Friday, December 9, 2022

ICC: Group 2 of ICC Men’s T20 World Cup gets underway as India face Pakistan

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One of the most intense sporting rivalries in the world is the first of several mouth-watering clashes in Group 2 of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup. 

The world’s highest ranked side India and third-seeds Pakistan face off in Melbourne, with that contest sure to be key in determining who comes out on top in Group 2. 

South Africa and Bangladesh complete the automatic qualifiers and the quartet are joined by Zimbabwe and the Netherlands. 

The six teams will play each other once in a round-robin format from October 23 – November 6, with the top two advancing to the semi-finals. 

India (eighth appearance) 

It’s now 15 years since India won the first ever ICC Men’s T20 World Cup – their only triumph in this competition to date. 

So it is perhaps fitting that after more than a decade of frustration they have turned to a new-found aggression with the bat. 

Suryakumar Yadav may have waited patiently for his international debut, which came at the age of 30, but he certainly does not hang around with bat in hand, striking at over 175 – the best of any player to have played more than 25 T20 international matches. 

He struck 68 off just 26 deliveries against Hong Kong in the recent Asia Cup, which left Virat Kohli “blown away” by his powers of destruction. 

Captain Rohit Sharma knows what it takes to win this competition, having been on the winning side back in South Africa in 2007. 

He will have been frustrated by the late loss of Jasprit Bumrah, with India’s key paceman ruled out through a back injury but there are still quality alternatives in the form Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami. 

Ravi Shastri’s side have lost just three of their last 16 matches and if they can overcome Pakistan, a side they have only lost to once in a World Cup fixture, then will fancy their chances of group domination. 

Pakistan (eighth appearance) 

Pakistan may feel there is a poetic justice to Australia hosting this tournament, having lost to them when on the cusp of greatness in the 2021 semi-finals. 

They went into that clash as favourites having blown away India in their opening fixture and emerged as the only undefeated side after the Super 12 stage. 

That was Shaheen Shah Afridi’s first experience of a T20 World Cup and having endured a relatively quiet first campaign by his lofty standards, the left-arm paceman could blow teams away with his searing pace in the powerplay, should the 22-year-old stay injury free. 

Haris Rauf is an excellent support act while Shadab Khan has fast become one of the world’s best spin bowlers. 

Whether the middle-order can back up the masterful opening pair of Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam remains to be seen, with Fakhar Zaman a surprise inclusion who may have a big role to play. 

Another 10-wicket win over India may be hard to replicate but progression from the group should not. It will then be a case of righting last year’s wrongs and putting themselves in a position to play for the trophy at the MCG on November 13. 

South Africa (eighth appearance) 

South Africa have gone toe-to-toe with the world’s top two ranked sides over the summer, going down 2-1 in India and claiming a series win in England. 

They will now hope to convert that stellar form into a successful tournament, having never previously reached the showpiece final.

On paper, their chances of reaching that stage may have been weakened by the loss of Rassie van der Dussen to injury, but in Tristan Stubbs they have a star of tomorrow primed and ready to make his mark. 

Stubbs fetched the highest price at the first ever SA20 auction just three months after making his international debut. 

His off-spin is a useful asset too, not that spin wizards are in short supply in this squad, with Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj both in the world’s top 10 T20I bowlers. 

From a pace perspective, Anrich Nortje was his side’s most prolific bowler at last year’s World Cup and finished with an economy of 5.37 from South Africa’s five matches. 

They begin their road to Melbourne with a clash against Zimbabwe. If they can navigate that potential banana skin and beat Bangladesh in their second fixture, they will be well on their way to semi-final qualification. 

Bangladesh (eighth appearance) 

Bangladesh’s form heading into this year’s tournament is a slight cause for concern, with just four victories in their last 18 fixtures. 

The target this year is a Super 12s win, and for that they will look to target the first three fixtures where they play the Netherlands and Zimbabwe either side of South Africa. 

Shakib Al Hasan is no stranger to the big occasion and provides a wealth of quality with both bat and ball. Who opens for the Tigers is another matter entirely, with four different opening partnerships used during a recent tri-series with New Zealand and Pakistan. 

One man who will surely shine at the top of order is Litton Das, who since the end of the last T20 World Cup has racked up 417 runs at a strike rate of close to 140, with three fifty-plus scores. 

If he can provide a solid start, then the firepower needed to amass a big total is certainly there, with Afif Hossain and Nurul Hasan among the most exciting middle-order players across the whole tournament. 

This is ultimately an experimental side with a vast number of changes since last year’s World Cup, so it is difficult to predict how Bangladesh will fare, but with talent stacked throughout the team they should not be underestimated. 

Zimbabwe (sixth appearance) 

In five previous appearances, Zimbabwe had always fallen at the first hurdle at the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, but this time around they were well worth their place in the Super 12. 

Topping a group featuring the West Indies, Ireland and Scotland, Zimbabwe played some brilliant cricket along the way. 

The star of the show was Sikandar Raza, the batter in the form of his life right now after racking up 136 runs across three innings. 

His 82 was the difference against Ireland, while a 23-ball 40 turned a dicey chase into a canter against Scotland. Raza’s bowling has not been bad either, while Blessing Muzarabani will also be a key man with the ball if they are to add another scalp or two to their collection. 

Netherlands (fifth appearance) 

The last time the Netherlands made it through the First Round at an ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, they went onto stun England and almost beat South Africa as well. 

This time around, they have booked their place in the Super 12 with wins over the UAE and Namibia, although they then needed the former to beat the latter to secure safe passage. 

Only Raza scored more runs than Max O’Dowd in the First Round, who managed 129 in all, while Bas de Leede’s seven wickets at an average of just 9.71 mark him out as a danger man with the ball. 

An opening clash with Bangladesh will certainly be seen as an opportunity to catch the Tigers cold, but whatever happens, this has been a vastly more successful campaign than the winless run 12 months ago. 

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