some top teams who were underprepared and wouldn't have fared well if the competition would have happened as per schedule. Sides like South Africa, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh would have struggled in terms of team combination, while England, Australia and India would have gone into the tournament as the red-hot favourites.
Here, we look at how the top-10 teams are shaping up for the 2021 edition of the T20 World Cup, to be held in October-November in India.
Where they are: "We know if we play our best game of cricket we can beat most teams which is not an arrogant thing to say, it’s where we’re at." Ben Stokes isn't wrong, especially considering England haven't lost a single T20I series since October 2018. England unarguably have the most settled unit when it comes to white-ball cricket. They have got a fantastic captain and finisher in Eoin Morgan, while the top-ranked T20I batsman Dawid Malan has already stamped his authority in a short span of time.
Then you add Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Jason Roy, Jofra Archer, Adil Rashid, and a few more into the mix, England have some solid white-ball players. The Curran brothers are already established performers, while Chris Jordan is their leading wicket-taker in this format. Such is the strength of the side, that players like Joe Root, Alex Hales, Sam Billings, and many more simply can't break into the playing XI.
What needs to be done: Having lost to West Indies in the 2016 World T20 final, Morgan and Co. will look to redeem themselves in the 2021 edition. England won the 2019 World Cup almost with the same group of players but they would be aware of the fact that they could have easily been knocked out in the group stage itself. The T20 format is full of uncertainties and England will have to be on top of their game every time they walk out to the field. They also have a problem of plenty and would want to bring some stability in terms of selection.
Where they are: Australia recently lost a T2OI series against India but the Aaron Finch-led side can never be written off. In Finch and David Warner, Australia have a fierce opening combination, while Steve Smith has transformed himself into a different beast altogether when it comes to limited-overs cricket. But, Marcus Stoinis and Glenn Maxwell are real game-changers in that batting department.
In bowling, Mitchell Starc has always brought his A-game in the showpiece events. Australia also have two quality spinners - Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar - in their arsenal and they could prove to be handy in India. However, what makes Australia a balanced T20I outfit is the number of quality allrounders they possess.
What needs to be done: The five-time World Cup winners have never lifted the T20 World Cup. Australia can beat any team on their day, but the team management would be wary of their pace department. Apart from Starc, they don't have pacers who could be trusted in crunch situations. Pat Cummins and Jos Hazlewood are world-class performers but they might not enjoy bowling on the Indian surfaces. They have decent bench strength but they are yet to be tested. India exploited exactly that in the T20I series and something similar could happen in the next year's event, which might lead to their downfall.
Where they are: Of late, the Men in Blue have been in superb form in the shortest format of the game. India have won 30 of their last 46 T20Is and lost only 12. They are slowly starting to get their combination right. In Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli, India have a formidable top-order. Meanwhile, Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja's batting has grown by leaps and bounds. The two were outstanding against Australia and could prove to be India's X-Factors in the T20 World Cup.
The emergence of left-arm seamer T Natarajan has given India that much-needed variety and his presence will also take some pressure off Jasprit Bumrah. The likes of Yuzvendra Chahal, Washington Sundar and Kuldeep Yadav would surely enjoy the home advantage and so would India who would be looking to become the first team to win the T20 World Cup on their home soil.
What needs to be done: They are heading in the right direction but India still need to make a few changes to get their combination right and they have got all the required ingredients. India will have to find a way to fit in the likes of Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan and Rishabh Pant into the scheme of things and form a middle-order around them. They would also need Hardik to start bowling as they can't go with just five bowling options. Players like Hardik, Jadeja and Sundar are going to be crucial because they bring that much-needed balance.
India will be under a lot of pressure considering they haven't won a global tournament since 2013. Two T20 World Cups, two 50-over World Cups and the 2017 Champions Trophy, India have made it to the knockouts every single time but have failed to go all the way. It would be interesting to see how Kohli and Co. tackle that in the next tournament.
