Of the four groups in the T20 World Cup, Group A is almost certainly the easiest. It features the defending champions India, dark horses Bangladesh and minnows Ireland. Ireland has such a favorable draw as a result of the British government refusing visas for the Zimbabwe cricket team. India should have a very easy passage to the super eights winning the group. One does not see Bangladesh performing their giant-killing act that they did in the 2007 world cup, defeating India, nor in the 2007 T20 World Cup, defeating the West Indies. Ireland would hope that they do not get pasted by India and would like to perform respectably against Bangladesh and if possible pull off an upset. An upset victory against India looks a distant proposition for Ireland although they would have high hopes against the Bangladeshis.
India had very little hope of winning the T20 World Cup in 2007 after their debacle at the ODI world cup earlier that year in the West Indies. However, their unexpected victory propelled the players to cult-hero status and erased bitter memories of the early exit from the ODI world cup. The last two years have seen the dramatic rise of T20 cricket worldwide with the IPL taking off in grand style, the Stanford tournament in the West Indies and the rebel ICL league attracting audiences' worldwide. If there was any team that embraced this impact with perfection it was none other than India. This is highlighted by the fact that every single member of the Indian squad played in the IPL 2009 and was a key performer for their respective franchise. Against this background the rock stars of world cricket touchdown in England with huge expectations. This tournament should see India's next generation of cricketers, led by M.S.Dhoni, fighting it out to defend their title. With a talented bunch of exciting players they are one of the favorites to win the tournament and take home their second consecutive T20 World Cup.
India's strengths lie in their explosive batting with several attacking and aggressive batsmen in the team. Virender Shewag and Gautam Gambhir in the top order can provide rollicking starts which we witnessed from their opening partnership for the Delhi Daredevils in the IPL. Suresh Raina has improved by leaps and bounds and his penchant for hitting big sixes has made him an important member of this Indian side. Yuvraj Singh has become one of the mainstays of the Indian batting and we do not need any proof of Yuvraj's batting prowess in T20's beyond the six sixes he hit of Stuart Broad in the 2007 T20 World Cup. Rohit Sharma and Dhoni are two players with a cool head on their shoulders and are probably the two best finishers in the game today. Added to that the unmatched ability of Yusuf Pathan to hit the cricket ball, coupled with his tidy off-spin bowling and the presence of his brother Irfan Pathan makes India quite possible the best batting side of the tournament. However, their biggest downfall could be their complacency which was evident when they surprisingly lost both the T20 matches during their recent tour of New Zealand earlier this year.
Their bowling is no slouch either with Zaheer Khan leading the pace attack. R.P.Singh has been recalled to the Indian side on the back of his performances in the IPL where he was the leading wicket taker of the tournament. Ishant Sharma's Kolkata Knight Riders may have been a flop but he still bowled his heart out and we could expect the more of the same when he puts on the Indian colors. Ishant and RP could play a big part in India's quest to retain the trophy under favorable bowling conditions in England. In the spin bowling department Harbhajan Singh and the exciting left arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, who was a surprise package in the IPL for the Deccan Chargers, would be inducing batsmen to hit big shots and try to get them out caught in the deep. The Indian bench strength looks healthy with Ravindra Jadeja and Praveen Kumar waiting in the wings if the need arises. India might have perhaps erred in not selecting Delhi's Ashish Nehra who returned some astonishing figures in the IPL on more than one occasion. If there is an area of concern it will undoubtedly be India's fielding. Despite live wires like Raina, Sharma and Yuvraj prowling the 30 yard circle, India have more often than not been badly let down by their fielding ,especially their catching.
With the most explosive batting order, supported by a vastly varied bowling attack and led by the astute Dhoni, this young and energetic Indian outfit will take some beating. One would expect India to be one of the semi-finalists, anything less than a semi-final spot would be an unsuccessful tournament for India and also a huge disappointment for the next generation of India's super stars and their fanatical followers.
Players to Watch: Virender Shewag, Yusuf Pathan and Rohit Sharma
Bangladesh went into the inaugural T20 World Cup as rank outsiders and performed a giant killing act when they defeated the West Indies to take a spot in the super eights. Ever since that performance there has been a self-belief in them and they registered ODI victories over Sri Lanka and New Zealand during the last two years. Mohammad Ashraful leads a young and inexperienced squad largely owing to the mass exodus of the Bangladeshi players to the rebel ICL. Mithun Ali and Shamsur Rahman are the two new faces in the squad and Mahmadullah, Rubel Hossain and Naeem Islam have little international experience. But the youthful squad with their exuberance and enthusiasm could cause an upset or two along the way.
With an array of big hitters in the side, T20 cricket should suit the Bangladeshis better than any other form of the game. The likes of Ashraful, Junaid Siddique and Tamim Iqbal could take the opposition on with their attacking strokes. While the exit of the hard-hitting Aftab Ahmed was a blow, the emergence of the talented all-rounder Shakib-Al Hasan has added a new dimension to the Bangladesh's side- Shakib has been in the forefront of every Bangladesh victory in recent times both with the bat and the ball. His belligerent batting coupled with his canny left-arm spin has made him the World's number one all-rounder and Bangladesh will be resting their hopes on his young shoulders to deliver yet again. If Ashraful can curb his ill-advised and audacious strokes, Bangladesh could well challenge any side on their day.
