It is, by common consent, the most open global event in ICC history with at least half of the 12 teams capable of winning the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, which got under wat yesterday. And, for the first time, the two qualifiers can play a significant part.
Ireland and Afghanistan proved in the qualifying tournament in the UAE, last March, they were head and shoulders above the rest of the non-Full members and produced one of the highest quality matches ever seen at Associate level in the final.
They have continued to impress in the warm-up games in Colombo with Ireland securing a last ball victory against Bangladesh. Afghanistan, a much later arrival, made 209 for seven in their opening match against Sri Lanka A to announce they will also be no-push-overs.
ICC High Performance manager Richard Done and Global Development Manager Tim Anderson have both arrived in Sri Lanka with expectations of two wins from the teams’ four games, with Done going further and saying that either Ireland or Afghanistan could even top their group.
Ireland, as winners of the qualifying tournament, were put into Group B alongside Australia and West Indies while Afghanistan would appear to have the harder task of facing England, the holders, and India, who won the ICC World Cup on home soil last year.
Assuming they do not slip up when the teams meet on Friday, England have a No 1 ranking in the shortest form of the game to live up to.
India are currently seventh after losing to New Zealand but no-one seriously believes there are six better teams than MS Dhoni’s talented side where the great Virender Sehwag can win a Twenty20 match on his own.
Indeed, a look through the line-ups shows every team, bar none, with an opening batsman who could be a match winner. New Zealand’s Brendon McCollum goes into the tournament as the No 1 ranked T20 batsman, ahead of West Indian Chris Gayle with Australia’s David Warner in fourth.
Paul Stirling, already moving into the world class category, can be Ireland’s answer in the group stages to Gayle and Warner, while in Group C, Richard Levi is South Africa’s new big-hitting star at the top of the order and he will come up against Tillakaratne Dilshan of Sri Lanka and Hamilton Mazakadza who will aim to give rank outsiders Zimbabwe a fast start.
Pakistan are ranked to finish top of Group D, ahead of New Zealand and Bangladesh although they will be more reliant on their bowling than most with four, including new number one Saeed Ajmal, in the top 20. The format is unchanged from 2010 with the top two in each group going through to the Super Eights (September 27-October 2).
Points are not carried forward and the top two at the second stage go through to the semi-finals (October 4-5). The final will take place in the Premadasa Stadium, the venue for both Ireland’s group games, on Sunday, October 7. Confidence is high in the Irish camp and no wonder. It’s four games played, four games won after the five runs victory over Bangladesh and Nigel Jones has put his hand up for selection.
Jones, in partnership with Kevin O’Brien, squeezed the momentum out of the Tigers and set Ireland up for a remarkable comeback success.
It was Jones who ended the free-scoring knock of Shakib-al-Hasan at 52.
And O’Brien also paid tribute to Paul Stirling who dominated the first half of the Ireland innings, with 71 from 42 balls.
“Stirlo’s always in nick in the nets and all we need is eight or nine overs from him to put a big total on the board for us. So it was great to see him hit a bit of form, get runs under his belt and give him confidence going into Wednesday,” said O’Brien.
The momentum is with Ireland and Australia’s defeat to England in their final warm-up game has made the final countdown even sweeter.