West Indies will be counting on Chris Gayle to display his pyrotechnics if they are to progress beyond the group stage.
Group C is an interesting group, featuring two of the enigmatic teams and another team trying to prove their dominance in this format of the game. It is the group containing the World ODI champions, Australia the runners-up in the ODI world cup, Sri Lanka, and under-achievers,the West Indies.If things go according to plans Australia and Sri Lanka should qualify for the Super 8's. Nevertheless with three teams capable of defeating each other on a given day, It promises to be one of the interesting groups.
Prima facie, the recently concluded IPL tourney said a lot about the strength of Australian cricket as three of the top 10 run-scorers were Australian, including the top two and there were a couple of Australian names in the top 20 bowlers. Unfortunately, none of those players are in the Australian squad for the World T20 competition. The squad lacks T20 specialists and in such an abbreviated version of the game, form is key. An Australian squad will rarely be short of quality players but very few members of this squad have strong domestic or international T20 records, evidenced by Australia's marginally-over 50% win rate. The suspicion is that Australia have generally treated T20 internationals as exhibition matches and this squad does little to dispel that. After the first T20 world cup, the prevailing philosophy was that good cricketers in the longest form of the game would be good in the shortest forms ultimately and the squad seems to have been assembled with that in mind, several young players tried in the last year being omitted.
The lynch pin of the Australian batting will be Andrew Symonds. As the only squad-member to get serious game time in the IPL this year, also a member of the winning team, his batting will likely set the tone of every Australian innings. Whether Australia starts well or poorly, he'll likely be asked to provide the backbone of every Australian response as he is the Australian batsman most able to change gears at a moment's notice. Shane Watson and Brad Haddin are set to have good tournaments but there are plenty of question marks over the form of the rest of the order even though, on paper, the names on the list look strong. Still, the Australians will be relying heavily on good contributions from their openers.
The most obvious missing name in the order will be Brad Hodge who, coupled with being one of the better T20 batsmen around, also had a strong IPL. There are plenty of question marks surrounding the selection of both Hussey's, particularly Michael. And the selection of both Clarke and Ponting is interesting considering Ponting's avowed distaste for T20 and that he has skipped matches in the past to give Clarke experience as captain. The squad as a whole gives one the impression of providing a warm-up for the Ashes rather than the best available team to win this tournament. This is particularly so in light of Clarke's struggles to score quickly let alone change gears in recent one-day internationals. Also key is the batting form of Mitchell Johnson. Without some late-order hitting from him, Australian innings' look more likely to be wrapped-up quickly. Of the all-rounders picked, he looks the most likely to have an influence whilst Watson is unable to bowl.
The inclusions of Brett Lee, Peter Siddle, Nathan Hauritz and Ben Hilfenhous, likely to comprise the Ashes bowling unit with Johnson, provide even more evidence for this. When other, better credentialed and in-form T20 options exist and had excellent seasons in Australia for their state sides can't get a game, it flies in the face of Australia's recent statements to take their T20 cricket more seriously. Johnson is likely to be a huge influence on the bowling but him apart, the part-timers are likely to get a many overs to shore up struggles by the other front-liners, especially with so many of them light-on in game time of late. There are just too many questions regarding the T20 credentials of the likely front-liners so they'll be heavily reliant on the batting to give them good totals to bowl to if Australia are to progress beyond the Super 8's.
To re-iterate, the squad looks to be one geared towards the future and, on form, it's conceivable that they could lose both their group games against match-hardened opposition in the West Indies and Sri Lanka. The batting is key and has been the most frequent failure to date, Australia generally has won T20 matches on the back of their bowling. With this in mind, the selection of the squad leaves plenty of questions as to whether the Australian team will make it past the Super 8's. For that to happen, the Australian top-order needs to lift significantly.
Players to watch: Andrew Symonds, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson
The West Indies were drawn in the "group of death" with Sri Lanka and Australia, largely owing to their dismal campaign in the last tournament where they lost to both Bangladesh and South Africa. They clearly have their task cut out if they are to qualify for the Super 8's stage, but they should feel quietly confident, particularly after their captain Chris Gayle proclaimed his love for the shortest form of the game. Allen Stanford with his multi-million dollar Stanford 20-20 injected a new life into cricket in the Caribbean before he was busted for his fraudulent endeavors. Nevertheless, the tournament did a whole world of good for the West Indies. On the other hand, their recent abysmal performances against England do not inspire confidence.
Interestingly, West Indies are one of the three teams to have notched up totals in excess of 200 twice in T20's. If that was not enough, the belligerent Chris Gayle is the only player to have scored an international T20 hundred. Despite this, their record is not much to shout about, having won only four of the 11 international games played. They are one of the teams coming into the tournament with an extended stay in England having concluded their two-Test series and three ODI matches days before the start of the T20 world cup. This should give them a fairly good idea about the conditions and a slight advantage over Australia and Sri Lanka.
