The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 is officially in eyesight. Ten days out from the opening match, we take a look at 10 unmissable matches from the tournament.
WEST INDIES VS ENGLAND - 23 October, Dubai
The world’s No.1 men’s T20I side and the reigning T20 World Cup champions meet again with memories of their last clash at the showpiece tournament still fresh.
In 2016, Carlos Brathwaite hit four consecutive sixes to seal the West Indies’ second Men’s T20 World Cup crown and we’ve remembered the name ever since.
Barring a late call-up, Brathwaite won't play in this month's tournament. Nevertheless, his name is now forever woven into the rich tapestry of the West Indies’ proud cricketing history and the T20 World Cup’s growing legend. That’s what a showstopping performance in a tournament final can do.
It was at the T20 World Cup 2016 that England announced themselves as a white ball force to be reckoned with, storming their way to the decider off the back of a power-packed batting order with a tail that didn’t start until No.10.
The clash between the two sides pits two of the format’s most well-rounded and explosive teams against one another.
Eoin Morgan’s team have only improved and evolved since then and quite rightly sit on top of the ICC T20I rankings. They boast the world’s top-ranking T20I batter, in Dawid Malan, in an order that packs plenty of punch with the likes of Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, and captain Morgan, alongside a well-rounded attack blessed with both pace and guile.
In 2016, they only lost two matches all tournament. They were both to the West Indies.
While West Indies are currently down at ninth on the rankings, they will quite rightly go into the tournament among the leading contenders. No team boasts as high a ceiling with the bat as the West Indies, whose order is packed with big hitters. In Kieron Pollard and Andre Russell they have two of the most feared power hitters in the game, in Evin Lewis the fastest man to ever hit 100 T20I sixes, and in Chris Gayle they have T20 cricket’s greatest ever run-scorer. Electric in the field, and intelligent and innovative with the ball, they will be among the tournament’s most feared teams.
Lock in 23 October as a day of must-watch cricket.
INDIA VS PAKISTAN - 24 October, Dubai
Not just fierce rivals, India and Pakistan also share a rich history at the T20 World Cup. The two teams met in the inaugural T20 World Cup Final, which India won. Just two years later Pakistan got their hands on the trophy to erase whatever scars existed from the 2007 defeat. Neither side has won it since but not for a want of trying.
From Joginder Sharma’s clutch final over in the 2007 decider to Kohli’s masterclass in the group stage in 2016, and Mohammad Amir’s scintillating spell in the Champions Trophy 2017 Final, matches between India and Pakistan have regularly produced cricket of the highest calibre. Expect that trend to continue on 24 October when Kohli and Babar Azam’s teams clash at Dubai.
Moving away from their rivalry, at its core this is a match that brings some of the game’s most exciting players onto the same field.
Kohli vs Azam is a battle of captains, a battle of cover drives, a battle of two men who have unrelenting pursued excellence. Kohli boasts the most runs in men’s T20I history (3159) at the best average (52.65) of any player the format has seen. Babar is making up ground quickly on the run tally (2204) and has the third-best average (46.89) in the format. His opening partner, Mohammad Rizwan, sits second for average at 48.40. They are all consistency personified in a format not known for it. Throw in the likes of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Mohammad Hafeez and you’re looking at two batting orders capable of scoring in any conditions.
Both teams feature classy quicks in the shape of Jasprit Bumrah, Shaheen Afridi and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and a vast array of spinners on the bowling front.
These are two teams evenly matched in every facet and both will be fully aware of how damaging a loss would be to their trophy ambitions.
SRI LANKA VS IRELAND - 20 October, Abu Dhabi
Sri Lanka righty go into the T20 World Cup as favourites to top their Round 1 group but knowing they cannot afford any slip-ups after some patchy form in the lead-up.
On paper, their stiffest opponents will be Ireland, with just two spots splitting the two teams on the ICC T20I rankings.
