T20 World Cup captains
Leading from the front (clockwise from top left): Captains Babar Azam of Pakistan, Rohit Sharma of India, Adam Finch of Australia and Jos Buttler of England. Image Credit: AFP

Australia aim to rewrite history as they launch their defence of the Men’s T20 World Cup. No team have successfully defended the title. And no host nation have won it either. Aaron Finch’s team attempt to do just that as the Super 12 stage gets underway at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday (October 22), with Australia taking on Kane Williamson’s New Zealand.

The tournament commenced on October 16 in Geelong, Victoria, with the first-round matches. Sri Lanka and the Netherlands have qualified for the Super 12, while two more teams will be known by Friday evening (October 21)

Here’s a look at what makes the tournament in Australia special, facts and records, players to watch and Gulf News editors’ picks.

Why is the T20 World Cup in Australia special?

Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

Cricket in Australia is always exciting. The lively pitches and the cavernous stadiums throbbing with raucous spectators make for a heady mix.

The last cricket World Cup in Australia was the 50-over variety: One-Day Internationals. That was in 1996 when Imran Khan led Pakistan to victory, with Wasim Akram producing a dream spell in the final. Before that, it was the World Cricket Championship to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the State of Victoria in 1985, which India won with Ravi Shastri emerging as the Champion of Champions.

Irish Eden Belleza/Gulf News

The images and intensity of the clashes are seared in memory. Even the passage of time hasn’t dimmed the memories of the scintillating contests. So hopes are high as World Cup returns Down Under in a T20 format.

Legacy of Kerry Packer

This is the land of Channel 9, which revolutionised cricket coverage on television, and Kerry Packer, who transformed the staid world of cricket with coloured clothing and night matches. All these are standard in modern-day cricket. So when a spycam brings a close-up of cricketers in coloured gear playing white-ball cricket at night, spare a thought for Packer. It’s his legacy.

T20 cricket embodies all of Packer’s changes and more. The shortest form of cricket has rejuvenated the game and brought in a new generation of cricket enthusiasts: the ones who love the short adrenaline-addled games.

Cricket captains
From left: Australian captain Aaron Finch, Namibia captain Gerhard Erasmus, New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, Sri Lankan captain Dasun Shanaka, England captain Jos Buttler, UAE captain Ahmed Raza, Afghanistan captain Mohammad Nabi and Netherlands captain Scott Edwards at a press conference in Melbourne on October 15, 2022, ahead of the 2022 T20 World Cup cricket tournament. Image Credit: AFP

After its birth in 2007, the T20 Cricket World Cup travelled the globe from South Africa to England, West Indies, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, and the UAE. But it never reached Australia.

The T20 World Cup comes to Australia at a time when the format has become the most popular form of cricket. So popular that several T20 leagues have sprung up worldwide with attractive pay and perks for players.

Advantage batters

A criticism of T20 cricket is that it’s skewed heavily in favour of batters. The docile pitches in the subcontinent helped bolster the theory. Bowlers suffered on unresponsive wickets, and shorter boundaries didn’t help either. Spectators want to see sixes, was the oft-repeated argument. True, the crowds loved it. But that turned the game into a contest of batting strengths.

Here’s where Australia will make a difference. The hard pitches will level the playing field. Pace bowlers will love the bounce, so will leg spinners. That means an even contest between bat and ball. The boundary count will suffer since the fields are large. Sixes will be at a premium, although some grounds offer shorter boundaries.

Irish Eden Belleza/Gulf News

ESPNcricinfo reports that Australia has the second-lowest boundary percentage in T20 at 54.1 per cent. Only South Africa (51.7 per cent) has a lower figure. Sixes account for only 20.6 per cent of the runs — again second after South Africa’s 19.6 per cent.

Change in tactics

Bigger grounds don’t necessarily mean longer boundaries since it depends on how far the ropes are placed. However, it’s safe to believe that there won’t be too many short boundaries; it depends on which pitch on the strip is used.

All this calls for a change in tactics. Players will have to run hard to turn twos into threes, and a reduction in sixes and fours means that those big overs to power the run rate may not come easily. Powerplays may not always see a rapid liftoff, the middle overs will be circumspect as usual, and the slog overs may not bring far too many runs. That could mean a par score of around 160, which has been the trend in first-round games and warmup matches. It could extend to the Super 12s as well.

