ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Group B preview: A clash of narratives

Oman T20 World Cup

Gone are the days when anyone can look at T20I match ups between teams such as Papua New Guinea (PNG), Oman, Scotland, and Bangladesh and call results with certainty.

Instead we pose questions speculatively, latching on to broad themes and inadvertently contributing to narratives and monikers that stubbornly stick to teams for years.

Let me share them at the outset before moving to summaries of who or what needs to click for each team to be competitive in Group B of the (first round of the) 2021 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup.

Will Bangladesh’s decades of experience at the highest level triumph over Oman’s first-time home advantage? Will the complete absence of expectations enable PNG to bat and bowl with freedom and clarity of thought that parachutes them into the second round? Will we see the Scotland that beat England in 2018, or the Scotland that lost to Singapore in 2019?

Oman T20 World Cup
Oman after qualifying for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup (Photo: ICC)

Oman are the tournament’s co-hosts. This achievement has been a feat in and of itself, and one that the Sultanate’s cricketing fraternity, and many in the Associate world, are rightly proud of.

‘We believed we could offer a new destination for cricket in the region…we had to convince India, but have a good relationship with them and they were extremely supportive,’ said Pankaj Khimji in a recent interview with Tristan Lavalette of Forbes.

A 32-run win over Namibia followed by a narrow four-run loss to the Netherlands in the warm-ups capped off a busy and successful pre-tournament period for Oman, in which we they also beat a strong Mumbai Ranji team in a T20 series.

The mercurial Aqib Ilyas was at his destructive best against the Netherlands scoring 78 off 48 balls with six maximums, and Oman will depend on him and Jatinder Singh for consistent, quick runs at the top of the order.

In order to progress, Oman will also need captain Zeeshan Maqsood and Khawar Ali to make significant all-round contributions in the face of an otherwise inexperienced spin attack, and early breakthroughs from he new ball pairing of Bilal Khan and Kaleemullah.

An opening day win against PNG at Al-Amerat could set the stage for a mouth-watering decider against Scotland on Friday 22 October.

The PNG team is all smiles in their T20 World Cup kit (Photo: ICC)

Nobody predicted that PNG would qualify for the T20 World Cup after they went into the qualifier having lost their eight previous, consecutive ODIs.

After a stellar performance in the qualifier, where they won Group A, the Barramundis are finally making their World Cup debut. A respectable 39-run loss against Sri Lanka in their final warm-up game papers over a dismal run of twelve international losses on the trot.

Deja vu is a powerful thing when it grips.

Batting remains the Achilles heel, and captain Assad Vala will need much more support from the likes of Charles Amini, Lega Siaka and Tony Ura if Carl Sandri’s charges are to compete.

With ball, Nosaina Pokana, Norman Vanua, and Amini will be expected to shoulder a significant burden alongside a bevy of bowling all-rounders.

Scotland can beat almost anyone on their day, such is the all-round talent they possess. Their consistency can be founding wanting.

In technical terms, questions have been asked of the effectiveness of Scotland’s pace attack, and these came to the fore again after Safyaan Sharif and Alasdair Evans conceded 0-81 in their eight overs in their warm-up encounter with Namibia.

But the Scots won that game by 19 runs courtesy of a batting masterclass from George Munsey, Matthew Cross, and Calum Macleod, their spinners also coming to the fore against 31-run win against the Netherlands in their first warm-up match.

Watch out for left-arm orthodox spinner Mark Watt whose last three T20Is have yielded eight wickets.

Coach Shane Burger is confident, even of a potential win against Bangladesh. ‘We don’t see Bangladesh being anywhere higher than PNG or Oman in terms of these group games…we know every single team is going to come at us. We will be their biggest game,’ he told Cricinfo recently.

Scotland v Zimbabwe
Scotland during a recent T20I series against Zimbabwe (Photo: Ian Jacobs)

Bangladesh may be aggrieved at Burger’s equivalence, and at the prospect of having to play in this ‘first round’ at all.

A 4-1 T20I series demolition of Australia in August followed by a 3-2 T20I series triumph over New Zealand in September underlined the Tigers credentials as serious challengers for the World Cup itself.

However, a stunning 33-run loss to Ireland in a their final warm up game on Thursday was a stark reminder of the unpredictability of results in this format.

With a relatively inexperienced spin-bowling attack to the tournament, Bangladesh will need Shakib Al Hasan firing on all cylinders, and the trio of Liton Das, Soumya Sarkar, and Mushfiqur Rahim to consistently anchor their batting.

The IPL-hardened Mustafizur Rahman is the obvious X-factor with the ball, with his intelligent variations in grip, pace, and length. Early wickets in the powerplay from him and the now-experienced Taskin Ahmed will be key to Bangladesh’s progression.

Everything said, it is difficult to go past Bangladesh as Group B winners. But I wouldn’t quite bet my money on it – and anything else over the next week.

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