Saturday, 1 May 2010

Twenty20 for plenty of pride

A version of this article appeared in The Cambridge Student in April 2010

Cricket - ICC World Twenty20 2009 Preview Press Conference
Will Colly get his hands on the trophy again?

18 months ago, England played a Twenty20 cricket match in the Caribbean for a $20 million jackpot. The members of that team won’t look back very fondly on their encounter with Sir Allen Stanford and embarrassing loss to his “All-Star XI” in the “Twenty20 for 20,” but may draw some consolation from the fact that unlike the aforementioned Texan billionaire, they are not serving time for fraud. This time around, it’ll only be the small matter of national pride at stake when England – volcanic ash permitting – take the field in Guyana on May 3rd to begin their ICC World Twenty20 campaign.

Who says World Cups have to take place once every four years? Certainly not the International Cricket Council. The upcoming World Twenty20 will be the third such tournament since September 2007. The ICC has acknowledged the danger of overkill but feel the event is sufficiently short (and popular) to be held biennially. The inaugural edition in South Africa and last summer’s in England both proved big hits, with affordable ticket prices and a snappy format (lasting just two-and-a-bit weeks) attracting large crowds and huge worldwide television audiences.

England are not among the bookies’ favourites going into the tournament but do have cause to be quietly optimistic. They have managed creditable 1-1 draws in their last couple of Twenty20 International series, against South Africa in the Highveld and world champions Pakistan in Dubai. Last summer, they narrowly missed out on reaching the semis thanks to a rain-affected loss to the West Indies; they should fancy their chances of going a step or two further this time.

The team management may not have settled on a starting line-up yet but England’s batting nevertheless looks pretty exciting. An Englishman, an Irishman and an Afrikaner walk into the middle order, which is anything but a joke. Indeed, on current form, Paul Collingwood, Eoin Morgan and Kevin Pietersen are as good a trio of batsmen as you can find in limited over cricket. Collingwood’s performances in the Indian Premier League were good enough to keep AB de Villiers and Tillakaratne Dilshan out of the Delhi Daredevils’ starting XI for much of the tournament. Morgan’s unorthodox attacking stroke-play and calmness under pressure have seen him quickly establish himself as England’s “finisher.” While he didn’t really get going in his few IPL appearances for the Royal Challengers Bangalore, he will have learnt a great deal from sharing a dressing room with Ross Taylor and Cameron White, who play similar roles for the Kiwi and Aussie national sides. Meanwhile, Pietersen has excelled for Bangalore and credits another of the franchise’s stars – Rahul Dravid – for giving him the piece of technical advice that arrested his earlier slump in form.

Though yet to make his Twenty20 International debut, the hard-hitting Craig Kieswetter is the only specialist keeper in England’s squad and looks set to open the batting. The two men competing to be his partner both had mixed success in their auditions for the role over in the IPL. My hunch is that Michael Lumb – also a debutant and yet another South African import – will get the nod ahead of Ravi Bopara, who will drop down to number six.

On the bowling front, Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann are certain to play, leaving two places for grabs. By my reckoning, it’s a straight fight between Sussex all-rounders Luke Wright and Michael Yardy for the number seven spot, and another between Yorkshiremen Tim Bresnan and Ajmal Shahzad to be the third seamer. Off-spinner James Tredwell may get a look-in if the tracks offer a lot of turn.

The sluggishness of the wickets in the Caribbean is definitely a factor counting against England. They bounced out India at Lord’s last summer, but won’t be able to repeat the feat in Guyana or Barbados. Yorkers, cutters and slower bouncers will be the order of the day and both Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen have said they think it’s a shame England’s bowlers haven’t had the chance to hone these skills in the IPL. Having said that, they will at least be a lot fresher for not having spent the last month crisscrossing India. With a single victory over Ireland likely to ensure qualification from a group also including hosts West Indies, they should have ample opportunity to warm up for the business end of the tournament.

It’s a far cry from the Ashes and there are no millions to be won, but the World Twenty20 is a tournament that has grown rapidly in stature. It’s not “Twenty20 for 20,” just Twenty20 for Plenty of Pride.

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