The first game of the T20 World Cup is set to take place between the hosts Australia and Pakistan at the SCG on October 24th, with the final to be staged at the iconic MCG on November 15. Eight teams have already qualified for the Super 12 round, with the rest four teams to be decided by the qualifiers starting 18 October, which will precede the main tournament. West Indies are the defending champions while the hosts Australia would hope to grab the only ICC trophy which they haven’t conquered till date.
Cricket is a team sport, but invariably it is the individuals who are at duels with each other and individual performances which make the difference in big tournaments. In the World Cup last year, whether it was Mitchell Starc’s yorker to Ben Stokes, or Rohit Sharma’s excellent form, or Matt Henry’s opening spell against India or Ben Stokes’ stupendous World Cup final innings- it is the individual acts which lit the fire in the team.
The T20 format, the shortest one, is the most vibrant of the three and on the biggest platform of all, players would want to leave the biggest footprint.
Here we look at a player from each team (top 8 qualified teams) who could be the key performer for their side:
1. Australia- David Warner
David Warner has recently been awarded the Allan Border Medal for his outstanding performances last year. Apart from The Ashes, Warner was amongst runs in every other series. After making a comeback from the ban inflicted because of the ball-tampering charges, the left-hander ended up as the leading run-scorer in the IPL and the second-highest scorer in the World Cup.
Warner had a terrific 2019 for the Aussies in the shortest format. He scored 287 runs in 6 matches with a hundred against Sri Lanka and a couple of half-centuries. To put Warner’s dominance in T20 internationals last year in perspective- the opener was dismissed only once in those six matches. In the IPL Warner amassed 692 runs in 12 innings, including a hundred and 8 half-centuries.
In home conditions in T20Is, Warner has accumulated 767 runs in 23 innings at an average of 45 and a strike rate of 148. After returning from the ban, the pocket dynamo batsman has changed his style of play. Instead of taking the attack straight away, he is happy to don the anchor’s role to the likes of Finch and Maxwell.
As the T20 World Cup is to be hosted in Australia, not only the home team start as title contenders, David Warner will also be one of the favourites to be the top run-getter of the tournament.
2. Pakistan- Babar Azam
Amongst the 8 countries to have already qualified for the World Cup, Babar Azam was the third-highest run-scorer in T20Is for 2019, behind Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. The right-hander scored 374 runs in 10 innings- average of 41 and strike rate of 136- with 4 fifties. He is currently the only batsman to be in the top 5 of the ICC rankings across the three formats- and he sits at the top of T20I rankings.
Babar averages 50 plus in the SENA countries, however, it is a small sample size to dive deep into. His record in Australia is decent enough to believe he could take Pakistan through to the semis. In three innings, Babar has scored two half-centuries with a strike rate of 138. In his overall 20 over career, the Pakistan opener has scored in excess of 4000 runs at an average of 42 to go with three hundreds.
After the axing of Sarfaraz Ahmed, Babar Azam will lead Pakistan in the World Cup later in the year. He was always touted to be a future star and often compared with the likes of Kohli and Rohit. Pakistan’s hopes will rely massively on the 25-year-old skipper, and if Pakistan has any chance to go at length into the tournament, their best batsman will have to step up on the biggest occasion.
3. South Africa- Quinton de Kock
Quinton de Kock is one of the finest wicket-keeper batsman going around in world cricket on current form. He charms the cricket ball with great panache, but with assertive power as well. In Faf du Plessis’ absence, de Kock has been handed over the captaincy reigns for the Proteas.
As a captain de Kock has scored 3 half-centuries in 4 matches (as of the second T20I against England). The left-hander played merely three T20 internationals last year, scoring 144 runs with two fifties. He has started 2020 with a bang by scoring the fastest T20I fifty by a South African- he took 17 balls to notch up his half-century en route a 22-ball-65.
The opener-keeper hasn’t really had much success in Australian conditions. De Kock has scored 116 runs at a strike rate of 138 in 4 innings in Australia. The 27-year-old will have a huge amount of responsibility on his shoulders in the upcoming T20 World Cup. With David Miller’s return to form, Dale Steyn’s comeback in the green jersey and rumoured comeback of AB de Villiers- South Africa will ride on de Kock’s swashbuckling starts to terminate their chokers tag.
4. New Zealand- Martin Guptill
Martin Guptill along with Colin Munro forms a destructive force as both the openers treat the bowlers with utter disdain. Guptill, in particular, is identified for his ability to hit even the good balls for maximums. Guptill had a below-par 2019 scoring 165 runs at 23 with a solitary score over 50, however, he stroked at 163 which explains his vigorous capacity at the top order.
The opener looked in good touch in the T20s against India and gave New Zealand quick starts against the likes of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami. Playing in different T20 leagues around the world, the right-hander has collected over 7000 runs at a strike rate of 130, including 4 hundreds. Guptill was New Zealand’s highest-run getter in the 2016 T20 World Cup and played a major role to guide the Kiwis to the semi-finals.
