The ICC World Twenty20 2016 starts on Tuesday, when hosts and favourites India face New Zealand in Nagpur.
The build-up to the sixth edition of the tournament has been marred by security rows and ticketing problems, but all that will be forgotten by the passionate Indian fans as they look to roar Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team to glory.
In addition to New Zealand, India will face Pakistan, Bangladesh and Australia in the group stage and they should progress through with ease.
India won its first warm-up match against West Indies, before losing narrowly to South Africa, but after their dominant performance in winning the recent Asia Cup they head into this tournament as favourites.
Dhoni has tried to keep expectations in check, saying the 2007 champions ‘are looking to make a slow and steady progress, rather than thinking too far ahead’ but with home advantage and a raucous crowd behind them India are a force to be reckoned with.
Australia is yet to get to grips with the shortened version of the game and they still appear to be in a state of flux.
A recent series win in South Africa is a good result, but conditions in Johannesburg are vastly different from what the team will face in India.
Shane Watson and David Warner are class acts with the bat, but with the selectors still uncertain of their best batting order and star bowler Mitchell Starc missing though injury, Australia don’t leap out as likely winners of the competition.
New Zealand enter a new phase in their history with inspirational captain Brendon McCullum now retired.
The Black Caps struggled against England’s spinners in their warm-up game, but having won their last four T20 meetings with India it would be dangerous to write them off.
Pakistan played poorly in the Asia Cup and their batting remains a problem, but with a strong bowling attack they could cause a surprise or two.
With wins against Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup, Bangladesh proved they have the ability to be competitive, but whether they can see off the likes of India, New Zealand and Australia is another matter.
South Africa, England Sri Lanka, West Indies and Afghanistan make up the second group, and it’s the South Africans who will offer the biggest challenge to India’s hopes in the later stages of the tournament.
Batsman Quinton de Kock loves batting in India and his ability to tear into bowling attacks marks him down as one of the team’s most valuable players, while spinners Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso are an excellent spin duo.
Their victory against India in their warm-up game shows they are a team to be feared and while historical doubts over their mental strength during tournaments still remain, the South Africans should at least reach the final four.
England’s new attacking approach has improved their fortunes in one-day cricket and they will hope to continue that form in the T20 version of the game.
Jason Roy, Alex Hales and Joe Root are a solid top three and with Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler to back them up, England could rack up some big scores.
Their seam attack looks a little lightweight, placing a lot of pressure on spinners Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid. A place in the last four shouldn’t be beyond England.
With Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara gone from their batting line-up, Sri Lanka face a difficult task in defending the title they won in 2014.
Series defeats in New Zealand and India, coupled with a poor showing at the Asia Cup, where they lost to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have left the Sri Lankans in disarray and a second successive T20 win seems unlikely.
West Indies were ranked as the ICC No 1 T20 team not that long ago and with Chris Gayle in their line-up anything is possible.
Batsmen Dwayne Bravo and Lendl Simmons are quality T20 performers, but with Jerome Taylor the only recognised strike bowler they will need other players to step up to the mark if they are to challenge the likes of India and South Africa.
Afghanistan’s rise from cricketing obscurity has been well-documented, but victory against Zimbabwe to qualify for the tournament proper was fully deserved.
What their team lacks in consistency it makes up for in heart, and anyone taking them lightly could be in for a rude awakening.
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