Now that England have finished their rain affected series against South Africa there is no other men’s cricket until the start of the T20 World Cup. Of course there should be another two years, but because the ICC only sees various currency symbols in the fixture list they decided to go ahead and compromise some of the integrity of the tournament in exchange for the extra cash of having it once every two years instead of once every four. But it’s a reasonable enough decision as it’s only T20 and the whole point is just to make money anyway.
The format for the tournament is one of two group stages leading to the semi-finals. The first group stage is four groups of three with the top two from each advancing to two groups of four. It’s exciting in that any of the top teams can see their tournament end quite quickly if they slip up in the first two matches and rubbish in that this gives a huge role to chance. Still at least it’s a direct tournament and not the flawed rankings.
Group A contains England, India and Afghanistan. England are officially the best team in the world in the shortest format in the world and to be fair have won seven of their last ten (completed) matches. India are theoretically T20 powerhouses. They have probably the best disposed fan base toward T20 and this is manifest in the IPL. Despite (or very possibly in part because of) this India actually have a very poor record in T20 and have lost at home to both England and New Zealand in the past year. And then there is Afghanistan who I think I might be required by law to call ‘plucky’. Their story in getting to the tournament has been documented elsewhere in a much better fashion than I could, but what is most relevant is that they are not at all a bad side. They gave Australia a scare in a fifty-over match not long ago and they cannot be written off. One would probably not expect a major upset; England and India have to stay on their guard, but they will probably both advance.
Group B contains Australia, the West Indies and Ireland. A bit was made last week about Australia actually falling below Ireland in the rankings. (The Aussies have since moved back in front.) Although I pointed out why it was overblown, it is true that Australia have had a pretty dismal time in T20s recently. The West Indies have done a bit better though and split a two match series against Australia earlier this year. Ireland have played very little major opposition and were whitewashed in three matches at home by Bangladesh in the last series that they played. I think the West Indies will probably be the safest leaving Australia and Ireland. Ireland actually look like the better team on paper, but that is almost entirely against other Associate nations. They will be keen and if Australia have any sort of off day Ireland can definitely win. This might actually be a group where all three teams manage one win and run rate becomes the decider. I’m going to spring for the upset and have Ireland go through.
Group C comprises Sri Lanka, South Africa and Zimbabwe. South Africa have had a solid if unspectacular year. Zimbabwe have lost all six official T20s they played in the last twelve months and only two of them were even close. Sri Lanka have hardly played any matches so it’s quite hard to judge them. Presumably South Africa will top the group comfortably with Sri Lanka quite likely finishing runners-up. It might be interesting to see if Zimbabwe can pull off something remarkable against them though.
And in Group D there is Pakistan, New Zealand and Bangladesh. Pakistan have been a fairly strong T20 outfit recently and just technically beat Australia 2-1 in the UAE. (Though it should go down as 1-1 with one tie.) New Zealand did just manage to beat India, but had a poor time against the West Indies before that and are still far too mercurial. Bangladesh are Bangladesh. They may pull off a surprise against a better team on paper, but it would be a surprise. The Pakistan v New Zealand battle for the top of the group might be interesting, but unfortunately the tournament structure is such that the group winners are not rewarded over runners up. As with so many T20s, the result of that contest won’t matter.
So I suspect it will be England, the West Indies, Sri Lanka and New Zealand in Group 1 of the second round and India, Ireland, South Africa and Pakistan in Group 2. The top two teams of those two groups will meet in the semi-finals. Assuming the groups finish as I suggest (which isn’t going to happen, but never mind) then I would guess the semi-finals to be England v Pakistan and South Africa v West Indies and probably South Africa topping off a good year by beating Pakistan in the final. Maybe.