World Twenty20: Afghan romance but it's boom-boom for Pakistan

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The Independent Online

Testing to the limit whether it is possible to have too much of a good thing, the World Twenty20 is here again. Only 10 months after Pakistan took the title in a perpetually entertaining competition in England, the third version starts in the West Indies next Friday. There are grounds for optimism of a successful venture with 60 per cent of tickets sold in St Lucia, Guyana and Barbados.

India, inaugural champions, are favourites having learned so many tricks in the IPL but the holders should not be dismissed lightly. England expects once more, but not a lot. England's women will also have their work cut out to retain the title.





Group A

Pakistan

The usual uncertainty pervades them but the loss of Umar Gul, the leading bowler in 2009 and reverse swing master, is debilitating. Their batting looks fragile because of its lack of experience. Much depends on improbable captain, Shahid Afridi. Expect some boom-boom.



Bangladesh

They have a potential destroyer of attacks and reputations in Tamim Iqbal. Anything could happen but they tend to underperform in world competitions (they lost to Ireland in 2009). A win against one of their group opponents is possible and it is time they justified their status.



Australia

They will be desperate to add this trophy to complete the full one-day set after grossly underperforming before. Led by Michael Clarke after Ricky Ponting's T20 retirement, they will be determinedly tough. Dirk Nannes, who played for Holland last time out, is their fast-bowling ace.



Group B

Sri Lanka

Finalists last time, and they have a chance to progress again. Their top players have been on the road a long time, however, and may be jaded. Bags of experience, skill and flair in all departments, but surely the final international curtain for the 40-year-old Sanath Jayasuriya.



New Zealand

Spectacular hitters (Jesse Ryder, Brendon McCullum) and tight bowlers (Daniel Vettori, Shane Bond) but probably not enough of either. If they get on a roll early, who knows? But the Kiwis, who have all but given up on Tests, are perennial fallers at hurdles close to the line.

Zimbabwe

A return to the fold after being forced to miss 2009 (they were not allowed into the UK). Hard to see them tangling with the big boys but they have nous in left-arm spinner Ray Price. Elton Chigumbura and Andy Blignaut are always worth watching.



Group C

South Africa

Potential winners but that is the regular mantra at world tournaments which habitually comes to nought. Impossible to overlook with the still impressive Graeme Smith in charge but there are always ructions. The reinvented Jacques Kallis, the IPL's top foreign scorer, is to be feared.



India

Team of all the talents but the loss of Virender Sehwag would weaken any side. Their victory in the first World T20 changed the course of world cricket and another triumph now would merely set the course more firmly. Anything less than the semi-final would be a failure.



Afghanistan

Embodiment of the notion that romance in sport is not dead. Two years ago, as the ICC like to point out, they were in the World Cricket League Division Five playing Jersey. Mohammad Shahzad and Noor Ali hit most of their runs; Hamid Hasan, 23, is a fast bowler of substance.



Group D

West Indies

Lost to Zimbabwe two months ago after being routed by Australia but matters might be improving at last. They still possess spectacular players, not least captain Chris Gayle, and if the new coach, Ottis Gibson, has had time to infuse his values then a heart-warming win at home is possible.



England

Never won a world tournament in any format. They have taken another gamble with selection based on gut feelings, though they would say form. They played with distinction in last autumn's Champions Trophy and the captain, Paul Collingwood, is in the form of his life, but let them qualify from the group stage first.



Ireland

Qualifiers, and unquestionably a burgeoning component in world cricket. They have profited from playing more often – three of them are county regulars, Boyd Rankin was sent on an England fast-bowling clinic last winter – and anybody taking them lightly will regret it.

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