Sri Lanka are one of only five teams to have won the men’s T20 World Cup but that will matter little in a tough group in Round 1. The Asian outfit have endured a lean run in the format of late and sit 10th on the MRF Tyres ICC team rankings. A strong performance against Ireland is not only crucial to their hopes of reaching the Super 12 stage but could kickstart a return to their best. Momentum is everything in tournament cricket and Sri Lanka need to start building it. Boding in their favour is the likelihood of pitches that favour the turning ball, which should suit their vast array of tweakers.
Ireland have made a penchant for beating teams higher on the standings than them and already have claims to some of the most iconic moments in ICC tournament lore. In 2007, they took the Cricket World Cup by storm after stunning Pakistan. In 2011, Kevin O’Brien’s 113 blew England away. And in 2015, there were victories over West Indies and Zimbabwe.
In 2009, Ireland knocked over Bangladesh to reach the second round of the T20 World Cup. They haven’t progressed past the first found since then. Now firmly established as a force to be reckoned with, they can both make a statement and take a big step forward in the tournament if they knock over Sri Lanka.
NETHERLANDS VS IRELAND - 18 October, Abu Dhabi
One of the biggest matches of the first round, Netherlands and Ireland have plenty of history, with this clash another chapter for two emerging teams at the game’s highest level.
The Netherlands have the wood over their rivals, winning seven of the 12 matches between the teams, on top of winning two of their ODI Cricket World Cup Super League matches against Ireland earlier in the year in Kampong.
In 2019, they also went on to win the T20 World Cup Qualifier after beating Ireland by 21 runs in the semi-final, held in Dubai. Defending a target of 158, set largely thanks to the experience of Ryan ten Doeschate and Roelof van der Merwe at five and six, the Dutch tied Ireland down with left-arm orthodox spin, with van der Merwe combining with captain Pieter Seelaar to take five wickets.
Seelaar is crafty in his leadership and is able to separate his roles between bowling and captaincy, while Ireland captain Andy Balbirnie has a wealth of bowling options. Josh Little and Mark Adair have established themselves as key quicks, while all-rounders Simi Singh and George Dockrell carry the spin threat. Ireland should also be boosted by hard-hitting, leg-spinning all-rounder Gareth Delany who should return from injury.
On the batting side, Paul Stirling’s efforts at the top will go a long way to helping Ireland’s chances, and while in a lean patch at present, opening partner O’Brien has a knack for performing in big matches. Balbirnie is the glue and should carry the team through the middle overs, allowing the likes of Harry Tector, Dockrell, Singh and Delany to accelerate. For the Netherlands, Max O’Dowd and Ben Cooper will set the tone at the top.
SRI LANKA VS NAMIBIA - 18 October, Abu Dhabi
Making an 18-year return to an ICC Global event, Namibia has the chance to provide the tournament’s first shock in their opening match when they face Sri Lanka.
Led by the classy Gerhard Erasmus in the middle-order, the team is markedly stronger than their 2003 Cricket World Cup outfit and boasts depth even outside the playing eleven. They should push all three opponents in their group. On the other side, Sri Lanka will be determined to build into their campaign with three strong performances.
While the attention on spin is to be cast on Wanindu Hasaranga in particular, Namibia’s spin attack is led by Bernard Scholtz, who may well have a breakout tournament with his left-arm orthodox.
At the top of the order, it’s Namibia’s approach that matches Sri Lanka’s historical gung-ho gameplan, with Zane Green given licence to go hard. Stephen Baard should accompany him, with the versatile Craig Williams able to slide up and down the order where required. Williams’ seamers will also factor into Erasmus’ plans.
Sri Lanka’s top order will be a little more circumspect if their recent series with South Africa is any indication. They will be hoping for a big tournament from the likes of Avishka Fernando, Kusal Perera and Kusal Mendis with the bat.
