x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

World Twenty20: Group D preview - Bangladesh the uncertain element

Pakistan's inconsistency, and the improvement of their unheralded rivals, makes Group D hard to predict, writes Osman Samiuddin.

Saeed Ajmal, centre, is vital to Pakistan.
Saeed Ajmal, centre, is vital to Pakistan.

Dynamics of the group

A year ago this group would be an easy to predict: Pakistan, New Zealand progress, Bangladesh flatter to deceive again.

But Bangladesh's improvement (the Asia Cup was the best example), Pakistan's continuing unpredictability and New Zealand's solidity in T20s (for all their troubles elsewhere) means it could be one of the groups to watch.

Conditions should aid the subcontinent sides, but as New Zealand showed in India, they can be overcome.

It is difficult to pick out even one result with confidence. Will you be surprised if Bangladesh win at least one game? Or Pakistan lose both? Or New Zealand do? Not really.

Players to watch

Saeed Ajmal (Pakistan)

Can there be anyone other than Ajmal? For all the incisiveness and variety of their attack - and they do possess the format's three leading wicket-takers - Pakistan have depended increasingly on him and rarely has he let them down.

He became the leading wicket-taker during the series win over Australia in the UAE, one in which he was nigh on unplayable and which looked a different game each time he was on. His doosra is impossible to pick, but it is improvements in his off-break and lines of attack that make him so dangerous.

Doug Bracewell (New Zealand)

New Zealand's medium-to-long term cricket health is likely to depend on the fortunes of their newbie pace attack and Bracewell, nephew of former off-spinner and coach John, is at the centre of it.

Possessed of a muscled pace, Bracewell was the architect of New Zealand's shock Test win over Australia last year. He has not yet looked entirely at home in Twenty20; the strengths over five days - rigid and consistent line and length - not necessarily translating over 20 overs.

But he is developing, and his lower-order batting is also handy.

Tamim Iqbal (Bangladesh)

The side's best specialist batsman is also their most explosive. Iqbal's recent form has not quite captured the heights of 2010, though even then his initial dropping for the Asia Cup felt unjust.

He responded by hitting four half-centuries in four games. His strike rate in the format - more or less a run a ball - is not as it should be; he suffers, like Virender Sehwag, from the more defensive fields of limited-overs cricket.

But if he does get going, New Zealand and Pakistan will be wary.

Match to watch

Bangladesh v New Zealand September 21, Kandy

Take your pick from any of the three. Pakistan and New Zealand on September 23, a mini recreation of their 2011 World Cup encounter at the same venue, memorable for Ross Taylor's crazy hundred?

But if we go by the wonky logic that Pakistan win both their games, then the key encounter is the one that gets the group underway.

New Zealand have struggled against Bangladesh's spin in the past but if their pace bowlers get it right, then it could be New Zealand's day.

Venue

The Pallekele International Cricket Stadium, like Hambantota, is new, though in this case it has put to disuse the older, charming Asgiriya stadium in Kandy.

Unlike the Asgiriya, this is some way out of the beautiful hill town, along a mazy road network, but it is also impeccably modern in architecture. The pitch can be spicy, particularly under the lights where it becomes helpful for skiddier pace bowlers. It fits up to 35,000 and given the town's deep love for the game, expect it to be rousing and noisily full.

Talking points

Pakistan

Expect the future of Shahid Afridi to become a key issue through the tournament. He is getting on even by his official age and this year his bowling - his essence - has looked off-colour.

He missed the Twenty20s against Australia but speculation persists that he continues to be unhappy with the captaincy being taken away from him last year.

Nobody sensible will count him out yet, not someone as game-changing as him. But he's already publicly doubted whether he will play in the 2015 World Cup so this may be one final hurrah.

New Zealand

You could argue there are bigger concerns for New Zealand cricket than how their team goes at the World T20.

Recent administrative decisions look strange. The Test side has been abysmally weak, losing even to the West Indies this summer. They have lost John Wright as coach. The lure of the IPL hovers with potentially catastrophic consequences for next summer's series in England. The sport is losing relevance in the country.

All of which means that if New Zealand go far - even win it, which is not impossible - it might just be what the sport there needs.

Bangladesh

Can Bangladesh be competitive, even relevant? That is the perennial question which hangs over them at every global tournament.

This time, however, the optimist might assume competitiveness and ask whether Bangladesh can instead move up to the next level. The Asia Cup offered Bangladesh home advantage and was a different format altogether, but coming within one shot of winning it was revelatory.

They beat Sri Lanka and India in succession and in crunch games; those performances cannot be ignored.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae