Cricket captains
CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS: (Clockwise from left) Rohit Sharma of India, Babar Azam of Pakistan, Mitchell Marsh of Australia and Jos Buttler lead the favourites in the T20 Cricket World Cup, which started on June 1, 2024. Image Credit: AFP & Reuters

Did you watch Chris Gayle launch the T20 World Cup trophy tour? The former West Indian star, who calls himself the Universe Boss, did it in style atop New York’s Empire State Building, illuminated with the tournament promo. Gayle was at his irrepressible best and proclaimed the West Indies would win the tournament.

I didn’t expect him to say India. Or England. Or Australia. When Gayle picked the West Indies, he spoke for all the Caribbean islanders. When the Americas host the biennial event, it’s only natural that every West Indian expects their team to win.

You can’t fault them. The West Indies have won it twice; they are one of only two teams to do that (England were the other). So the island nations believe they can win again, especially in their backyard. That’s passion.

Why the West Indies are fragile

Let’s be realistic. Can Rovman Powell lead the West Indies to their third title? Can they quell the challenge of champions England, Australia, India, Pakistan and New Zealand? They have to if they are to be crowned champions.

The West Indians are a champion side. But I don’t see them winning the cup. More so after their unconvincing win over Papua New Guinea. No disrespect to the Associate nation’s cricketing credentials; it was a game the Caribbeans should have won with plenty to spare. Instead they scrambled to a five-wicket win with only a over to spare, and that too with the last recognised pair of batsmen at the crease.

The match reflected the West Indian shortcomings in recent years, frailties that deprived them of spots in the main draw of two World Cups (T20 and ODI). Consistency hasn’t been their forte, and that will trip them again. Sadly, this time, it will be in front of the home crowd.

Who are the strong contenders?

So who will win the World Cup? There are plenty of strong contenders. England are favourites to defend the 2022 title. That’s not without reason. Take a look at the squad, led by the ebullient Jos Buttler. It’s a bunch of fearless batters, backed by top-class bowlers — ample resources to win the cup a third time.

Australia, don’t ever write them off. They have enough talent and resilience to bounce back from slow starts to win the final in a hurry. I saw that happen in Dubai in the 2021 T20 World Cup and again in the 2023 ODI World Cup. This is Mitchell Marsh’s maiden outing as captain in a major tournament, but his team is packed with experienced campaigners and a few new faces. I think they have the team to win.

India will fancy their chances after their near brush with glory in the ODI World Cup. Rohit Sharma leads a team that is heavy on batting and a bit light on bowling. Can they outbat the rest? Will the slow bowlers strangle rival batsmen? Well, they will make the semifinals. After that, it’s anybody’s guess.

Can South Africa beat pressure?

Pakistan’s pace bowling machine

How about Pakistan? They can make the semis solely on the strength of their bowling. It remains to be seen how effective their pace battery will be on the slow West Indian pitches. Their Achilles heel will be the middle-order batting, which has let them down in the past. If they can fix it, they could do better than the runners-up finish of 2022.

New Zealand shed the chokers’ tag with the 2021 World Test Championship victory. However, Kane Williamson’s team haven’t won any silverware in white-ball cricket, although they came close in the 2019 ODI World Cup and the 2021 T20 World Cup, losing in the finals. I expect the trophy to elude them this year too.

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South Africa are the chokers of international cricket, a label they have tried to shake off without success. This time too, they have a balanced side with a fine array of batsmen and a varied attack of pace and spin. That should make them favourites, but they are their worst enemies. Pressure gets to them. It could happen again.

I think England, Australia, India, and Pakistan can win. Who will walk away with the cup? I’m a bit wary of making predictions because they tend to be way off the mark, like the FIFA World Cup 2022. But I did write that Australia could win the 2023 ODI World Cup since the law of averages could catch up with India. I got the winners of the 2024 Indian Premier League right.

Emboldened by that, I shall indulge in a spot of crystal-ball gazing. Looks like England and Australia will make the June 29 final, and Marsh will lift the cup at the Kensington Oval, Barbados. Sorry India.

Read: Explainer on T20 Cricket World Cup and schedule of league matches

T20 World Cup fixtures