T20 World Cup Wrap: Group stage delights and upcoming fights
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Kristy Havill

You can’t deny it – the group stage of this T20 World Cup was an absolute doozy. 

It was a wonderful opening day of cricket at the Oman Cricket Academy Ground, where the home team recorded a stunning 10 wicket win over T20 World Cup debutants Papua New Guinea. But it didn’t take long for the limelight to shift.

After Bangladesh recorded home series wins over both Australia and New Zealand, they were expected to gallop through into the next stage of the tournament. 

Enter, Scotland. 

Left gasping at 53/6 in the 12th over, anyone would be forgiven for thinking that Bangladesh were going to bring it home in a canter. But Chris Greaves, who only last month debuted for Scotland, had other ideas as he walloped 45 off 28 balls and took 2-19 off three overs to power his side to victory and be announced player of the match. A world away from his day job of delivering packages for Amazon. 

Ireland weren’t to be outdone by their neighbours from across the pond, as Curtis Campher decimated the Netherlands’ middle order by taking four wickets in four balls. The jury is still out as to whether that should be called a double hat trick or not, but we’ll leave that debate for another day. 

Normal order was restored after that. Sri Lanka were relatively unfazed throughout proceedings, recording three decent wins to take them top of Group A despite having a rather unrecognisable line-up. Bangladesh righted the ship after their opening loss and secured their spot in the Super 12 stage. 

Seeing Papua New Guinea play, after enduring a 676-day hiatus between international games of cricket due to the onset of Covid, with the biggest smiles on their faces was an utter joy. Regardless of the results, there were periods of time where they had the opposition on the ropes, and they will be eager to return at next year’s edition in Australia to get another shot at notching their first T20 World Cup win. 

After their win over Bangladesh, it would have been easy for Scotland to get complacent and take their foot off the pedal thinking that their spot was assured. But instead they turned in another couple of rock-solid performances to go top of Group B and leave Bangladesh in second place.

One big surprise in Group A was the Netherlands failing to get out of the blocks and register a win. With the experience across the squad, as well as having several players plying their trade in domestic cricket around the world, they would’ve backed themselves to clinch one of the two spots in their group. 

They’re not the only ones who will be disappointed, however. After a classy win over the Dutch side, a loss to Sri Lanka then meant that Ireland were staring down the barrel of a winner-takes-all showdown against the other team making their inaugural appearance at the T20 World Cup: Namibia. 

Namibia had also beaten the Netherlands and lost to Sri Lanka and would’ve been the underdogs in the clash against the Irish. They obviously didn’t get that memo though, as they restricted Ireland to 125/8 from their allotted 20 overs before their captain Gerhard Erasmus led them home with the bat with an unbeaten 53* to clinch the win with nine balls to spare. 

Their first T20 World Cup tournament. Their first win, followed by another, and with it, their first trip to the next round. 

These are the stories and beautiful narratives that are born from these tournaments, as cricketing nations from all around the world are given a platform on the world stage to strut their stuff. 

It does beg the question however, as to whether this tournament format is the most suitable. 

The fact that Scotland and Namibia now have five more opportunities to play top sides in front of a much more substantial global audience will do wonders for the sport back in their respective countries. But surely for every team from the group stage to be afforded that luxury would be preferable for the growth of the sport.

For these lower ranked countries, as with women’s cricket, the more exposure and experience they have in playing quality sides leads to a huge upward trend in their own performances as individuals and as a team. 

This then leads on to substantial flow-on effects in terms of gathering more interest in the sport, more people playing cricket and even more resources in the form of sponsorship and revenue opportunities. 

From 2024 onwards the T20 World Cup is expanding to 20 teams, so it would be an opportune time for the ICC to rejig the tournament format. Having four groups of five, and a quarterfinal stage, would put every team on an equal footing at the start of the tournament.

But off with the soapbox, and on with the cricket. 

We’ve already had a glimpse at Group 1, and now we get to see the first matches from Group 2 as India take on Pakistan and Afghanistan meet Scotland. 

It doesn’t matter the format, or the venue, or the tournament or series – the India/Pakistan rivalry is the most intense in cricket, and dates back a long way. That might be a controversial opinion, especially when you look at the history of the Ashes between England and Australia. But when it comes to India and Pakistan, it’s personal.

Originating from the Partition of British India into their respective countries in 1947 and other conflicts since, it doesn’t take much before things get fiery between these two teams on the field. And off the field, fans are baying for blood often before the first ball gets bowled, which elevates the contest to whole new level.

After two impressive knocks in warm up fixtures against England and Australia and being third highest on the run scoring charts in the IPL, Indian opener KL Rahul could shape as the key to success for their side. Getting his side out of the blocks well and navigating through the powerplay is Rahul’s bread and butter after scoring six half centuries from 13 games for Punjab Kings, and he’ll be eager to do the same in the blue shirt. 

Having Hardik Pandya back will also be one less thing for captain Virat Kohli to worry about, after the all-rounder finally returned in the warmup matches after a long layoff. Pandya looms as another piece of the puzzle, with his handy overs of bowling and strong power hitting making him a huge asset.

Slotting in at number three for Pakistan is Fakhar Zaman, who is looking in fine touch after scoring 46 and 52 (retired not out) against the West Indies and South Africa respectively in their warmup games. If he can play the anchor role should one or both of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan be removed early, that will give the middle order something to launch from later. 

Pakistan have long been renowned for their production of quality fast bowlers, and nothing has changed in that regard with the towering Shaheen Afridi and fiery Haris Rauf spearheading their attack. 

Scotland will look to keep their winning record intact, but for their opponents Afghanistan this will be a long awaited and somewhat emotional return to the cricket field. They haven’t played an international match since a T20 series against Zimbabwe in March, but events back home in Afghanistan in the interim have been the focus of global headlines. 

After the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan in August and declared that women would not be allowed to play cricket, this prompted the ICC to begin discussions around whether to revoke the men’s national side’s Test playing status. In order to be a full member of the ICC, and therefore be eligible to play test matches, countries must prove that they are dedicated to the growth of women’s cricket as well as fulfilling other criteria. 
But for now, Mohammad Nabi and his side will need to put all of that to the side if they hope to perform well in arguably their strongest format. Afghanistan boast two of the best spinners in white ball cricket in the form of Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, who have the ability to win matches on their own. 

A big win over the mercurial West Indies in their last warm up outing will give their top order a confidence boost as they piled on 189/5 from their 20 overs.  Although with the match being played in Sharjah on a tricky surface, you get the feeling this will be a contest sorted between the bowling units. 

GROUP 1                     GROUP 2

Australia                      Afghanistan

England                       India

South Africa                New Zealand

West Indies                 Pakistan

Bangladesh                 Scotland

South Africa                Namibia