Ready to fire

A look at the players who could light up the arena, the ones who could make the ICC World Twenty20 their own.

SHAHID AFRIDI (Pakistan)

If there is one Pakistan batsman in the modern game whom the Twenty20 format suits best, it is the talented Shahid Afridi. The flamboyant all-rounder introduced himself to international cricket as a 16-year-old raw leg-spinner, who had come in place of an injured Mushtaq Ahmed in the Pakistan one-day side.

Afridi's debut was breathtaking as he surprised everyone, not with the ball but by hitting the fastest ODI hundred. The 37-ball century against Sri Lanka in Nairobi in October 1996 is a record that has stood for over a decade.

Afridi's aggressive batting style though has often been the reason for his downfall in the ODIs, and his batting average of 23.37 in 240 matches hardly signals the calibre of a world-class performer. But he will maintain his approach to batting at the ICC World Twenty20 in the knowledge that he can single-handedly alter the tempo and the result of a game.

Afridi with his leg-spin -- he has 204 ODI wickets --can also be important to his side. He thinks that the quality of his team's bowling is what could dictate Pakistan's fortunes at the ICC World Twenty20.

DANIEL VETTORI (New Zealand)

Stepping into the shoes of a man who led his country in more limited-overs games than any other player in the history of international cricket was never going to be easy. But it is the daunting prospect which New Zealand spinner Daniel Vettori faces as he prepares to captain his side in the ICC World Twenty20.

Stephen Fleming stood down as the Black Caps' one-day skipper after the World Cup semifinal defeat to Sri Lanka, having led his country in 218 matches. He has remained silent on his non-selection, prompting speculation that the 34-year-old left-handed batsman could retire from international cricket.

Vettori has been widely tipped as his long-term successor and a good tournament in South Africa could well enhance the prospect of the sometimes reluctant, but ambitious 28-year-old left-arm spinner taking over the reins of his national team.

For the time being, Vettori, who has spent the majority of his international career under the stewardship of Fleming, remains focused on the job at hand.

Vettori's capabilities as captain and his ability to think on his feet are likely to be tested to the maximum at the competition. However, he is optimistic of New Zealand's chances of progressing in the tournament having been drawn in Group C alongside Kenya and Sri Lanka.

--Timothy Abraham M. S. DHONI (India)

The fast-paced Twenty20 cricket seems ideally suited to the dashing style of India's pin-up boy and captain for the tournament, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. But the reality was somewhat different in the one Twenty20 international he has played -- against South Africa in Johannesburg. He was out for an ignominious duck, bowled by Charl Langeveldt after just two balls.

India is yet to embrace Twenty20 cricket and specifically requested not to play any on their recent tour of England. However, the Indians are confident of being competitive in South Africa.

"There are no favourites in Twenty20 as the team which plays better on that particular day will win,� said Lalchand Rajput, the manager of the Indian team.

Dhoni has played five other Twenty20 games, with 73 not out being his highest. His average of 41.00 compares favourably with his ODI figure of 46.97.

Whether playing one-day games or Test matches, Dhoni's batting tactics rarely seem to change. Although he has shown himself capable of playing a composed innings when the situation demands -- he made an unbeaten 76 off 159 balls in 203 minutes in the first Test against England at Lord's earlier -- given a free rein he always opts to search for the boundaries and score quickly.

A fast runner between the wickets and agile behind the stumps, Dhoni could be a major asset to the Indian side in the inaugural ICC World Twenty20, none more so than in the enthusiastic way he is likely to captain the side.

Soon after his debut, Dhoni brought a renewed freshness to the Indian team and became an instant hit with the large crowds at home that follow cricket like a religion. His face looks out from billboards all over the country and he is second only to Sachin Tendulkar in popularity.

If Dhoni can help India win its first international limited overs tournament since it shared the Champions Trophy with Sri Lanka in 2002, he could see his star value rise even further.

BRAD HODGE (Australia)

Australia lifted the last two ODI World Cups and are now looking for the first ever ICC World Twenty20 trophy to add to their bulging cabinet. The player who looks increasingly able to make this happen for his country is Brad Hodge.

The middle-order batsman has played 33 Twenty20 matches -- mainly in English domestic cricket -- and has made the shortened format his very own art form. The 32-year-old has been in and out of Australia's Test and one-day sides, but may now find himself the most crucial member of the team as it aims to do the double.

