September 19, 2012
PAKISTAN FIRM FAVOURITES
Impact Index bird’s-eye preview
The official ICC T20 rankings, have England, South Africa, Sri Lanka at the top, followed by West Indies, New Zealand, Pakistan, India and Australia (who are below even Bangladesh). It is a bizarre order based on the ludicrously low sample size of T20I matches.
A much more accurate picture comes from our reasonably well-tested methodology to preview the top 8 teams (by examining the constituent of each squad closely) – the results are completely contradictory to the ICC rankings, as they should be.
The chart below is a very good indicator of the relative strengths of the 8 major teams. The entire story is here - but we elaborate a bit on this below.
Quick Observations (amongst the 8 strongest teams)
These are based on T20 performances only, of course. This distinction is something all countries, in varying degrees, seem to forget when they select their national T20 sides.
1. Likely teams for semi-finals: Pakistan, West Indies, India and Australia would probably have been the line-up if the Super 8s were like they were in the 1999 ODI World Cup. But a strange seeding system in this tournament predetermines the Super 8 line-up (unless one of the minnows gets in) and the Super 8 is itself in two groups. Due to the obviously flawed seeding system here, Pakistan, India and Australia are in the same group so only 2 will go through. This makes it a very tough group - and on these numbers, we have to say Pakistan and India will make it through. West Indies and New Zealand or Sri Lanka will make it from the other group.
So, to stick our necks out, our semi-final line-up would be Pakistan, India, West Indies and New Zealand.
A Pakistan-West Indies final would mean the best two teams made it.
2. Dark Horse: New Zealand.
Sri Lanka (only if home advantage plays an inordinate part, which is not so likely in this format)
3. Team with strongest batting unit: Pakistan
4. Team with weakest batting unit: England
5. Team with strongest bowling unit: Pakistan
6. Team with weakest bowling unit: New Zealand
7. Most attacking batting unit: Pakistan (West Indies a close second)
8. Most sluggish batting unit: England (followed by South Africa)
9. Team with ability to absorb maximum pressure while batting: Australia
10. Strongest chasing team: New Zealand and West Indies
11. Team most susceptible in a chase: Sri Lanka
12. Team with the highest wicket-taking propensity – Australia (closely followed by Pakistan)
13. Most economical bowling unit: South Africa
14. Most uneconomical bowling unit: New Zealand
15. Most imbalanced side: Sri Lanka (bowling far stronger than batting)
16. Best Bench Strength: Pakistan
17. Worst Bench Strength: Australia
18. Team most likely to perform at their best in the knockouts: Pakistan
19. The 5 highest impact batsmen in the tournament: Imran Nazir, Shoaib Malik, Suresh Raina, Shane Watson, and Martin Guptill.
20. The 5 highest impact bowlers: Raza Hasan, Samuel Badree, Sunil Narine, Shahid Afridi and Ravi Ashwin. All spinners. The highest impact pace bowler is Shane Watson, also the sixth-highest impact bowler.
21. The 5 highest impact players: Shoaib Malik (the highest impact big match player in T20 history), Shahid Afridi, Shane Watson, Sunil Narine and Imran Nazir.
22. Amongst the 4 weakest sides, the highest impact side is interestingly Afghanistan, followed by Zimbabwe, Ireland and Bangladesh.
23. Even though Afghanistan may not have been tested at the highest level (which arguably makes their impact status slightly suspect), they have promising all-round and big match talent in their side (especially Dawlat Zadran, Mohammed Shahzad, Navroze Mangal and Md Nabi).
24. Ireland have the most number of high impact players amongst these teams (7) – coupled with their 3 series/tournament-defining performances, they could be the side to cause a one-off upset. Australia and West Indies would both need to be vigilant against them.
25. India’s highest impact players are Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, R Ashwin and Yuvraj Singh.
Defending Champions have no chance
Never in the history of international cricket has a defending champion in any multi-nation tournament fallen so behind. According to Impact Index findings, England (also the number one ICC-ranked side) have the lowest impact squad amongst the main 8 teams. Forget about the semi-finals, England would have quite a match on their hands to reach the Super 8 stage, as even Afghanistan (interestingly, the highest impact of the weaker sides) will not be a pushover for them. Kevin Pietersen’s debilitating absence is one thing; the complete absence of any big match T20 players (Kieswetter the sole series/tournament-defining player) unwittingly perhaps accounts for early pack-up too.
