The next edition of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup will take place later this year in Australia. The top-8 teams in India, Pakistan, New Zealand, South Africa, defending champions West Indies, past editions runners-up England, Afghanistan and hosts Australia will be joined by four qualifiers from the first stage post which they will be divided into two groups of six each.
With the World Cup less than eight months away, teams are in overdrive as far as zeroing on their ideal-combination is concerned. One of the most critical positions in cricket and especially T20 cricket is of the openers. That is because they are the ones who get to face the maximum number of balls, and if you look at the batting records in T20I, most of them would be held by the opening batsman.
The upcoming World Cup is set to feature a plethora of world-class openers and we thought, why not make a list of probable opening pairs for each of the top-8 teams.
Here’s the list:
1. Australia- David Warner and Aaron Finch
The upcoming T20 World Cup in Australia will probably be the first time after the inaugural event in South Africa [in 2007] that the Men in green and gold will head in as the prime title contenders.
To be confident, Australia had never taken the T20 World Cup in the past but with the upcoming event set to take place on home soil, winning the elusive trophy remains high on the agenda for Justin Langer and Aaron Finch-led Aussies.
And, the key to them winning the tournament will be the opening duo of Aaron Finch and David Warner. The duo, who are at the 7th spot-846 runs in 23 matches at an average of 40.28- in the all-time list of most runs by an opening pair, have been at the heart of Australia’s renaissance in the shortest format of the game.
Since the start of 2019, the opening pair of Finch and Warner have accumulated 544 runs in just nine innings at an average of 77.71- the best of the all the opening pairs in the world- including one 50 and three 100+ stands- the last of which came in the series decider against South Africa to set-up a 97-run win for the Aussies. Australia did the mistake of batting Warner at No.4 in the last T20 WC; bet, they wouldn’t make the same gaffe again.
2. Pakistan- Babar Azam and Kamran Akmal
It’s ironic that Pakistan is the No.1 ranked side in the world but they still don’t have a settled opening pair. But, that has unfortunately been the story of Pakistan in the past 12 months as they have grappled with the loss in form of a plethora of its top players that propelled them to the numero-uno spot- including opener Fakhar Zaman and Ahmed Shahzad.
Between January 2018-19, Babar Azam and Fakhar Zaman opened the innings on seven occasions and racked up 248 runs at an average of 35.42 while Shahzad and Zaman opened four times, accumulating 217 runs at an average of 54.25.
But Zaman’s dismal form in 2019 where he managed a total of 50 runs in 8 innings at an average of 6.25 and Shahzad’s lowly returns in the series against Sri Lanka [17 runs in 2 innings] meant Pakistan had to look elsewhere for Babar’s partner. The latest in the list is Ahsan Ali, who opened with the Azam in the recently-concluded T20I series against Bangladesh.
The pair could only manage 6 runs in 2 innings but these are still early days. But, in-case, Ali doesn’t do well in the future series, Pakistan can look at Kamran Akmal, who has been in whirlwind form in domestic cricket and PSL for some time now.
3. South Africa- Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma
That South Africa are going through a rebuilding phase where they are trying our various options as they aim to claw their way back on the top will not be an aberration. The Proteas lost both the home T20I series against England and Australia by a margin of 2-1 but they may have just found an ideal opening pair for the upcoming T20 World Cup in the form of Temba Bavuma and captain Quinton de Kock.
With Reeza Hendricks not in the best of form, the Proteas tried a new pair in the form of de Kock and debutant Temba Bavuma for the series against England. And, the duo struck the right chords with each other instantly and consistently gave blistering starts to their team and amassing 224 runs between them at an average of 74. Their partnerships in the three-match T20I series against England read: 48 off 4 1 overs, 92 off 7.5 overs & 84 off 7.4 overs.
Bavuma was ruled out of the succeeding series against Australia but with the lack of returns by Reeza Hendricks and the formers’ whirlwind start as an opening partner to de Kock, we might just see the duo walking out to open the innings in the T20 World Cup.
4. England- Jason Roy and Jos Buttler
If there is one team- apart from India- that is spoiled for riches as far as opening combinations are concerned, it has got to be England. In Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Tom Banton, and the discarded Alex Hales, who has been making all the right noises courtesy his whirlwind form in franchise T20 tournaments, England has enough power-packed openers to instil fear among the opposition bowlers.