Sri Lanka will have to be at close to their best to ensure they get their campaign off on the right foot.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA VS OMAN - 17 October, Oman
The first team to book their World Cup tickets through the Qualifier, Papua New Guinea come into the event full of optimism and take on co-hosts Oman in the tournament's opening match.
Having been in different groups for the Qualifier and not crossing paths in the latter stages, this will be the first meeting of PNG and Oman at the T20I level. While there may not be a lot of history to go off for this particular match, it only adds to the intrigue.
The key match-up in this clash will likely be PNG’s opening partnership against the swing threat of Bilal Khan, who’s already taken 51 T20I wickets at a strike rate of just 14.30.
PNG’s magical Qualification campaign was largely thanks to their opening pair of captain Assad Vala and Tony Ura, who averaged 53.85 for the first wicket at a run rate of 8.34. Should that opening partnership be broken up, the middle order of CJ Amini, Lega Siaka and Sese Bau will look to step up.
Accompanying Bilal will be Fayyaz Butt and Mohammad Nadeem, though Oman’s middle overs will be dominated by spin. Able to bowl himself with his left-arm orthodox, captain Zeeshan Maqsood has several options, perhaps the most intriguing being leg-spinner Khawar Ali. Featuring as one of Oman’s opening batters, Ali (12 wickets) was Oman’s second-leading wicket-taker behind Bilal at the qualifier.
Vala has no less than eight bowlers to work with in the field and will operate with who is hot, while Oman’s middle order of Aqib Ilyas and Maqsood can move things along if their explosive opening pair of Jatinder Singh and Ali don’t execute.
Both teams will see this match-up as the best opportunity to make ground in the group stage.
BANGLADESH VS SCOTLAND - 17 October, Oman
Like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh go into their group as firm favourites to reach the Super 12 stage. Scotland will consider themselves the frontrunner for the second qualifying spot in Group B. The clash between the two teams is one both will have underlined.
For Bangladesh, Scotland look likely to be their toughest opponents in Group B, with Kyle Coetzer's side the next highest ranking team in the group, sitting 14th.
While the match looms as a banana skin for Bangladesh, it shapes as a statement game for the Scots who can ignite their campaign with a victory.
The two teams have only met once at the T20I level, back in 2012 during Bangladesh’s tour of Ireland and the Netherlands. That match was won handsomely by Scotland, with Richie Berrington making an even 100 from 58 balls to hand the underdogs a 34-run victory.
Several players from both teams from that match will line up in the World Cup despite the nine-year gap, with Berrington, Calum MacLeod and skipper Kyle Coetzer among Scotland’s mainstays. For Bangladesh, expect Shakib Al Hasan, Mahmud Ullah and Mushfiqur Rahim to feature.
The last time the two teams met in any format was in 2015 at the Cricket World Cup in New Zealand and that match proved a high-scoring entertainer. Coetzer notched an awe-inspiring knock of 156 (134 balls) to launch Scotland to 318 but it wasn’t enough in the end as four of Bangladesh’s batters made half-centuries to run their opponents down.
Having come close in 2015, Scotland will be intent on going one step further in 2021.
NEW ZEALAND VS AFGHANISTAN - 7 November, Abu Dhabi
Afghanistan have covered plenty of ground in a short time in white ball cricket but there are still a few firsts ahead of them. One of those firsts is playing the Black Caps in a T20I. Across the 15 other teams at the T20 World Cup, Afghanistan has faced every one of them except for Namibia and New Zealand.
Depending upon Round 1 results, they may get to play Namibia, but what is certain is that they will take on Kane Williamson’s team with the two sides both in Group 2 of the Super 12 stage.
It is a match New Zealand will go into as favourites given their record of consistently making it deep in ICC tournaments – since 2015 the Black Caps have reached at least the semi-final of four of the past five ICC tournaments – and their lofty ranking of fourth on the ICC team rankings.
