Two years ago England claimed the World Twenty20 Cup by defeating Australia by seven wickets in the final in the West Indies. With the first games of this years tournament on Tuesday, how good a chance do they have of retaining their title in Sri Lanka?
Teams heading to the subcontinent for Test and One Day International series are often dogged by warnings about the slow turning pitches, high humidity levels, and other mystery factors that make it one of the hardest places in the world to tour. However the sheer volume of international cricket played nowadays gives teams more experience of all types of conditions. This, coupled with the quickfire nature of Twenty20, should make these factors less important. Home advantage will still play a part, but in matches when a batsman smashing a single over for 30+ runs can determine the outcome, it should not be a decisive influence.
Realistically there are as many as 8 teams who have a chance of winning the tournament. Hosts Sri Lanka, along with India and Pakistan will be the most comfortable in the conditions. Australia, South Africa and England all have the quality in their bowling attack to give them a chance in any game they play in, and West Indies and New Zealand have batsmen like Chris Gayle and Ross Taylor capable of upsetting anyone in the shortest form of the game. There is a further advantage given to teams with the most established domestic Twenty 20 competitions such as the IPL or Australia’s Big Bash which should ensure their players have more experience of the format in general.
England will be without Kevin Pieterson of course, who averaged 61 off 8 innings, at a impressive strike rate of 147.34, in this years IPL. But there is plenty of talent in the batting order, with the guile and experience of Eoin Morgan nicely offsetting the raw power of players like Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow. The inexperience of England’s batting may lead to them being dismissed cheaply in a couple of matches, but the recent series against South Africa shows they have the potential to set large targets. Buttler’s dismantling of Wayne Parnell, hitting him for 32 runs off one over, ensured the reigning champions flew out to Sril Lanka on the back of a victory.
On paper the favourites still have to be India or the hosts Sri Lanka, but with the tournament this open the eventual winners could come from anywhere. As so many international teams now more comfortable with the format than in previous years, this should be the closest and most exciting World Twenty20 tournament yet.
image: © Ben Sutherland