or the men’s T20 World Cup, it has been a long time between drinks.
By the time the big dogs get started on Saturday, when there are two mouth-watering fixtures between Australia and South Africa, and England and the West Indies, it will have been 2,030 days since Carlos Brathwaite launched Ben Stokes into the Kolkata night’s sky four times in that unforgettable final.
Since then, the name of the tournament has been changed from the World T20 to the T20 World Cup, and there have been two completed editions of the women’s equivalent. Last year’s scheduled tournament in Australia was postponed until 2022 by Covid-19, which also saw this year’s moved from India to the UAE, where so many of its participants have recently been playing in the IPL.
It is a strange quirk that, at a time when the T20 format’s popularity has surged, fans have experienced easily the longest wait between flagship men’s tournaments. It took nine years to get from edition one, in 2007, to No6, in 2016. It has taken five and a half more to get a seventh. In that time, the format has moved on.
The tournament began officially last Sunday, with the competitive qualifying round between eight sides that varied from big guns (Sri Lanka have won this tournament once and reached the final twice more) to more humble outfits, such as Papua New Guinea and Oman.
The latter, in particular, showed their progress with a series of competitive displays, but lost out in a winner-takes-all clash with Scotland, who have reached the main draw of a World Cup — in either format — for the first time in their history.
The format of this tournament is by no means the worst the ICC have dreamed up over the years. It has two distinct stages, both of which are short, sharp, have plenty of jeopardy and should be easy to understand and digest. The money men will be delighted that the main draw features so many titanic clashes. The biggest and most important of those comes on Sunday, when India meet Pakistan.
That Indian side start the tournament as favourites, emphasised by a warm-up win over England this week. Their strength in depth is so great that a second team would compete hard in the tournament.
The West Indies are the only side to win this tournament twice and have all the tools to do so again. They play the most direct cricket and are packed with experience, even if the squad has been refreshed effectively since 2016, led by the emergence of Nicholas Pooran and Shimron Hetmyer.
But England should find themselves in the mix, too. The 2016 tournament came an over too soon for the nascent stages of their white-ball revolution. Now they return as 50-over world champions, seeking to become the first men’s side to hold both belts at once.
They are hindered by injuries, to Stokes, Jofra Archer and Sam Curran, and by the conditions, which are not so much unfamiliar as unnatural to their freewheeling band of stroke makers. The batting line-up remains mighty; you could make a decent case that four of the top seven would get into their all-time white-ball XI, while the others are Dawid Malan, the ICC’s top-ranked T20 batter, Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone.
Without Archer, much rests on the shoulders of Adil Rashid to lead a bowling attack that feels a touch thrown together. Eoin Morgan will have to be at his smartest to get the best out of them, even if his own form with the bat remains in the doldrums.
The rest? New Zealand looked the best placed to mount a challenge, coming in well prepared but classically under the radar. The tournament is barely causing a ripple in Australia, and they look no closer to cracking T20 cricket, although there is so much pedigree that they cannot be written off. South Africa are a fading force whose best players are not present, but can still bloody noses on their day.
Amid a backdrop of national tragedy, Afghanistan look well-suited to compete, and have so much high-quality spin that Qais Ahmed, who played such a vital role in Kent’s Vitality Blast triumph, does not make the squad. Pakistan arrive with chaos in the background too, cancelled tours, resignations of senior management, squad overhaul, but that makes them more dangerous, if anything.
What is certain is that the format is slippery and fraught with danger for the big sides. There is no time for the sort of hiccup England had at the 2019 World Cup. After 66 months of waiting, a couple of bad hours could see tournament hopes go up in smoke.