The byproduct of the embarrassment of riches is you are always employing different permutations and combinations in a bid to find the ideal pair. England have used as many as seven different opening pairs in T20I cricket since the start of 2018, and the interesting fact is Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow isn’t one of them.
England has followed the same template that Rajasthan Royals employed when they slotted Jos Buttler at the top of the order in the 2018 edition.
Roy and Buttler have been the most successful pair- 347 runs in 8 innings at an average of 48.37- out of all the different combinations that they have tried since 2018, and unless Eoin Morgan and the English think-tank feel that they need Buttler-the finisher- more than they need him as an opener, the duo look primed to spearhead their sides’ top-order in the T20 World Cup.
5. New Zealand- Martin Guptill and Colin Munro
One of the bedrocks of the BlackCaps in white-ball (T20I) cricket is the opening pair of Martin Guptill and Colin Munro. Guptill and Munro have laid the platforms for a lot of wins in T20I cricket- both individually as well as a pair- ever since they started opening the innings in 2017.
Since then, the duo has racked up 1012 runs in 25 innings at an average of 40.48- the fourth-most in the history of T2OI cricket- which includes four half-centuries and three triple-figure stands.
One of the major reasons behind New Zealand losing 0-5 to India– apart from their inability to close out games– was that Guptill and Munro did not cash-in on their respective starts, something they and their team will hope isn’t the case.
6. West Indies- Evin Lewis and Lendl Simmons
The 2016 T20 World Cup champions haven’t had the best of times in the shortest format of the game since that historic night at the Eden Gardens four years ago.
One of the main reasons for the dip in performances is the lack of consistency and clarity towards selection coupled with the unavailability of key players. But, since the appointment of the new coach [Phil Simmons] and captain [Kieron Pollard], the two-time champions seem to have zeroed in on their options as far as their batting-unit is concerned.
The Windies have tried as many as 14 different opening pairs since the start of 2018 and the duo of Evin Lewis and Lendl Simmons— 279 runs at an average of 46.5– have emerged to be the most consistent of the lot. West Indies have added Shai Hope in their squad for the series against Sri Lanka which means he is being looked upon as a wicketkeeper+opening option.
But, of course, all of these combinations can be disrupted in-case the ‘Universe Boss’ decided he makes his comeback in the set-up.
7. Afghanistan: Hazratullah Zazai and Rahmanullah Gurbaz
Hazratullah Zazai and Rahmanullah Gurbaz have emerged as a consistent opening pair for Afghanistan. Since the start of 2019, the duo has opened together in 7 games and has racked up 264 runs at an average of 37.71 with three half-century stands.
Individually, Zazai [501 runs in 12 innings at an average of 45.54] and Rahmanullah Gurbaz [227 runs in 7 innings at an average of 32.42] are the two leading run-scorers when it comes to openers for Afghanistan since the start of 2018.
Usman Ghani- 152 runs in 5 innings at an average of 30.4- remains another option. That said, Mohammad Shahzad’s ban has been lifted recently and considering the fickle nature of the Afghan administration, who knows we might see the swashbuckler come into contention or even open in the World Cup. That said, Hazratullah Zazai and Rahmanullah Gurbaz are the prime contenders for the same as of now.
8. India: Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul
No opening pair in the history of T20I cricket has scored more runs [1743 in 52 innings] or more 100+ stands  than the superstar duo of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan but numbers do not really tell the entire story.
KL Rahul’s outrageous batting form coupled with his wicketkeeping offers India an option to slot-in an extra batsman/bowler depending on the conditions. Also, Shikhar Dhawan may have got runs in his past few outings, the southpaw hasn’t really had the same kind of impact in T20Is as compared to ODI cricket.
With Dhawan in the playing-11, India’s top-3 bored the sameness, as far as their style-of-play is concerned, and KL Rahul, courtesy his sumptuous and at times outrageous strokeplay, form a perfect foil to Sharma, who likes to take a few balls before turning the paintbrush into a sledgehammer, as indicated by their numbers– 558 runs in 11 innings at an average of 50.72 which include two 100+ stands.
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