No clear favourites in ICC Twenty20 World Cup

Less than five days after a high-octane Indian Premier League, another Twenty20 extravaganza begins from Friday as the world’s top cricketers assemble for the T20 World Cup in the Caribbean with no team being tipped as clear favourites.

The 17-day tournament, which is expected to see some high-voltage competition, begins with a double-header at Guyana National Stadium here, with New Zealand taking on Sri Lanka in the opener, followed by a match between hosts West Indies and Ireland under lights.

The unpredictability of the slam-bang format would mean that the Twenty20 tournament is wide open and most of the top teams, including India and Pakistan, are fancying their chances to clinch the title.

Pakistan have the best track record in Twenty20 World Cup, having reached the final in the inaugural event in 2007 in South Africa and claiming the title in the second edition in June last year in England.

The Pakistanis also have the best winning percentage in the format, with 22 wins, seven losses and one no result in 30 matches, though they had a tumultuous build-up to the tournament with some of their leading players being banned and fined by their Board for indiscipline.

India, who lifted the trophy in 2007 — the country’s first major title in international cricket since 1983, has become the home of Twenty20 cricket with a hugely successful Indian Premier League.

Though India suffered a jolt by the unavailability of swashbuckling batsman Virender Sehwag due to injury, they would be banking on the IPL experience and Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s astute captaincy.

India will begin their campaign against minnows Afghanistan on Saturday at St Lucia but Dhoni’s men cannot take the world cricket’s new entrant lightly.

“If you ask me, I would not consider our opening match against Afghanistan as a practice game. I don’t take my opponents lightly. At the end of the day you have to win whichever team you play,” said Dhoni.

India would seek lessons from history as they had faced the ignominy of an unceremonious early exit after losing to Bangladesh in the 50-over World Cup in the same Caribbean islands three years ago.

Australia, on the other hand, are three-time defending champions in the 50-over version but they were unceremoniously ousted in the first round in the 2009 Twenty20 World Cup.

But with a strong pool of explosive players and an able captain in Michael Clarke, the Australians will look to add another trophy to their glittering cabinet this year.

Sri Lanka, the 2009 runners-up, and South Africa are both teams packed with class and depth and are strong title aspirants.

The hosts are not to be discounted either, and they have two of the world cricket’s most dangerous players in captain Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard who have shown their prowess in ample measure in the IPL 3 for Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians respectively.

Besides the home advantage and crowd support, they will also be strengthened by the return of fast bowler Jerome Taylor and veteran batsman Ramanaresh Sarwan.

England, New Zealand and Bangladesh are the least fancied of the other Test nations while Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan would hope for an unexpected upset over one or two of the more established teams.

Yet to win an ICC trophy after 2000, New Zealand are though veterans in the Twenty20 format having played more internationals than any other team.

Daniel Vettori is in charge of a side that boasts several potential match-winners. They also like the slower-paced Caribbean venues, having reached the World Cup semi-finals there in 2007.

Sri Lanka, who were the losing finalists in the 50-over World Cup here three years ago, have a compact side with batsmen and bowlers suited to Twenty20 cricket and many of their players having come here with IPL experience.

In Sanath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka has an explosive opener while captain Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene have shown that they were as dangerous in the shortest format as in the longer versions. In Lasith Malinga, they have a lethal bowler in death overs with his accurate yorkers proving to be a nightmare for batsmen.

West Indies would start as the favourites against Ireland in the second game tomorrow but they would take the Europeans lightly at their own peril.

Ireland has good memories of the Caribbean following a couple of upsets in the 2007 World Cup over Pakistan and Bangladesh and the home side would have to guard against their familiar collapse when things start to go wrong.

West Indies are hosting the Twenty20 World Cup after three years of a forgettable 46-day 50-over version which was marred by low attendance, lack of Caribbean flavour, farcical grand finale and Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer’s mysterious death.

This time, the organisers are embracing the mood and music that has typified Caribbean cricket for decades and have lowered ticket prices to ensure more spectators.

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