Their bowling looks solid, if not spectacular; Mashrafe Mortaza has evolved in to a genuine all-rounder, producing useful bowling performances and providing some valuable lower order cameos of late. The left arm bowlers, spinner Abdur Razzak and medium pacer Syed Rasel have turned in more than useful performances and should support Mortaza and Shakib in the bowling department. The biggest let down for Bangladesh in recent times has been their temperament, they have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with their temperament (or lack thereof). The most glaring example was during the recent tri-series final in Bangladesh, when they had Sri Lanka on the ropes at six for five only to let them off the hook, eventually losing the match by one wicket. They have a worrying tendency to lose the plot when attacked by the opposition. With one bad over in T20 turning matches on its head, Bangladesh can ill-afford to let that happen to them. It will serve them well if they can be calm and collective and seal the deal when they have done most of the hard work.
Their fielding has ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous and it's hard to know what to expect from them on a given day. Bangladesh should not have any trouble qualifying from the group, but with an inexperienced squad, temperamental batsmen and inconsistent fielding they could struggle in the Super 8's. However, T20 has the knack of throwing up surprises- none better than Zimbabwe defeating Australia and Bangladesh defeating West Indies during the last T20 World Cup- so one should not really write them off. Nevertheless, realistically Bangladesh should feel relieved and satisfied if they make it to the second round unscathed. Anything more than that in the Super 8's should be a big bonus for them.
Players to Watch: Mohammed Ashraful, Shakib-Al-Hassan and Mashrafe Mortaza.
Irish cricket has been going from strength to strength ever since their fairytale victory over Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup. After outclassing the other non-Test playing nations in World Cup 2011 qualifying this April, in addition to their recent victories in World Twenty20 qualifying and the Intercontinental Cup, the Irish side find themselves in the unusual position of having some degree of expectation behind them.As an Associate nation, Ireland could not have asked for a better draw. They will fancy their chances of an upset against a Bangladesh side they beat in 2007, particularly considering the relative unfamiliarity of the Tigers with English conditions. Beating the current world champions is a distant prospect, but there is little doubt that the Irish side feel that they can do it. In the shortest format of the game, anything can happen.
The loss of Eoin Morgan to England is a big blow, but may have been a little overstated- Morgan, while massively talented, never fully delivered on his promise in Irish colours. A much more important player for Ireland is Captain William Porterfield. The Gloucestershire opener hit 515 runs in ten matches at the World Cup qualifying tournament in April and is crucial to the side's hopes of building a total. Joining Porterfield at the top of the order could be either 18-year-old Paul Stirling or Australian-born Jeremy Bray, with whoever plays likely to be employed in a pinch-hitting role. Ireland will consider any runs from Porterfield's opening partner a handy bonus- both are capable of smacking the ball a long way. Gary Wilson, the Surrey wicket-keeper who opens with Porterfield in ODIs, is likely to miss out on account of his poor record in the format.
The middle order is built around two big-hitting brothers, Niall and Kevin O'Brien. Niall, the wicket keeper, is perhaps the side's best T20 batsman with plenty of experience for Kent and Northamptonshire. Kevin, the Nottinghamshire all-rounder, is equally well-suited to the format and the fraternal combination could do the trick for Ireland. Ireland generally combine these two with an array of all-rounders, all capable of scoring very quickly but plagued by inconsistency: Andre Botha, a veteran South African-born left-hander, Trent Johnston, the former captain who became famous for his "chicken" celebration in 2007 and Andrew White, an unorthodox batsman who makes extensive use of the sweep and reverse sweep shots. Ireland generally bat as far down the order as possible, using depth to make up for a lack of quality outside their county pros.
The Irish bowling is as good as that of any Associate, but is still severely hampered by a drop in quality once the opening bowlers finish their spells. For while Boyd Rankin and Peter Connell have the pace and bounce to trouble quality batsmen, medium-fast bowlers Cusack, Johnston and O'Brien are heavily reliant on conditions and become fodder when there is no swing or seam on offer. Spinners Regan West and Kyle McCallan have both improved a great deal in recent times but are still prone to giving runs away and with Trent Bridge rarely offering much turn they are unlikely to have a major impact. Nevertheless, their bowling is their stronger suit and as such is their best bet of causing an upset. Rankin has often shown himself to be lethal on a pitch that offers something to the seamers, and is without a doubt the Ireland side's best player. Connell, while less well known, is just as dangerous- his fast, hostile bowling can rip any batting lineup apart on its day. Cusack, O'Brien and Johnston are all extremely awkward to bat against when the ball is swinging, so they could be a handful with their group games due to be played at a stadium notorious for offering a great deal of movement through the air.
It's easy to forget, in light of their recent form, that any win in the tournament would be a massive achievement for a side composed mainly of amateurs from a country with no first-class system. Still, playing close to home, in a favorable group and with the strongest team in the history of Irish cricket, they have to feel that this is the greatest chance they've ever had of causing an upset.
Players to watch: Boyd Rankin, Niall O'Brien and Peter Connell.