The 2007 winners and defending champions are the heavyweights but Afghanistan will be out to slay a giant or two in the ICC World Twenty20.
The unpredictable nature of Twenty20 cricket is what makes makes Group A of the 2012 ICC World Twenty20 an interesting proportion. It consists of India, England and Afghanistan and on the face of it the first two teams look set to qualify for the next round, but any laxity on their part and Afghanistan might queer their pitch.
Over the last one year, Afghanistan have emerged as a team with a fine blend of dash and defiance. They've been inconsistent, but shown fighting spirit and vigour and they have a couple of very good players for the Twenty20 format like Karim Shadiq and Mohammad Shehzad, both of whom are explosive batsmen. Mohammad Nabi is a capable allrounder who can turn a match on his own while in the bowling, legspinner Samiullah Shenwari could be Afghanistan’s trump card as his economy rate of 5.45 in international matches suggests. Fielding is this team’s Achilles' heel.
England's batting looks inexperienced without their star batsman Kevin Pietersen but the likes of Eoin Morgan, Jonny Bairstow, Alex Hales, Jos Butler and Michael Lumb are tailor-made for Twenty20s. There will also be an interesting tussle for the allrounder’s spot, with Luke Wright making a strong case to be picked ahead of an out-of-form Ravi Bopara. There are few worries with England’s bowling, however, with Steven Finn, Stuart Broad, Jade Dernbach and Graeme Swann combing to form on the best bowling attacks in the tournament.
That leaves India, who will have a distinct advantage over other teams as they had just played a five-match ODI series in Sri Lanka and are well-versed with the conditions and pitches. The resounding comeback of Yuvraj Singh against New Zealand is a major boost and their formidable batting line-up make them one of the favourites to win the World Twenty20. Virat Kohli is in the form of his life while MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina have been consistent performers for India in limited-overs cricket.
India's journey in the tournament will, however, depend on how their bowlers perform. R Ashwin and L Balaji will play a crucial role as both of them are adept at varying the pace which comes in handy on slow Sri Lankan pitches. Irfan Pathan’s recent Twenty20 form, which includes a five-wicket haul in a tournament warm-up match against Sri Lanka, makes him the bowler to watch.
Match one - India v Afghanistan, Sept 19, Premadasa Having easily beaten Afghanistan the last time they met in Twenty20s, India won’t expect too stiff a challenge but they know all too well about the perils of underestimating a weaker team. If India’s top-order batsmen will fire, the Afghanistan bowlers will have an extremely grueling day in the field.
Match two - England v Afghanistan, Sept 21, Premadasa Afghanistan will eye this match as an opportunity to stage an upset. Most of the England batsmen have not played in subcontinent conditions and their vulnerability against spinners is a known fact. To top it all, England have a history of losing to non-Test playing in big ODI tournaments. Shehzad and Shadiq might just become party poopers for England.
Match three - England v India, Sept 23, Premadasa This will be a battle between the England bowlers and Indian batsmen. Their fielding gives England an advantage while India know the conditions better than their counterparts.