T20 World Cup: England, West Indies among favourites in 'Group of Death'

Mastery in exploiting the slow and spin-friendly tracks of the UAE could determine the success of teams in the highly competitive Super 12 stage.

Clash of the titans: England and West Indies played a thrilling final in the 2016 edition of the T20 World Cup. They are among the strongest teams to take part in the competition this time, too, and will resume their rivalry in the Super 12s. - K. R. DEEPAK

India and Pakistan are set to clash in Group 2 in the Twenty20 (T20) World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, the two neighbours and arch-rivals being placed alongside Afghanistan and New Zealand.

With the tournament only three months away, the International Cricket Council (ICC) announced the make-up of the groups for the first round and Super 12s on Friday, placing England with Australia, reigning champion the West Indies and South Africa in Group 1.

Both groups will be rounded up by two qualifiers from the first round, which will be contested by Ireland, Scotland, Holland, Namibia, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh, and co-host Oman.

Here's a breakdown of how the eight teams stack up.

GROUP 1: England, the West Indies, Australia and South Africa form the group of death of this World Cup. West Indies is the only team that can match England in regularly racking up monster scores. Carlos Brathwaite’s four consecutive sixes in the final over as his side chased down England’s 155 to win the World T20 for the second time in 2016 remains an all-time classic. England vs West Indies will be the ultimate test of captain Eoin Morgan’s temperament and a tale of possible vengeance. Meanwhile, while Australia seeks answers to its long-standing middle-order issues in the shortest format, it remains a team of big-game players and the World Cup is likely to bring out the best in them. South Africa, too, its erratic form notwithstanding — the team has played 15 T20 Internationals in the last 12 months, winning five and losing 10 — could spring a surprise.

All four teams in this group boast a top pace attack. However, with pitches in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) favouring the slow bowlers, the spinners will have to impose themselves. England and West Indies have plenty of left-handed batsmen in their XI. There’s a long-held tradition that an orthodox off-spinner is best used against left-handers, while left-arm spinners are deemed most effective against right-handed batsmen. Hence, the off-spin of Moeen Ali, Glenn Maxwell and Sunil Narine, should he play, could come in handy. Leg-spinners Hayden Walsh, Adil Rashid, Adam Zampa and Tabraiz Shamsi and left-arm spinners George Linde and Fabian Allen will be wicket-taking options, too. With 12 wickets at an economy rate of 7, Walsh was the top wicket-taker in the West Indies’ T20 series win against Australia at home.

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GROUP 2: India and Pakistan will meet in the Super 12s stage in their first faceoff in more than two years, their last fixture coming in the league stage of the 2019 50-over World Cup. All the teams in this group with the exception of New Zealand have quality spin attacks.

There are not a lot of grounds in the UAE and the pitches are going to show signs of wear because of the second half of the 2021 Indian Premier League (IPL) season, which ends just days before the start of the T20 World Cup. So, the scores are likely to be on the lower side. Run-scoring might become noticeably more difficult as the tournament goes on as a result of a softer ball, and thanks to bowlers who are able to take pace off the ball. While Pakistan and Afghanistan will benefit from spinner-friendly tracks, New Zealand will be better-placed should pace play a role. The Black Caps won the ICC World Test Championship final against India in England last month and were runners-up to England in the 2019 World Cup One-Day final.

India has a core of players who are well suited to take advantage of a variety of conditions. However, its spin department in the shortest format is a game of musical chairs. In the white-ball series against Sri Lanka, which includes three T20Is, the wrist spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal will vie for spots with leg-spinner Rahul Chahar, off-spinner K. Gowtham, left-arm spinner Krunal Pandya and mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy.

Pakistan can be expected to live up to every well-worn trope about the mercurial nature of its cricket and deliver prediction-defying performances. Its 31-run win over England in the first T20 at Trent Bridge on Friday — having meekly surrendered in the preceding One-Day International (ODI) series — was evidence of Pakistan's fluctuating fortunes. For Afghanistan, captain Rashid Khan and his leg-spin will be key weapons. He is one of the top five bowlers in T20Is in terms of wickets taken (95), with a staggering average (12.63), economy rate (6.21) and strike rate (12.1). Afghanistan was the only team India failed to beat — the match ended in a tie — at the 2018 Asia Cup (ODI format).

GROUPINGS

Round 1

Group A: Sri Lanka, Ireland, the Netherlands & Namibia

Group B: Bangladesh, Scotland, Papua New Guinea & Oman

Super 12s

Group 1: England, Australia, South Africa, West Indies, A1 and B2.

Group 2: India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Afghanistan, A2 and B1.

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