DUBAI: Five years after losing a breathtaking T20 World Cup final to the West Indies, Eoin Morgan’s England are starting as small favorites in their bid to become two-time world champions despite Ben Stokes’ absence.
Not far behind are Virat Kohli’s India, the ever-murderous West Indies and world test champions New Zealand – not to mention South Africa, Australia, former winners Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and fairy tale foreigners in Afghanistan.
Postponed and moved twice due to the pandemic, the seventh edition of the tournament kicks off on October 17 with Oman – co-host with the United Arab Emirates – facing Papua New Guinea in a first qualifying round.
Top nations will join the event – played in stadiums 70% filled – on October 23, with Australia and South Africa playing the Super 12 stage opener and England against the West Indies , holders of the title.
England, ranked world number one in T20 cricket, beat New Zealand to claim the 50th anniversary title at Lord’s in 2019 and victory in the shortest format flagship event will further solidify their white ball dominance .
Morgan’s squad will, however, be without Stokes and Jofra Archer, who played key roles in their one-day World Cup triumph, but vice-captain Jos Buttler insists the squad is “certainly one of the favorite teams “.
“I know we miss Ben and Jofra, who are two of the game’s superstars, but I’m still looking through this list and seeing some real match winners from our end.”
Old war horses
England had to defend 19 points in the final final of the 2016 Final at Eden Gardens in Kolkata, but Carlos Brathwaite hit Stokes for four six in a row, giving the Caribbean their second T20 world title.
Much of that winning team will return, led by Kieron Pollard and old warhorses Dwayne Bravo, 38, and Chris Gayle, 42.
Asian giants India will begin their campaign against rivals Pakistan on October 24, with Kohli looking to come out on a high before stepping down as captain of the T20 team after the tournament.
Kohli will look to repeat India’s triumph at the inaugural tournament in 2007 with then-skipper MS Dhoni joining the team as a mentor.
Swashbuckling opener Rohit Sharma is widely regarded as Kohli’s successor and will be the key to the team’s chances with Yorker King Jasprit Bumrah.
KL Rahul, meanwhile, have touched the over six, 30, in the Indian Premier League, which ends just before the T20 World Cup and has given many stars some accustomed to the UAE pitches.
Glenn Maxwell, for example, scored 513 points including six half centuries in the world’s most popular cricket league, a performance that will bolster Australia’s hopes of a first T20 title.
Australia’s white ball captain Aaron Finch has said he and David Warner will open the bat despite his left-handed partner being dropped twice by Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL.
“Six, seven teams that can win this tournament”
Trans-Tasman neighbors New Zealand, led by Kane Williamson, will also be aiming for two successive world crowns after winning the inaugural Test Championship, beating India in the final in June.
“We’re in a tough group, I honestly think there are six, seven teams that could win this tournament and I guess it’s also good for world cricket,” Kiwi coach Gary Stead said. .
New Zealand is clubbed with India, Pakistan and Afghanistan in Group 1. England, Australia, South Africa and the West Indies make up Group 2.
South Africa and former champions Pakistan remain underdogs while Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have to fight with associated countries to join the Super 12 heavyweights.
A few weeks after the takeover of the country by the Taliban, the dream winners would be Afghan outsiders, all of whose players are based abroad.
Their South African coach Lance Klusener recently boasted of the “best spin attack in the world” from his team, made up of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi.
The tournament was originally scheduled to take place in Australia in late 2020 but was canceled due to the pandemic.
Then it was expected to happen in India and eventually moved to the Gulf, but with the Indian cricket board, BCCI, still hosting it.
Matches will take place at four venues – Dubai International Stadium, Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah Stadium and Oman Cricket Academy Ground – with the final scheduled in Dubai on November 14.