The sixth edition of the ICC World T20, cricket’s grandest prize in the shortest format, is underway, with the Super 10 phase commencing on Tuesday.
If the game between Oman and Ireland, in which the former pulled off a giant-killing feat with a two-wicket victory, is anything to go by, then we are in for a spectacle of a contest in the next one month.
For starters, there are a plenty of match-winners in most of the sides to watch out for. India possesses batsmen enjoying red-hot form in the likes of Virat Kohli. South African marquee batsman AB de Villiers will be hoping to emulate his innings at Wankhede in October last year when he put India to sword in the deciding ODI. There are also the likes of Chris Gayle, Glenn Maxwell to watch out for.
Let us not forget the bowlers either — the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Imran Tahir are expected to get the key breakthroughs for their sides, as will young and upcoming stars such as Kagiso Rabada and Mustafizur Rahman.
However, the beauty of the sport is the rise of individuals and teams from the depths of obscurity into the mainstream.
There are those individuals who carve a niche for themselves in the heat of the moment with a few well-timed shots, a lethal spell or even a solitary over. Who can forget the epic last over by Joginder Sharma — then a relatively anonymous bowler from Rohtak — at the Wanderers in the final of the inaugural tournament nearly a decade ago.
Maybe the ICC World T20 2016 could be the ideal platform for some unfancied player to script a unique success story.
Following is a list of 10 unfancied, so-far unheralded cricketers from each of the participating teams who could make it big in the course of the mega-event.
1. Hardik Pandya (India):
The 22-year-old all-rounder from Gujarat has made a mark for himself with Mumbai Indians team in the Indian Premier League, and has been marked out as one of the brightest prospects for India. His rise in the international scene took birth after the couple of game-changing knocks that helped reverse Mumbai Indians’ declining fortunes in IPL 2015 — which was instrumental in getting him a spot in the Indian squad for the tour of Australia.
Pandya, who has showcased his skills internationally only in the 20-over format, has displayed brilliance occasionally since making his debut against Australia on Republic Day in Adelaide. In the last few games however, he has not been clicking with the bat in the middle-order, getting out to rash shots, and his hammering at the hands of Mahmudullah in the final of the Asia Cup 2016 ruined an otherwise stellar bowling performance in that tournament. This has increased the pressure levels on Pandya’s shoulders.
Pandya may have shown promise with the ball in the warm-up fixtures against West Indies (2/25) and South Africa (3/36). Pandya has to produce consistent performances in the upcoming fixtures of the World T20, which could potentially turn out to be career-changing for him.
2. David Wiese (South Africa):
South Africa, who have an unfortunate history of losing crucial knock out games after prevailing in the round-robin stage, are packed with explosive batsmen and in-form bowlers.
With so many match-winners like AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Imran Tahir stuffed into a side, the Proteas look great on paper, it is natural for the average fan to overlook names such as David Wiese.
The bowling all-rounder was impressive during his run for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in the 2015 edition of IPL. His all-round performance against Mumbai Indians in the League game at the Chinnaswamy Stadium stands testament to the fact — he recorded figures of 4/33, before hammering a 25-ball 47, albeit in a losing cause. However, if he could do it then, he could very well be the man to watch out for in the upcoming tournament.
3. Henry Nicholls (New Zealand):
The absence of Brendon McCullum — who retired from all formats of the game recently — is palpable in the New Zealand dressing room, with Kane Williamson ear-marked to take the mantle over from him. While McCullum’s absence does come as a major blow, they do have what it takes to lift the trophy, if one counts on the likes of Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Corey Anderson, and Trent Boult.
Nicholls is still a fresh face in the camp, having only made his international debut during the ODI series against Sri Lanka at home. He, however, has a decent Twenty20 average (29) and strike-rate (119). He also has had a couple of match-winning performances (82 vs Pakistan) in recent times, which has helped make him an increasingly reliable figure at the No 4 position in the Kiwi batting order.
Keep in mind that his cricketing experience so far has been largely restricted to New Zealand and Australia, and that he may actually make merry on the batting-friendly pitches in India.
4. Adam Zampa (Australia):
The young leg-spinner has been making the rounds in Australian cricket in recent times, especially after making his international debut during the ODI series in the tour of New Zealand, which was followed by a couple of T20Is in the tour of South Africa.
His performances in the latest edition of the Big Bash League (BBL), in which he scalped 12 wickets at 22.50 makes him the likely candidate to establish himself as the first-choice spinner for the Australian limited-overs side, the role of which has not seen a major contenders in recent times.
The Indian pitches, which usually favour spin over pace, could prove to be a catalyst in this regard. He would also be a potent spin combination along with all-rounder Glenn Maxwell, who has the ability to get the breakthroughs at the crucial junctures.