They have depth in their batting with brilliant stroke makers exhibiting typical Caribbean flair which should help them attack and be aggressive throughout an innings. Gayle is one of the hardest hitters of a cricket ball and few will have forgotten his breath-taking 117 off 57 balls against South Africa during the last T20 world cup. Andre Fletcher was one of the finds for the West Indies during the Stanford 20-20 and should partner Gayle at the top of the order. Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shiv Chanderpaul might look like orthodox Test match players but we have seen some outstanding hitting from both in the recent series against England in the Caribbean. The return of Dwayne Bravo should be a great boost for the West Indies; he is one player who has abundant enthusiasm and spirit. With his inspirational fielding, attacking batting and death bowling he can turn matches in a blink of an eye. Kieran Pollard is another talented Trinidadian who is coming of age and could be a vital cog in West Indies' plans. Dinesh Ramdin has been tidy behind the stumps while proving to be an innovative player in the T20's.
Their bowling is led by Fidel Edwards, who proved the pundits wrong with his outstanding performances during his limited appearance for the Deccan Chargers during the IPL. With the impact spinners are making in T20, the gigantic Suleiman Benn should be a handful on English wickets. Jerome Taylor was a pale shadow of himself in the recent Test series, but the shorter form should urge him to recharge his batteries and fire on all cylinders. However, the West Indian reserve players do not inspire confidence with the likes of Lendl Simmons, Xavier Marshall, Darren Sammy and Dave Bernard, all of whom have been pretty ordinary throughout their fledgling careers. Their inconsistent fielding is an area of concern- they can field like tigers one day and resemble a rag-tag club team the next.
West Indies have never played Sri Lanka in a T20 match and have beaten Australia in the only match they played in 2008 which should give them some confidence going in to the tournament. With a bunch of exciting stroke makers and athletic fast bowlers, if they put their minds to it they might sneak in to the super 8s at the expense of either Australia or Sri Lanka. But too often we have seen West Indies start off promisingly in a tournament only to implode in spectacular fashion. Unless Chris Gayle can walk the walk and show that T20 is indeed his cup of tea and Chanderpaul and Sarwan can replicate the form they showed in the Caribbean against England, West Indies will find the going tough and could struggle to qualify from this group. On the other hand, if they take their cricket seriously and play like men possessed then Sri Lanka and Australia better watch out.
Players to Watch: Chris Gayle, Kieran Pollard and Dwayne Bravo
Sri Lanka have the capability to reach at least the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup but will rely heavily upon a few key players who, happily, found some form during the recently-completed IPL tournament. Although not dominating, Sri Lankan players in the squad for the T20 World Cup influenced result strongly for their IPL teams and were amongst the top run-getters and wicket-takers for the tournament. They were finalists in the 2007 ODI World Cup and their progress towards going one better and winning the T20 World Cup win appears to be on-track as the Sri Lankan selectors have picked what is clearly the best available squad.
Most of the Sri Lankan top-order scored well at varying points of the IPL tourney but the star was Tillekeratne Dilshan who was a key player for Delhi in their push towards the semi-finals, top-scoring in it. Kumar Sangakkara, after a slow start to the tournament, started to hit the ball well with half-centuries in Punjab's few wins with both Jayasuriya and Jayawardene also making important contributions for Mumbai and Punjab respectively. The Sri Lankan top-order is showing good signs and may well be peaking at the right time, particularly Sangakkara. He'll be asked to play the lynch pin role as a player capable of changing gears quickly. Jayasuriya is hitting the ball well but, at 40, whether he can sustain performance over an entire tournament any more is questionable so Sri Lanka will likely rely on their middle-order to provide a solid platform for the hit-and-run games of players such as Kulasekera.
The bowling as a whole is a little more difficult to read but the guns are firing. Malinga and Muralitharan were outstanding for their IPL teams, both amongst the top wicket-takers. Sri Lanka will rely heavily on these two bowlers to lead a relatively inexperienced attack. Mendis only played a few games for Kolkata and performed modestly. A player with his T20 record should never be excluded from an analysis of likely influential players, though. The take-home message is that Sri Lanka are in possession of one of the most skillful and in-form bowling line-ups in the competition but whether they will have adequate support is in question. The part-time spin of players such as Jayasuriya will be crucial in the middle overs.
Overall, the inexperience of the Sri Lankan squad should be more than compensated for by the experience and form of their core players. Their bowling looks like it will be the bedrock of their hopes for the tournament but their batsmen look to be in reasonable nick too. Expect some well-defended low totals. On form, Sri Lanka would be very disappointed if they didn't challenge for a semi-final place and should challenge for the final against India or South Africa.
Players to watch: Kumar Sangakkara, Lasith Malinga, Tillikeratne Dilshan