The 33-year-old is set to take part in his sixth straight T20 World Cup. He has played only a couple of T20Is in Australia; he would be the key for the ‘nice guys’ in order to finish first this time around. With the likes of Ross Taylor, Colin de Grandhomme and Jimmy Neesham as finishers, Guptill will once again play the protagonist’s role at the top for the Black Caps.
5. West Indies- Nicholas Pooran
Nicholas Pooran is another West Indian renowned for his ball-smacking vigour and nonchalant composure. He was the highest scorer for the West Indies in the World Cup last year. Pooran scored 367 runs in 8 innings at an average of 52. Pooran hogged the limelight at the age of 17 when he smashed 54 runs off 24 balls in his debut Caribbean Premier League game.
The left-hander had a disappointing 2019 in T20 internationals. He could add mere 164 runs in 8 innings at a substandard strike rate of 109. However, he was impressive in the IPL. Playing for Kings XI Punjab, Pooran donned the role of a finisher and made 168 runs in 6 innings at a strike rate of 157. Consequently, Punjab decided to retain the West Indian.
Pooran’s pyrotechnics in limited-overs are prominent as exhibited by his T20 statistics. In 125 T20, he has scored over 2300 runs at a strike rate of 143. The defending champions are boosted with the return of Dwayne Bravo, and Kieron Pollard has been doing an excellent job as a skipper. With strikers like Nicholas Pooran, Shimron Hetmyer in the middle-order and Andre Russell, Kieron Pollard as finishers, West Indies are hopeful to retain the title.
6. Afghanistan- Rashid Khan
Rashid Khan has become a global superstar by combining his belligerent attitude with his smart skillset. Rashid is a dynamic player who offers assistance with the bat and is excellent in the field too. He has been performing consistently on the highest level since his debut in IPL in 2017.
In the last three seasons in the IPL, the leggie has scalped 17,21 and 17 each for Sunrisers Hyderabad. In T20 internationals, Rashid picked 20 wickets in 10 matches in 2019, and 22 wickets in 2018 in 8 matches! Rashid is the most sought after leg-spinner in T20 leagues around the globe and plays in almost every league. Overall, the right-hander has picked up 291 wickets in 208 games at a miserly economy of 6.3.
Rashid looked off-colour in the World Cup last year- so did Afghanistan. However, they flourish in the shortest format. After losing home series against the West Indies recently, Asghar Afghan is reinstated as their captain across formats replacing Rashid Khan. This will release Rashid from extra pressure of captaining the team. On their day the Afghan boys can take down even the giants of cricket in the shortest format- with their premier leg-spinner at the forefront.
7. England- Ben Stokes
The twitter fans have been already asking for Benjamin Stokes to be knighted– and he is still 28. Stokes’s heroics in the thrilling World Cup final and then on a miraculous afternoon in Headingley has got the world talking about him more than ever, more than they did when he conceded 4 sixes to lose a World Cup final, more than after his brawl on a cold night in Bristol and result of that he missed the Ashes Down Under where England were humbled 4-0.
With the World Cup and Ashes in sight, Stokes didn’t play a single T20 international last year and had a rather below-average IPL- by his standards though. He was Player of the Tournament in IPL 2017. He has had a brilliant start to 2020 with match-bearing performances against South Africa, both in Tests and T20Is.
Statistics will not signify his greatness in a game where the top order batters score big runs or the bowlers pick up wickets,-it is about the impact Ben Stokes makes during the match. The all-rounder can and has changed the course of games within a spell with the ball, or inside a few overs with the bat.
Stokes is in tremendous form and with the T20 World Cup in a few months, he will look for his redemption; we could only imagine how vast he would become- maybe fondle the likes of Sir Ian Botham.
8. India- KL Rahul
KL Rahul, without a doubt, is one of the most talented batsmen to don the Indian colours. For a long time, it was baffling to see a player of such calibre warming the bench. However, in a space of a month, Rahul has become- from a backup option to an indispensable part of the limited-overs team and the captain of his IPL franchise as well.
KL sits at the second spot of the ICC T20I rankings, behind Pakistani opener Babar Azam. The right-hander has always been consistent throughout his T20I career- an average of 45 and a strike rate of 146 in 41 T20Is is a testament to his consistency. Rahul scored 356 runs in 9 innings last year and was the Man of the series against New Zealand earlier in this year- scoring 224 runs in 5 matches.
The 27-year-old bats with a flair of the highest quality and an aggressive touch of flamboyance in it. In all likelihood, he has staunched the opener’s role in the T20 team for the World Cup. Rahul will be a delight to watch in the IPL leading Kings XI Punjab, before striding in the multi-nation event.
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