Nevertheless, it is a match Afghanistan will go into with nothing to fear. There is a reason they have already qualified for the Super 12 stage.
Afghanistan sat eighth at the cut-off date for automatic qualification for the T20 World Cup in January 2019 and they've held onto that position.
It’s a position they have well and truly earned, having won each of their past eight T20I series – one series win shared with Bangladesh. That’s a run of victories that includes series wins over West Indies, Bangladesh, Ireland and Zimbabwe. Remarkably, since the T20 World Cup 2016, they have only lost one of their 12 series and that defeat was back in 2017 against recently crowned champions West Indies.
Throw in the fact they have the world’s number one T20I all-rounder, – Mohammed Nabi – and the number three and five – Rashid Khan and Mujeeb ur Rahman – T20I bowlers in their XI in conditions that should suit them, and Afghanistan pose a serious threat to New Zealand.
While New Zealand are the one non-Asian team currently in Group 2, they are more than equipped to thrive in spinning conditions. In 2016 they reached the T20 World Cup semi-finals in India, notably beating the hosts in their group stage clash, and they took out their most recent T20I series in Asia, beating Sri Lanka in 2019. Add in quality spin bowlers – Ish Sodhi sits 13th on the ICC T20I bowling rankings and Mitch Santner 19th – and excellent players of the turning ball like Williamson and all signs point to another strong campaign for the Black Caps.
That could all be blown off-kilter if they lose to a confident Afghanistan outfit.
AUSTRALIA VS SOUTH AFRICA - 23 October, Abu Dhabi
Sitting fifth and seventh respectively on the T20I rankings, South Africa and Australia will each have circled this fixture as a must-win in their calendars.
The two sides have only met once in a T20 World Cup but their history in ICC events is as well known as any having featured in two of the Cricket World Cup’s greatest ever matches in 1999. In 2021 they get the chance to renew their rivalry.
The two sides have plenty in common, each packing a punch at the top of the order and an attack blessed with extreme pace and accurate, cunnings spinners.
With Aaron Finch, David Warner and Glenn Maxwell on one side, and Quinton de Kock, Aiden Markram and David Miller on the other, the match promises plenty of boundaries from some of the format’s best operators.
And none of them will have it easy either as some of cricket’s fiercest and fastest bowlers hurl leather and cork at frightening speeds. We’re talking Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins against Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje. Strap yourselves in.
As exciting as those fast bowlers are, in the UAE it could all come down to the spinners and both teams are well serviced. In Tabraiz Shamsi, South Africa have a man in form who sits on top of the T20I bowling rankings. In Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar, the Australians have two of the top 10 bowlers in the world and one of the most reliable one-two acts in the game.
Whether it’s power-hitting, fast bowling or spin wizardry, this match will have something for you.
INDIA VS NEW ZEALAND - 31 October, Dubai
Without anyone really noticing, India against New Zealand has developed into one of cricket’s highest quality rivalries without the hostility that often comes with that word.
The respect between the two teams and two captains was there for everyone to see through the World Test Championship Final; a match that produced a level of cricket of the very highest order. Two years earlier, when the sides met in the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup the match was every bit as thrilling, see-sawing frequently with the result only in the bag for the Black Caps when Martin Guptill ran MS Dhoni out at the death.
Those two victories were the latest in a run of six consecutive wins for the Black Caps over India in completed ICC tournament matches.
That’s a record Kohli’s team will be determined to end this year but that could prove easier said than done with the two sides so evenly matched.
Each of them have batters in the top 10 – Kohli (4th) and KL Rahul (6th) for India, Devon Conway (5th) for New Zealand – of the T20I batting rankings, on top of the likes of Rohit Sharma, Martin Guptill, Williamson and Hardik Pandya.
On the bowling front, there’s the small matter of Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar going up against Tim Southee and Lockie Ferguson, with spinners aplenty in both squads.
It all points to another classic encounter between two of cricket’s most consistent performers across all three formats.