The usual suspects can never be left out of the favourites' list prior to a big tournament, but when in Sri Lanka, it makes sense to back the local boys
Modern cricketers tend to be wary of paying too much attention to history. Speak to them and they will wax lyrical about the importance of being in the present, of living in the moment. They don’t like to look too far ahead, and certainly won’t be drawn into speculating about what might happen in the future. Every match, they say, is a new game, and that you begin on zero as a batsmen irrespective of the kind of form you are in. While a lot of this can be attributed to new-age psychology and coaching techniques, with a dash of media training nudging them towards saying what they think the fans want to hear, you can’t help but think it’s a good thing to know a bit about the past. When the ICC World Twenty20 2012 begins in Sri Lanka later this month, those who ignore history do so at their peril.
This is the first ICC World Twenty20 to be played in Asia, so in that sense there isn’t a body of work to go on. Having said that, this is not the first major ICC tournament to be held in the region. And every time Sri Lanka has been joint hosts, it has gone the distance. In 1996, it was Arjuna Ranatunga’s warriors who took the world by storm, challenging the way ODI cricket is played, and won the ICC Cricket World Cup 1996 in the final at Lahore. At the ICC Champions Trophy 2002, played exclusively in Colombo, Sri Lanka was joint winner, with the final against India stretching over two rain-drenched days. Fast forward to the ICC World Cup 2011, where Sri Lanka was once again joint host, and it was the turn of Kumar Sangakkara to lead the team to glory. A dramatic run was ended only in the final, when Mahela Jayawardene became the first batsman to score a hundred in a lost cause. India, powered by Gautam Gambhir and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, were simply too strong.
Sangakkara, who has handed over the reins of captaincy after that event, wasted no time in reaffirming his team’s strength at home. “Sri Lanka have always been favourites in my view in any tournament that we play because we've been able to rise to those big occasions really well as a unit and adjust accordingly,” he said in the lead-up to the ICC World Twenty20 2012. “If you take our last four to five years, it's been an amazing run in big tournaments. We just need to believe in ourselves and believe in that fact and keep playing.” Sangakkara also said that his team would have a massive advantage thanks to the home-crowd support, and you can be sure other teams will want to prove this is not so.
India, the current holder of the ICC Cricket World Cup, comes into the tournament on the back of an emotional return to cricket of Yuvraj Singh, their talismanic limited-overs legend, who has successfully battled a rare germ-cell cancer. England, the defending champion, has had a roller-coaster ride in the lead-up to the event, with Kevin Pietersen, player of the tournament in the ICC World Twenty20 2010, being left out of the squad.
Australia has flown under the radar, and after two straight losses to Pakistan in T20 Internationals in Dubai, slipped to tenth in the ICC rankings, behind even Ireland. South Africa, for its part, has enjoyed a glorious English summer, with Hashim Amla imposing himself on proceedings with such authority that it has risen to the top of the charts. Pakistan, under coach Dav Whatmore and Twenty20 captain Mohammad Hafeez, remains a dangerous team, and if its batting holds, a spin attack including Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi can make life miserable for any batting line-up.
This is the broad form-sheet leading up to the ICC World Twenty20 2012, but as the players constantly remind us, it could mean nothing. Which is precisely why the shortest format of the game has attracted such a large audience of recent cricket converts. You can have all the data at your fingertips, and do all the number crunching you like, but what happens on the field continues to surprise and delight in equal measure.