5. Carlos Brathwaite (West Indies):
Even though Brathwaite has started off along a promising path, that saw Delhi Daredevils bag him for a haul of Rs 4.2 crore (which left young Brathwaite bewildered), the West Indian all-rounder still has a lot to prove before he can establish himself firmly in a West Indian side that is going through a turbulent phase.
Brathwaite proved his grit with his knock of 69 off 71 balls (seven fours and four sixes) against Australia in the New Year Test in Sydney. His Twenty20 record of 307 runs at a strike-rate of 137, as well as 33 wickets at 24.24 is a sign of the promise that he holds in the format. While the West Indian squad for the World T20 is full of the veterans such as Chris Gayle and Darren Sammy, Brathwaite has a genuine opportunity to steal the limelight from his seniors.
6. Lahiru Thirimanne (Sri Lanka):
Thirimanne has not been in the best of form with the bat for a long time now, and his presence in the Sri Lanka squad has raised many a question in recent times. While he has had a big score or two sporadically in the last six-seven months or so, one can’t help but feel that he is not enjoying the kind of form that had made him a regular part of the Sri Lankan batting line-up.
He was included in the Sri Lanka squad for the World T20 at the expense of Niroshan Dickwella, with Sri Lankan legends and selectors such as Kumar Sangakkara and Aravinda de Silva batting for his inclusion. Thirimanne seems to be shaping up in the warm-up fixtures, having scored 41 and 45 against New Zealand and Pakistan respectively, and he could actually play a crucial rule for a beleaguered Sri Lankan side in his first T20I match in nearly two years.
7. Sharjeel Khan (Pakistan):
The Pakistan batting line-up has been their Achilles’ Heel, which was especially evident in the Asia Cup. Pakistan’s spectacular collapses in recent times has made life a living hell for their potent bowling attack which boasts of world-class bowlers such as Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz.
There is a silver lining in Sarfaraz Ahmed and Shoaib Malik, both of whom averaged 60 in the recent Asia Cup T20. The two will share the heavy load of scoring runs for their side along with Mohammad Hafeez. However, someone like Sharjeel Khan could spring a genuine surprise in the side whose limited-overs batting order has been struggling since the retirement of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan.
Not to mention, Sharjeel displayed his ability as a potent Twenty20 batsman in his whirlwind 62-ball 117 for Islamabad United against Peshawar Zalmi in the inaugural Pakistan Super League (PSL). This is his chance to seal his place in the lineup.
8. Sam Billings (England):
Even though England lost out on the services of key pacer Steven Finn, they are a formidable side due to the presence of skipper Eoin Morgan along with Alex Hales, Ben Stokes, Jason Roy, and Adil Rashid. England have won both their warm-up fixtures ahead of the sixth edition of the World T20 so far, defeating New Zealand by a comfortable margin of six wickets in Mumbai.
Sam Billings, who was dismissed for 8 in the second warm-up against a local side, might find it a tad difficult to find his spot in such a power-packed team — he could easily lose his spot should he flounder on a single occasion. But his presence in the English middle-order could prove to be a blessing in sub-continental conditions, as was evident in the first Twenty20 International game against Pakistan in Dubai in November last year.
9. Mahmudullah (Bangladesh):
Bangladesh enter the tournament as one of the sides to reckon, especially given their superb run in recent times in limited-overs against top sides such as Pakistan, India and South Africa. The squad is brimming with individuals who have proved themselves in the shortest format of the game, and a semi-final finish may not actually come as a surprise for the world.
Due to the presence of the likes of Tamim Iqbal (who hit the maiden T20I ton by a Bangladeshi), Soumya Sarkar, Sabbir Rahman, etc, someone like Mahmudullah tends to get a little under-rated, who is known for his exploits in the longer formats. However, Mahmudullah’s presence in the middle-order could very well prove to be a turning point for the Tigers in their upcoming campaign, especially with his onslaught on the bowlers in the death overs of the game.
10. Noor Ali Zadran (Afghanistan):
Afghanistan continued their fairy tale rise in international cricket by edging out teams such as Zimbabwe to qualify for the Super 10 round of the ICC World T20.
Credit for Afghanistan’s stupendous run in the qualifier stage — in which they won all three of their games would largely go to the likes of Mohammad Shahzad, Samiullah Shenwari and Mohammad Nabi. Shahzad especially has been hogging the limelight, and is one of the players to watch out for in the upcoming games.
Opener Noor Ali Zadran’s efforts, though, have largely been overlooked. He helped get Afghanistan off to a sparkling start along with Shahzad in their second match against Hong Kong. Now that Afghanistan has qualified for the next stage, he may as yet get the opportunity to step out of Shahzad’s shadow.