In Twenty20, Hodge has scored 1,383 runs with 106 as his highest. He currently averages 46.10 and is the leading scorer in the history of the Twenty20 Cup, despite playing 10 matches fewer than his nearest rival and former team-mate Darren Maddy.

The ICC World Twenty20 gives him a chance to resurrect his international career. A good showing on the world stage may well help him force his way back into the reckoning for Australia.

While Hodge has lacked in consistency in Tests and ODIs, his Twenty20 record has been very impressive. His only hundred in the Twenty20 came in the final of Australia's domestic competition when he led Victoria to victory with an innings of 106 off just 54 balls against New South Wales.

The Twenty20 format is an obvious favourite of Hodge who captained Leicestershire to the title in 2004. He opened the innings and hit an unbeaten 77 off only 53 balls in the final against Surrey at Edgbaston to lead his team to a seven-wicket victory.

Hodge was snapped up by Lancashire in 2005 and was again part of finals day this year, losing out to Gloucestershire in the semis, despite his quickfire 32 off 19 balls at the top of the order.

Hodge's fielding is also sharp and athletic, which can make a big difference in the Twenty20 format.

In the inaugural world championship, it is difficult to look beyond Australia which has someone of Hodge's exceptional Twenty20 pedigree. And Hodge could be a good bet for the player of the tournament.

-- Catherine Goble CHRIS GAYLE (West Indies)

The ICC World Twenty20 presents a chance for many of the West Indian players to salvage some pride after failing to give their home fans something to cheer about in the Caribbean last spring.

In the 2007 World Cup, although the expectations were not high, the host came through its group with a 100% record, but then lost five out of six matches in the Super Eight.

Chris Gayle may have slightly better memories of the tournament after hitting a blistering 79 off 58 balls in West Indies' final game against England, but even he will be looking for more consistency in South Africa.

Gayle was named the Player of the 2006 Champions Trophy after scoring 474 runs -- including three centuries -- and also taking eight wickets in eight matches.

On the tour of England earlier this year, West Indies lost the Test series but won the ODI series, and Gayle is confident of taking this form into the World Twenty20.

The tournament may suit Gayle, ranked fifth best all-rounder in the International Cricket Council's latest ODI ratings, and his hard-hitting style.

However, he will have another role to perform. As one of the West Indian players who can bowl spin, he will be called upon to complement the fast bowlers.

-- David Broome KEVIN PIETERSEN (England)

England should travel to South Africa for the inaugural World Twenty20 event with genuine hope of success. Kevin Pietersen is its star, a world-class talent who would walk into any international side in any form of the game.

His dashing brilliance, consistency and showmanship make him a huge box-office attraction -- and with him in its line-up, England has someone who can dominate the tournament.

Pietersen does not rely on talent alone; he is one of the most hard-working and committed players in the England team. His statistics speak volumes -- an average of 52.69 with 10 centuries in 30 Tests and more than 2,000 runs in just over 50 ODIs.

The one area where he has not excelled much is Twenty20 cricket. In fact he has not played many games. He is a victim of his own success in that regard, because he has rarely been available to his county. But then, it is hardly a matter for debate.

Pietersen's fast scoring, big-hitting style and Twenty20 cricket should be a marriage made in heaven for spectators.

-- Andy Hampson SHAUN POLLOCK (South Africa)

Ever since he arrived on the international stage more than 11 years ago, Shaun Pollock has grown to become one of the finest cricketers the world has ever seen. His ability and work rate are second to none, and in an era where South Africa has produced an abundance of all-rounders, Pollock tops the lot.

Individually he has achieved a lot, but if there is something missing from his crown, it is most certainly a World title. For this reason, the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa could be one of his final chances to lift a major international trophy. Making his debut for South Africa at home against England in 1995-96, Pollock topped the bowling in the five-Test series claiming 16 wickets (average 23.56) and in the process helped South Africa upset the tourists 1-0. In the ODIs, Pollock scalped a series-high 13 wickets as South Africa thumped England 6-1. He continued to excel in the ODIs ever since, claiming 383 wickets (average 24.15) and scoring 3279 runs (average 26.02) in 290 matches. Pollock also has a staggering economy rate, a miserly 3.70 runs per six deliveries -- the best by any bowler currently playing the game.

Pollock's next challenge is to excel in the 20-over format, and the inaugural World Twenty20 scheduled in his home country is the perfect stage for him to make his mark.

-- Thahir Asmal

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