x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

World Twenty20: Group B preview - Little to choose from between sides

Australia cannot take opponents West Indies and Ireland lightly, writes Paul Radley.

Shane Watson, who destroyed Pakistan's bowlers in Dubai, is two players for the price of one, says coach Mickey Arthur. Satish Kumar / The National
Shane Watson, who destroyed Pakistan's bowlers in Dubai, is two players for the price of one, says coach Mickey Arthur. Satish Kumar / The National

Dynamic of the group

Ireland have become part of the furniture at the international limited-overs tournament, so much so that it is no longer a surprise when they beat one of the Test sides.

The same goes at this tournament in Sri Lanka. When Ireland leapfrogged Australia in the ICC's T20 rankings last week, all it really meant was the Australians would be gunning for them. But they can cope. The Irish are capable of advancing from this group.

Oddly, given the unpredictable nature of cricket's abridged format, Australia and West Indies could each conceivably win the competition if they do survive Ireland's challenge.

Players to watch

Shane Watson (Australia)

Mickey Arthur, Australia's coach, said he had never seen anyone so ready to get back playing as Watson was after he missed the first leg of the UAE series against Pakistan with a calf injury.

Apparently revived by his rest, the all-rounder then took a couple of games to find his range, before unloading a brutal assault on Pakistan's spinners in the third match.

It was a reminder of just how destructive Watson, who is one of the costliest players in Indian Premier League (IPL) history, can be. He then opened the bowling, too. As Arthur says, he is two players for the price of one.

Sunil Narine (West Indies)

The mystery spinner is one of that strange new breed of cricketer: someone who became a lavishly-paid star way before he had cracked the international game.

The 24 year old has done well in the 23 games he has played for the West Indies across all the formats so far, but it is via the IPL where he earned his money, as well as his reputation.

"He has done well in this format and won the [Golden Player award] in the IPL," said Darren Sammy, the West Indies captain. "I can see him playing a very big role for us."

Paul Stirling (Ireland)

You know an Irishman has made it when talk starts of him being recruited by England.

Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan have already ploughed the furrow from Ireland to England via Middlesex. According to most testimonies, Stirling is at least in their league.

"He's the most gifted Irish player I've ever seen," Niall O'Brien, Ireland's wicketkeeper, has been quoted as saying of the burly batsman.

High praise considering O'Brien has played in an Ireland team with both Joyce and Morgan, and a backyard with brother Kevin, who struck the fastest ever 50-over World Cup hundred, against England last year.

Match to watch

Australia v Ireland, Wednesday, Colombo

This would not usually leap off the fixture coupon shouting, "Grudge match" but it has become that because of circumstances.

Ireland's constant need for recognition means they want to scalp another Test side, while Australia briefly lurched below the Irish in the ICC's T20 rankings when they lost to Pakistan on Friday night in Dubai.

Accepted wisdom suggests Ireland should not stand a chance, but that has never bothered them before. Plus they have some intimate insider knowledge to draw on, in the form of their new bowling coach Craig McDermott, who has arrived direct from the Australian dressing room.

Venue – R Premadasa

Australia have a slight local knowledge advantage over their two group rivals in that they played two matches at the Premadasa in Colombo last year at the 50-over World Cup.

Not that they will have gleaned too much assistance from the experience. Their fixture against Sri Lanka was abandoned after an apocalyptic rain shower between the innings. Then they lost the next time they played there against Pakistan.

The pitch at the Premadasa, in the aborted Sri Lanka fixture in particular, took considerable turn, so might assist the likes of Narine for the West Indies, Brad Hogg for Australia and Ireland's George Dockrell.

Talking points

Is Bailey the man for maiden T20 success?

Superficially, Australia have plumped for the least Australian of captains to try to lead them to the only global title to have eluded them to date.

George Bailey seems atypically timid in both his demeanour and his words, at least in public. Neither does he have the fireproof record of outstanding performances to fall back on, like with Michael Clarke, or Ricky Ponting, or any of Australia's other recent leaders.

But Australia have yet to really crack the code of cricket's abbreviated format anyway, so who is to say a new direction under Bailey will not be the answer?

Hit and giggle could help West Indies

Gone are the days when teams rocked up to international T20 matches in fancy dress, looking forward to a three-and-a-half-hour jolly.

It is a serious business now, but it always helps when a side are unencumbered by said seriousness.

Sammy, the West Indies captain, wants to be remembered as the one who always smiled. It may seem like a humble aspiration in a sport usually motivated by digits in the runs column and zeroes on the pay checks.

His side are free-spirited and could benefit because of it.

End of the crazy chicken era

Irish cricket may be enjoying a spell of rich growth, but they will undoubtedly be feeling a sense of loss when this competition ends.

Trent Johnston, the former captain who struck the winning runs when Ireland announced their arrival on the world stage by beating Pakistan in 2007, will retire at the end of it.

Johnston is so old, when he made his debut in first-class cricket in his native Australia, Mark Taylor and David Boon were on his side.

Yet he is still a key figure for Ireland. How he would love to sign off with one more crazy chicken dance in a winning cause.

pradley@thenational.ae

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