Heading into the T20 World Cup, almost all pundits predicted cricket’s ‘big three’ of Australia, England and India to make the semi-finals. The fourth team was a bit of a lottery, but those three countries – not only cash rich flushed by billion dollar broadcast deals – appeared extremely powerful on paper and deserved favoritism.
History was also on their side with at least one of those countries having contested every World Cup – ODI and T20 – bar the 2009 and 2012 T20 editions. But spicier pitches amid inclement conditions have turned the tournament on its head and those three teams suddenly look vulnerable having each recorded an early loss.
They could all still make the semis, but it’s not guaranteed amid a tournament with more parity marked by improvement from smaller nations. The trio do, however, appear vulnerable, especially hosts Australia who have been on the back foot ever since an opening thumping to New Zealand which greatly affected their net run rate.
They did manage a bounce back against Sri Lanka in Perth although mostly due to the big-hitting of Marcus Stoinis, who in 18 balls of destruction revived Australia’s campaign.
After a washout against England at the MCG, Australia had a predictable win over Ireland but once again it was a patchy performance as an opportunity for a big victory and a net run rate boost went begging after their bowlers couldn’t finish off the innings sooner .
The victory might have come at a cost with Stoinis appearing to re-injure a side strain, which had sidelined him in recent months, while captain Aaron Finch and Tim David may have suffered hamstring injuries.
An under pressure Finch has struggled with the bat for some time capped by an excruciating 31 off 42 balls against Sri Lanka where he was being mocked by an uncompromising Perth crowd.
He looked in much better flow against Ireland, even unleashing several trademark belligerent blows reminiscent of his pomp, but the hamstring injury, which he has a history of, would be a massive blow and could spell the end of his international career if serious.
Australia could well be fighting for a semi-final spot with old rival England, who endured a stunning defeat to Ireland in a rain-shortened match at the MCG. England, who were the favorites at the tournament 12 months ago before a shock loss to New Zealand in the semis, just haven’t gotten going with their batting showing little of the promised fireworks.
England looked in awesome form against Australia in a lead-up series in a further tonic after winning a seven-match away series against Pakistan. Their blistering batting seemed well suited to the faster pitches Down Under, but they’ve endured two ham-fisted efforts thus far.
England were lucky to escape with victory against Afghanistan in a low chase in Perth before their top-order was blown away by menacing seam bowling from Ireland. Perhaps they’re cursed because England’s crucial match at the Gabba on Tuesday against New Zealand, who top the group and are set to once again put eggs on the faces of critics, could be rain affected.
While captain Jos Buttler has continually tried to claim his high-octane side is an underdog, an exit before the semi-finals would be a major disappointment for England bidding to become the first nation to simultaneously hold the ODI and T20 World Cups.
India aren’t quite in a predicament as their fellow powers, but things could have been easily different had Virat Kohli not performed a batting miracle against Pakistan at the MCG.
It was never going to be easy against South Africa on a fast and bouncy Perth Stadium pitch, but India were on the back foot for most of the game as their batting has been a mishmash while experienced spinner Ravichandran Ashwin was taken to the cleaners.
India should still get through with games against Afghanistan and Bangladesh to come, but their powerful batting order hasn’t really clicked yet, while Rohit Sharma’s captaincy has raised eyebrows, as they strive to end an 11-year drought in major tournaments.
Unfancied South Africa and New Zealand, right now, appear the teams to beat but as history suggests – both on-and-off field – cricket’s mighty trio usually find a way.