Leg spin in focus

The success of leg spinners in Australia is not surprising. After all, the leg-spin maestro Shane Warne practised the craft here with abundant success. He was the most successful leg-spinner in the modern era, but Australia have consistently produced high-quality leggies like Richie Benaud, Bill O’Reilly and Clarrie Grimmett.

Leg-spinners have always thrived in T20 cricket. In fact, the format has been credited with reviving the dying art. Leggies are expensive since the back-of-the-hand deliveries lack the control of finger-spun balls. But leg-break bowlers are wicket-takers, and the best way to restrict scoring is to take wickets. That makes them matchwinners. So Sri Lanka’s Wanindu Hasaranga, India’s Yuzvendra Chahal, Australia’s Adam Zampa and New Zealand’s Ish Sodhi will be rubbing their hands in glee.

The pace factor

Bounce, steep bounce: fast bowlers love them. Pace batteries make Australia, England, Pakistan and South Africa the feared sides in the World Cup. One of the trends in T20 cricket has been the success of left-handed pacers who can bring the ball back into right-handed batters. Pakistan’s Shaheen Shah Afridi has been a standout performer; so is Australia’s Mitchell Starc and New Zealand’s Trent Boult. India’s young Arshdeep Singh too have made rapid strides.

If the bouncy strips favour pacers and leggies, what will batters do? Rock on the back foot and play square of the wicket. Batters who can cut, slash, pull and hook will reap runs, especially on grounds with shorter square boundaries.

All this is public knowledge among the cricketing fraternity. That wouldn’t prevent teams from poring over the Big Bash League games in Australia to tweak their strategies. T20 matches can be brutal, as minor mistakes can be punished mercilessly. Every team will fancy their chances. That makes the games unpredictable.

The unpredictability makes the T20 Cricket World Cup a white-knuckle ride. Hold on to your hats.

How the T20 World Cup is played
■ ROUND 1: The Netherlands, Sri Lanka, UAE and Namibia comprise Group A, while Ireland, West Indies, Scotland and Zimbabwe form Group B. The Netherlands and Sri Lanka progressed to the Super 12s from Group A, while Zimbabwe and Ireland qualified from Group B.
■ SUPER 12: The Super 12 has eight teams which have qualified directly for this stage. Australia, England, New Zealand and Afghanistan in Group 1; and Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and South Africa in Group 2. Qualifiers Sri Lanka and Ireland are placed in Group 1, while Zimbabwe and the Netherlands play in Group 2.
■ SEMIFINALS & FINAL: The top two make the semifinals, and the Melbourne Cricket Ground will host the final on November 13.
T20 World Cup 2022 fixtures
Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal/Gulf News

Origins of T20 World Cup

Twenty20 format is hottest cricket in town. Since the first World Cup in 2007, the T20 Internationals have exploded on to the cricket scene, spawning a legion of franchise leagues worldwide.

Although one of the earliest T20 formats was Cricket Max, conceived by Martin Crowe, it was mainly restricted to New Zealand. The current T20 owes its origin in England, following the demise of the Benson and Hedges Cup. Dwindling crowds and lack of sponsors forced the England and Wales Cricket Board to seek alternatives, and ECB chief Stuart Robertson’s idea of a 20-over game was chosen. English counties competed for the Twenty20 Cup in 2003, and its popularity spread to other countries.

The first T20 World Cup in South Africa in 2007 soon followed. It was a roaring success, and T20 games became a rage. Several leagues sprouted in cricketing countries, the Indian Premier League poured glitz and glamour into it. The Big Bash League in Australia, Pakistan Super League, Caribbean Premier League and others too attracted professional cricketers from all over the world.

Irish Eden Belleza/Gulf News

The ICC T20 Men’s World Cup in Australia is the eighth edition. Since 2007, it has been held every two years except in the year of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup (50 overs). The seventh edition in the UAE came after a five-year delay, mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Australia hosts the tournament for the first time. The trophy has never been defended successfully. This is Australia’s chance to do it.

Who will win the World Cup?

Australia, England, Pakistan and India are among the favourites. Any of them can win the cup. Gulf News editors pick their winners.

India’s batting will take them to the title

A.K.S Satish, Sports Editor

Rohit Sharma
India’s captain Rohit Sharma leaves after being dismissed by Australia’s Ashton Agar during the T20 World Cup cricket warm-up match at the Gabba in Brisbane on October 17, 2022. Image Credit: AFP
A.K.S. Satish, Sports Editor

I expect India to claim their second T20 World Cup in Melbourne on November 13. They have a relatively easy group, with Pakistan as the biggest threat.

