March marked the start of this year’s ICC World T20 cricket in what promises to be a bigger, better and more intensely fought affair than ever. All across the cricketing world, the tectonic plates are shifting as test match purists struggle to refute the inevitable rise of the abbreviated game, with no tournament showcasing the meteoric rise of T20 more than a world championship in the world’s biggest cricketing nation, India.
Thus far, the competition has lived up to the hype, with the preliminary rounds providing game after game of nail-biting drama and close run chases. Scotland came up with their first ever World T20 win – albeit in a shortened number of overs against strugglers Hong Kong on a rain soaked pitch in Nagpur – while Ireland went from being the giant killers of old to face an embarrassing loss of their own against tournament newcomers Oman. However, it wasn’t to be for the home nations as Bangladesh saw off all competition to qualify from preliminary group A and Afghanistan overcame a rejuvenated Zimbabwe to move into the competition proper from group B.
Roll on the group stage. With high expectations for the hosts, a youthful looking England side, hopeful after successive series wins against both Australia and South Africa and a genuinely open field, the tournament promised much. The opening game did not disappoint, with the expectant home nation shocked on their own soil against an innovative New Zealand side, a result which astounded experts and fans alike.
Since the opening weekend, 2160 balls have been bowled and thousands more runs scored. Chris Gayle lit up the competition by single-handedly demolishing England in the West Indies’ opening match. However, the Three Lions bounced back and broke records of their own, chasing down South Africa’s total of 229 in what was the second highest international T20 run chase of all time. Meanwhile, the most anticipated game of the tournament between neighbours India and Pakistan put cricket into the international spotlight as India dispatched their fierce rivals in a mild mannered yet enthralling encounter.
So as we approach the knock out stages, who will be the winners and losers? And who can we expect to see lifting the trophy come April? For many, India remain the favourites. However, they will need to overcome the early tournament nerves which affected them in their opening game and hope batsman such as Virat Kholi can continue to hit big totals. New Zealand have operated like a well-oiled machine thus far and should have little problem getting out of Group 2 after following up their opening win with a victory over rivals Australia. Meanwhile in Group 1, England will look to build on their win over Afghanistan in their final group game against Sri Lanka if they are going to make it through to the next round and, despite demise in recent years, do not be surprised to see the West Indies go far. The men from the Caribbean have had a troublesome time in test cricket of late, but in Chris Gayle they have one of the best batsmen in the world and someone who is capable of demolishing the very best bowling attack on his day.
Whatever the outcome, the World T20 is sure to provide more nail biting drama to the very end and continue to make T20 cricket one of fastest growing sports in the world.