The no. 2 and 3 ICC ranked sides –South Africa and Sri Lanka do not register very high on the IMPACT scales either. South Africa’s high number of big match players camouflage their underwhelming firepower in the T20 format (despite the likes of Steyn and Amla in their ranks). Strike rate is a big problem as is wicket-taking propensity in this format for this South African side. However, the numbers suggest that this team would be a bigger threat in the knockout stages (given the number of big match players they have) – quite a reversal from their usual chokers tag (despite an overall problem with batting under pressure here too). Sri Lanka’s poor T20 batting impact is not fully compensated by their strong bowling attack. Their lack of high impact players in this format (camouflaged by conventional stats and impressionistic notions from outstanding performances in other formats) will probably not be sufficiently made up by home advantage. Barring some collective inspiration, especially from the batting department, they would be hard-pressed to reach the semis. Interestingly, Ajantha Mendis is the highest impact player in this team, remarkable for a single-skill player in this format (but it also perhaps reveals their shortcomings).
Conversely, it is Pakistan who are overwhelming favourites. They have the highest impact bowling AND batting units, the most number of big match players by a huge margin, the most high impact players and the best bench strength (and the standard of T20 cricket in their country is by no means low). Conventional preview pieces are calling them “dark horses” – they are actually strong favourites, much like West Indies were in the 1979 ODI World Cup (despite Pakistan not being defending champions here). Moreover, given that these are sub-continental conditions, it is no-brainer, really. If they do not at least reach the final, it would be a huge upset – they would really need to implode (which, of course, being Pakistan, they are quite capable of).
Despite its undeniable explosive quality, West Indies have a somewhat unreliable (specialist) batting unit, though considerably compensated for by an array of high impact all-rounders (led by Dwayne Bravo). Contrary to popular assumption though, Chris Gayle is not amongst its highest impact players (because he has no tournament/series-defining performance – he is not a big match player) and their bowling is considerably stronger than their batting (which should be even more effective in Sri Lankan conditions – given that their two highest impact players are spinners Narine and Badree). Their combined firepower is formidable and should see them through to the semis fairly comfortably. Despite being a strong chasing side, the ability of their batsmen to absorb pressure is a weak spot. The weight of expectation may be an unfamiliar feeling for them - and how they react to that could hold the key to their fortunes in this tournament. The calmness of their captain - Darren Sammy should hold them in good stead here.
India’s numbers are somewhat misleading because of the poor form of Harbhajan Singh and the still iffy comeback trail of Yuvraj Singh. Virat Kohli, despite some very recent outstanding performances in this format, has not been a high impact T20 player overall (though it would be impossible to keep him out in this form; reminiscent as it is of Tendulkar in 1998). The bowling, despite the formidable presence of Ashwin, is not at all reliable – both on wicket-taking and economy. The big match impact in the side camouflages the team’s weaknesses. Still, there is enough quality in the batting overall to reach the semis.
Australia’s captain George Bailey is the lowest impact player amongst all the captains in these sides…a possible weak spot. Experience and quality have a somewhat unequal spread in this side (they could have done with some younger talent in the batting especially) – and the big match talent is not amongst the highest. Absorbing pressure while batting is a clear strength but chasing targets is discernibly not. The bowling is high impact overall but with 41-year-old Hogg as the only high impact spinner in the side, they will probably not dominate in these conditions. The bench strength is poor – so even a single injury could cause severe headaches. But the quality in the side (Watson, Husseys, Warner) should get them to the semis. But it could be touch-and-go.
New Zealand have a strong batting line-up and characteristic depth. They are the best chasing team in this tournament, which is very interesting. Their bowling is poor though, especially in these conditions. Though they form a cluster with Sri Lanka and South Africa on the Impact charts, they could be seen as dark horses, provided they don’t bat first too often.