The bouncy Australian pitches assist bowlers, and the long boundaries make it difficult to play big shots. So the onus will be on batters. The Indian batting runs deep with plenty of match-winners.

Skipper Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli have a proven track record, while opener KL Rahul lends stability at the top. The batters from No 4 to 7 are India’s strength. The return of Hardik Pandya and the tremendous form of Suryakumar Yadav have given India a considerable boost. With Rishabh Pant/Dinesh Karthik and Axar Patel to follow, the batting strength runs deep.

The Indian attack is a good mix of spin and pace. The pacers led by Mohammed Shami and Arshdeep Singh are backed by the spin combination of Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel and Ravichandran Ashwin.

So I feel India’s chances are better than 12 months ago. They can win.

Pakistan can win if Babar Azam is in top form

Ashfaq Ahmed, Senior Assistant Editor

Babar Azam
Pakistan’s captain Babar Azam plays a shot during the second cricket match against New Zealand in the T20 tri-series at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch on October 8, 2022. Image Credit: AFP
Ashfaq Ahmed, Senior Assistant Editor

I think Pakistan have a great opportunity to win T20 World Cup as they have a well-rounded team.

The green shirts come into the tournament high on confidence after winning the tri-series against New Zealand and Bangladesh. The team performed well in the Asia Cup even without its towering bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi. Going by the recent record of Pakistan winning 10 of its 16 matches, Babar Azam’s boys are on track to lift the trophy for the second time.

It all comes down to the opening pair of captain Azam and Mohammed Rizwan. Their performances will be the key to steering Pakistan to victory. I am afraid Pakistan won’t make the final if Azam has a poor tournament. The inclusion of stylish left-hander Fakhar Zaman has strengthened the unpredictable middle order.

Pakistan now has a solid batting lineup with Babar Azam, Mohammed Rizwan, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Asif Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khusdil Khan and a superb bowling combination including pacers Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf and Naseem Shah. Spinners Mohammed Nawaz and Shadab Khan be aggressive with the bat too.

If Pakistan play to their potential, they will win the tournament.

England are strong enough to win the cup

Jai Prasad Rai, Assistant Editor

Jos Buttler
England captain Jos Buttler hits a six during the third cricket match of the T20 series against Australia at the Manuka Oval in Canberra on October 14, 2022. Image Credit: AFP
Jai Prasad Rai, Assistant Editor

England have enough reasons to stake a claim for World Cup. In the run-up to the tournament, they won a two-match T20I series against Australia and defeated Pakistan 4-3 in a seven-match series.

England have been dominating the T20 format for some years. A win in the 2010 World Cup was followed by a near-win in 2016, losing a last-over thriller in the final as Carlos Braithwaite’s four consecutive sixes clinched the title for the West Indies.

Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal/Gulf News

England share Group 1 with defending champions Australia, New Zealand and Afghanistan, but they have the quality to mount a challenge for the title. Liam Livingstone and Moeen Ali will be the players to watch out for, while skipper Jos Buttler and Alex Hales can give a strong start. Dawid Malan also showed in the recent series that he can destroy any attack.

England have top-class fast bowlers suited for the Australian conditions. Chris Woakes and Sam Curran have been impactful, while spinners Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali have the skill and experience to keep the opponents under pressure.

Australia will retain the title

Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

David Warner
Australia’s David Warner plays a shot during the first cricket match of the T20 series against England at the Optus Stadium in Perth on October 9, 2022. Image Credit: AFP
Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

I expect Australia to win because they are a good side and are familiar with the conditions. Moreover, they have players for all crises.

Take a look at the team. David Warner and Adam Finch make a formidable opening pair. Mitch Marsh, who follows them, steered the Aussies to the title in the UAE last year. Allrounders Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis are the envy of many sides. The new man Tim David and wicketkeeper Matthew Wade will take care of the late-order thrust.

The bowling also is in good hands, with Mitchell Starc leading the pack. Josh Hazlewood is perhaps the best T20 bowler in the world. Then there’s Pat Cummins. Spin is a bit thin, although leggie Adam Zampa is a doughty customer.

Only England have a better side. But Australians are tough to beat in their backyard. Not just that. Finch has a team which will always find a way to win, no matter the crisis. Remember, they were not favourites last year when they stormed to victory.

India and Pakistan should round off the semifinal lineup. India’s bowling is a worry, while Pakistan’s middle order has been a concern. The two don’t have the power to beat back the challenge of Australia and England.

So Australia should retain their title.