John Heads, Martyn Corrin & Corey Taylor
Group A promises to be interesting in this year's World Twenty20. Bangladesh found themselves victims of an upset last time out, whilst Australia also crashed out at the first hurdle. Meanwhile, Pakistan were victorious after a rocky start. How much have things changed in ten months?
Shakib Al Hasan (c), Mushfiqur Rahim (v-c/wk), Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Mohammad Ashraful, Aftab Ahmed, Mahmudullah, Naeem Islam, Mashrafe Mortaza, Abdur Razzak, Shafiul Islam, Rubel Hossain, Syed Rasel, Suhrawadi Shuvo, Jahurul Islam
The implication that Bangladesh is on the rise in world cricket has become something of a cliche, but Bangladesh's chances have never been better. They are however the most inexperienced team in their group with Australia and Pakistan both having played twice the T20 matches of Bangladesh. As a team their sights should no longer just to look for an 'upset' victory but to progress to the next round and find a place in the finals. For this to happen they will need their bowling to support an in-form batting outfit.
The recent conditions in the West Indies have favoured spin bowling and if this continues Bangladesh's chances will improve significantly. They have an excellent spin attack led by the duo of captain Shakib and limited over's veteran Razzak. A lot will rely on Bangladesh's captain Shakib al 'Awesome' Hasan from both bat and ball if they are to get through to the next round.
Watch out for:
Tamim Iqbal: A young player with the talent to score at a blistering pace. So far he has been relatively disappointing in T20 cricket but his form with the bat in the past year should see him change that in the world cup. If he is there after 15 overs Bangladesh will almost certainly be looking at a truly formidable total. With returns of 193 @ 48.25 SR 130.40 in Bangladesh's recent T20 domestic league he'll be looking to add the momentum to Bangladesh's innings.
Mohammad Ashraful: And not for what you're thinking! Ashraful is known for his flamboyant batting as well as his disappointing returns and while I don't think it'd be wise to bank on him scoring a ton of runs he should still contribute. The reason I think we should watch out for him is for his recent bowling form. In the T20 domestic competition he took 10 wickets @ 9 runs each with an economy of 5.62. This should see Bangladesh able to shorten their tail with another great spin option in one of the their genuine batsman.
Mashrafe Mortaza: Bangladesh's spin department looks solid and their batting is better than ever but for them to win in all conditions they need this man to spearhead their pace attack. Mortaza can bowl fast and though we often forget it can be a very handy line and length bowler when the mood takes him. If he is in form his fellow pacers should follow his lead but if he isn't then it all falls back onto Bangladesh's spin bowling. He recently showed good signs in the domestic T20 competition he took 10 wickets @ 14 and should hopefully continue this good form in the Caribbean.
The Bangladeshi top order has varied a bit recently but Imrul Kayes recent form in domestic cricket should see him secure his position opening with Tamim. Ashraful's poor form (but high talent) with the bat may see him drop down the order with Aftab, Shakib and Mushfiqur making up the middle order. Mahmudllah provides a hard hitting lower order option and alongside Naeem Islam and Mortaza make up a handy 7-9 batting combination. With Razzak coming in at number 10, I give my final place to Rubel to partner with Mortaza on recent form. This however remains the spot in the team under the most scrutiny with 2 other pace bowlers fighting for Rubel's position. The Bangladeshi team selection of only one genuine back up batsman Jahurul Islam yet three possible replacement bowlers underlines the faith they are placing in their batting and lack of faith they have in their fast bowlers.
Bangladesh face a difficult group in Pakistan and Australia but if they win no longer will the world be shocked at the upset as they were when the Netherlands beat England in the last world cup. The team may be an underdog but no longer is Bangladesh a 'no-hoper'.
CW Predicted XI
Shakib al Hasan (c)
Mushfiqur Rahim (wk)
Shahid Afridi (capt), Salman Butt, Mohammad Hafeez, Khalid Latif, Misbah-ul-Haq, Fawad Alam, Umar Akmal, Abdul Razzaq, Abdur Rehman, Hammad Azam, Kamran Akmal (wk),Mohammad Sami, Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Aamer, Saeed Ajmal.
Amidst the chaos of Pakistani cricket, it is easy to overlook the fact that they head into the third Twenty20 World Cup as World Champions after a fantastic triumph in England last June. Big names such as Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik and Mohammed Yousuf are no longer figures in Pakistani cricket, whilst Umar Gul's impressive record in the format means he leaves a huge hole in the side following his recent withdrawal due to injury. After a woeful tour of Australia, a fresh start may be just the tonic that Pakistan need, though. Six of the eleven that featured in the second Twenty20 international against England in Dubai back in February make the journey to the West Indies.
As ever with Pakistan, their biggest strength and weakness is in many ways their unpredictability - they are not the easiest team to prepare for. Expect them to rely heavily on the contributions from their all-rounders, and with Gul missing a lot will rest on the shoulders of Mohammed Asif, who missed the triumphant tournament last year.
Their biggest problem on the pitch in recent times has been fielding, including from behind the stumps. Kamran Akmal retains his place in the squad but will Abdulbe under intense scrutiny. Whilst a dropped catch in Twenty20 may hurt less on average than one in a Test match, it is frightening to think what some of the more destructive batsmen in the tournament may do to them if they cannot hold their catches.