Where they are: “We are amongst four teams who could win the tournament alongside England, Australia and India." There's a reason why Imad Wasim came up with this statement. Pakistan would surely enjoy the subcontinent conditions and have always been known for punching above their weight in world events. Not so long ago, Pakistan were the top-ranked T20I side but have slid down to No. 4 in the last few months. Their batting revolves around Babar Azam and Mohammad Hafeez, while their bowling too lacks a bit of firepower. They have only won eight of their last 19 completed T20Is, with the majority of those coming against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
What needs to be done: Pakistan would want their young guns - Khushdil Shah and Haider Ali - to step up and offer good support to Babar and Hafeez. The latter two however will have to be at their absolute best if Pakistan want to do well in the World Cup. Pakistan, who have the worst scoring rate (7) in the Powerplay amongst the top-10 teams since 2019, need some firepower at the top-order. The likes of Shadab Khan and Imad are utility players, while Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf are growing in stature, but Pakistan need big-match players like Mohammad Amir who surprisingly announced his retirement from international cricket. For now, Pakistan are realistically not in a position to win the tournament.
Where they are: The Proteas would have struggled big time if the T20 World Cup would have gone as scheduled. The last 12-15 months have been a mess for Cricket South Africa, largely because of off-field issues. Quinton de Kock is one of the best limited-overs batsmen going around but of late there has been a lot of pressure on him. The wicketkeeper-batsman is the face of South African cricket but they can't keep burdening him with extra responsibilities. South Africa have lost their last three T20I series and would need to fix lots of things to get back on track.
What needs to be done: What do South Africa need? Well, they need AB de Villiers! Don't get us wrong, Faf du Plessis, Rassie van der Dussen, Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi and Kagiso Rabada are world-class players but de Villiers is in a league of his own. The 36-year-old has been a consistent performer for Royal Challengers Bangalore and his presence in the middle-order would boost South Africa. It's highly likely that de Villiers would come out of retirement for the World Cup, but South Africa would also need their young talents to step up when the time comes.
Where they are: The Black Caps might not match the firepower of England and India but they have a history of doing well in showpiece events. New Zealand don't have many stars in their set-up but have got an inspirational leader in Kane Williamson who knows how to get the best out of every single player. You would want the likes of Colin de Grandhomme, Jimmy Neesham and Mitchell Santner in your set-up because of the "3-D" services that they provide, while Devon Conway and Glenn Phillips are settling into that middle-order. They won't be considered as favourites, but you can't take them lightly.
What needs to be done: New Zealand have a pretty good bowling attack but they will have to manage Lockie Ferguson's workload properly. The tearaway paceman could turn out to be the X-Factor and the other bowlers could bowl around him. Most of the New Zealand batsmen have been in good form but the same can't be said about their bowlers. Amongst the top-10 teams, the New Zealand bowlers (8.8) have the worst economy rate since 2019. The conditions won't get easier in India and New Zealand would need their spinners to be on top of their game.
SRI LANKA, BANGLADESH & AFGHANISTAN
It's highly doubtful that any of these teams would make it to the knockouts but the other sides would be wary of them because of their familiarity with the conditions. Bangladesh would have actually been happy with the postponement of the World Cup, considering then-banned Shakib Al Hasan would have missed most of the tournament. Their batting order more or less looks sorted but their bowling might need a revamp. Bangladesh won the Under-19 World Cup this year and the senior team could take some confidence from it.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka have lost their last seven completed T20Is and will have to play out of their skin to make it to the knockouts. Afghanistan however could cause some threat, especially with their quality spinners. Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi would be difficult to tackle in Indian conditions, and if their batsmen could put up decent totals on the board, Afghanistan could topple any team on their day.
Where they are: The defending champions are currently the 10th-ranked side and there is no denying how far they have fallen ever since winning that title in 2016. However, the rankings can be misleading considering they hardly play with the full-strength squad. West Indies however have a plethora of match-winners and most of them would be available for the World Cup. As an opponent, you wouldn't want to go up against a batting line-up comprising of Kieron Pollard, Shimron Hetmyer, Andre Russell, Nicholas Pooran and Fabian Allen.
What needs to be done: Pollard will have to play a huge role, both as captain and batsman, if West Indies want to defend their crown. While the batting looks ferocious on paper, their bowling could be found wanting. They don't have many quality options in that department and their batsmen will have to compensate for that.