Predicting the outcome of a T20 match is a mug’s game at the best of times, but this 2021 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Group A is a forecaster’s nightmare: you could place the teams in any one of 24 possible orders and literally have more or less the same chance of being correct.
A good deal of nonsense has already been spoken and written about the prospects, but on the eve of the first ball being bowled let’s nevertheless make one final attempt to assess what the decisive factors are likely to be.
After two defeats by the UAE in the so-called T20 Bash, Ireland were impressive in their two official warm-up games: their eight-wicket victory over an out-of-form PNG may not have told us much, but their victory over Bangladesh was impressive.
Getting Paul Stirling early is axiomatically a key to success against the Irish, but with skipper Andrew Balbirnie, Gareth Delany and Curtis Campher all making runs in the warm-up games, containing a powerful batting line-up will be an ongoing problem for Ireland’s opponents.
Ireland have also had the advantage of going through their paces in Abu Dhabi, where they play their first two group games, a privilege also accorded to fellow-Full members Sri Lanka but denied to the two Associates in the group.
On the other side of the scoresheet pacemen Craig Young and Josh Little have been impressive, while the off spin of Simi Singh and the leg breaks of Delany and Ben White may well prove to be a crucial factor.
Ireland’s first opponents, old adversaries the Netherlands, also began shakily, collapsing to 91 all out against Scotland and losing by 31 runs, but they looked a good deal better in beating Oman by four runs in a hard-fought encounter, and did well in a last-minute extra warm-up against New Zealand on Saturday, losing by just six runs.
The scorecard from that latter game is still unavailable at the time of writing, but it must be hoped that it helped clarify some of coach Ryan Campbell’s selection dilemmas as he and his side go into what we all know is really the final qualifier.
It’s often been observed that the Dutch seam attack is likely to be a key factor, and the encouraging form of Fred Klaassen and Timm van der Gugten against Scotland and of Logan van Beek against Oman indicates that this may still be true.
That said, the wily Roelof van der Merwe, the vastly experienced Pieter Seelaar and the cunningly deployed Colin Ackermann are all capable of applying scoreboard pressure at key moments, while leg-spinner Philippe Boissevain may yet prove a trump card.
So, too, may the depth of the Dutch batting, with Steph Myburgh, Max O’Dowd, Ben Cooper, Ackermann and Ryan ten Doeschate all chipping in against Oman, Scott Edwards one of the few successes against Scotland, and the likes of Van Beek and Van der Gugten capable of going big towards the end should they be called upon to do so.
Form suggests that 170 may be a minimum target at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, and if they can judge the tempo successfully the Netherlands have the capacity to achieve at least that.
With four wins out of four in the T20 Blast Namibia looked to be shaping well, but defeats by Oman and Scotland in the official warm-up games have taken some of the gloss off that promising start.
In skipper Gerhard Erasmus, Craig Williams and JJ Smit, however, they have powerful batters of proven class, and hard-hitting allrounder David Wiese has slotted into the middle order in a way which opposing bowlers could find menacing.
Wiese’s bowling, too, completes a pace unit in which the credentials of Smit and Jan Frylinck are well established, with Ruben Trumpelmann, Ben Shikongo and Jan Nicol Loftie-Eaton of the younger brigade also making a promising contribution.
It may be that Namibia rely less on spin than some of their rivals, but Bernard Scholtz’s left-armers, Pikky Ya France’s off breaks and Erasmus’s leg breaks may all come into play at important moments.
Qualification for the next phase may prove a stretch too far for a Namibian side which has come a long way since 2019, but it should surprise no-one if they win at least one match in this extraordinarily tough group.
And then there’s Sri Lanka.
With Avishka Fernando in imperious form – 239 runs in four warm-up innings at a strike rate of 153.2 marks him as potentially one of the stars of the tournament proper should the Sri Lankans qualify, even though he made many of them against Oman and PNG – and Pathum Nissanka, skipper Dasun Shanaka, Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Chamika Karunaratne all with runs under the belt, containing a powerful batting line-up may turn out to be a real challenge for Sri Lanka’s opponents.
The side appears to have recovered from a rough spell which saw them lose six out of nine T20Is, including a 3-nil home defeat by South Africa, and there is no doubt that they have the all-round ability to boss the group provided they treat all their rivals with the respect which they deserve.
On the bowling side, the pace of Dushmantha Chameera is likely to cause plenty of problems for opposing top orders, but the most economical of the Sri Lankan bowlers is leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga, whose 36 T20I wickets have cost fewer than seven runs an over.
Chameera’s colleagues in the pace unit, Lahiru Kumara, Shanaka and Karunaratne, will doubtless maintain the pressure, while Mahesh Theekshana’s off-spin will provide a foil for Hasaranga.
On balance, then, it would be rash to bet against Sri Lanka going through, with the favourites to join them probably being whoever wins that opening clash between Ireland and the Netherlands.
But frankly I have no idea what the outcome will be – and neither do you!
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