Watch out for:
Shahid Afridi: As captain there is a lot resting on the shoulders of Afridi anyway, even before you begin to consider his immense value to the team. Afridi was central in Pakistan's triumph last year and will hope to be on top form again. His strike rates are highly impressive with both bat and ball - 153.31 and 17.15 respectively - and with the pitches expected to be conducive to spin his bowling will be vital. If Pakistan are to be successful, Afridi will need to play well and avoid using his mouth to get himself into trouble, which he does more creatively than most cricketers.
Abdul Razzaq: Much like Afridi, Razzaq's contributions with both bat and ball could be central to Pakistan's cause. Typically Razzaq plays the role of lower order destroyer in Twenty20 for his country, and is usually good for a wicket in his spells of seam-bowling. His strike-rates are similar to Afridi's and he is one of Pakistan's most experienced players. It is a young squad that Pakistan are taking to the Caribbean and Razzaq will be an important influence off the pitch as well as on it.
Mohammed Asif: With all the well-documented controversies that have dogged Asif's career so far, it is impressive that he has still generally provided the goods on the field. Twenty20 is not his strongest format but with no Umar Gul, Asif is vital. He is usually fairly expensive in the format both at international and domestic level, but his ability to take wickets in his short spells is not one which should be underestimated. Australia punished him somewhat in their last encounter in this format so he will be keen to make amends this time.
CW Predicted XI
Kamran Akmal (wk)
Shahid Afridi (c)
Although Australia appears in better shape this time 'round for the World T20 tournament to be held in the West Indies, questions remain over the selection of the team and it's very difficult to predict how they'll go. The squad is a mix of form players, experience, youth and raw power which has all the ingredients for a winning tournament. Gambles on the fitness and form of several players mean it's tough to predict how they'll do once past the first round. Key members of the squad, again, skipped the recent IPL tournament which gives the squad the look of one a bit short of a run.
Batting is probably Australia's strength but isn't without problems. The sheer power of David Warner coupled with the recent form of Shane Watson and Cameron White is good news but those players aside, the form of the team falls away quickly. The Australian middle-order is mostly comprised of nick-and-nudge merchants without the obligatory and necessary game-breaker further down the order. Both Hussey brothers played for their IPL teams but are short of form and Haddin is a bit hit-and-miss in this format.
Complicating matters is the selection of Michael Clarke as captain. Although showing himself to be a shrewd captain, he simply wouldn't be selected if batting was the only consideration. Number 3 is the only spot for him in the order, really, and having a player in the line-up who is only useful in one place is limiting in T20 matches in and of itself. How they place the order around him is tricky; the selectors will be caught between picking one or both Husseys as they'll be worried about late-order hitting as well as making the line-up bat-heavy with no back-up for the bowling if the pace attack has an off day. If both Michael and David Hussey have a good tournament, this problem will likely take care of itself and give the pace bowlers plenty of runs to bowl at. It is, however, a big if.
The latest mail is that Australia may pick an all-out pace attack which will make the decision whether to select hit-and-run or power hitters even more crucial and far harder to get right as there wont be many runs coming from Lee/Tait/Nannes and Johnson's form with the bat seems to have regressed significantly so batting him at 8 would be a huge gamble. It's looking more likely that this is the way Australia will go and this will require more batting to offset the rabbits down the order. It's likely that the selectors will then pick both Husseys to shore up the batting and to ensure they bat out their 20 overs. The selectors have picked two hitting all-rounders in the squad but if the above philosophy is adopted, it's impossible to see how either could be selected unless they want to gamble on batting them at 7 and dropping a batsman.
In selection of the bowling attack, the selectors have taken a huge gamble in selecting Lee. Not a noted T20 bowler, Lee's optimism and claims he's 'happy with the ball the way is coming out' fail to mask his lack of recent fitness and form. Johnson skipped the IPL when he really needed to play and although both Tait and Nannes did play, they were fairly low-key in their performances. There may be an injury cloud over Nannes too. More conservative selection in the bowling may have seen Smith in the side but the lack of bowlers able to keep a consistent line virtually demands Australia pick Hauritz if not Lee for fitness reasons. And if one of the others bowlers is injured, having two inexperienced all-rounders as back-up is risky indeed.
Overall, picking four pace bowlers in Tait/Nannes/Lee/Johnson gives the team a very menacing look and may decisively blow away teams when on song. That said, the Australian bowling looks desperately short of form, experience and smarts in this format. Instead, statements from the team appear to be all about ultra-aggression which suggests Australia still really hasn't come to grips with what is required to succeed in T20 matches.
It's a little puzzling Australia did not select at least one bowler who could stem the tide if Tait or Nannes go the journey, especially as a couple of Aussie bowlers in great Test and 50-over form were amongst the best bowlers in the IPL too. This will place much pressure on Watson to fill this role, potentially impacting negatively on his batting. The potentially profligate nature of the bowling is likely to promote conservative selection in the batting which will impact significantly on the team's ability to set a total without a quick start from the openers.
At this stage, it appears the selectors will plump for the following team;
Warner, Haddin, +Clarke, Watson, White, D Hussey, M Hussey, Lee, Johnson, Nannes, Tait
The abject nature of their opponents in the first round means Australia should cruise through to the Super 8's but will struggle the most against teams with power hitting down the order. Coupled with inconsistent form in both batting and bowling, Australia could either power their way to the final or lose every Super 8's match they play.
Michael Clarke (c), Daniel Christian, Brad Haddin, Nathan Hauritz, David Hussey, Michael Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee, Dirk Nannes, Tim Paine, Steven Smith, Shaun Tait, David Warner, Shane Watson, Cameron White