Sport continues to take centre stage as Planet Earth slowly struggles to break free from the deadly tentacles of the Covid-19 pandemic, and this month it’s Cricket’s turn to play a leading role in lighting the way on the rocky road back to normality with the start of the T20 World Cup in Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Originally scheduled to take place in India, but postponed because of the plague and the emergence of the virulent “Indian variant”, the 7th ICC T20 World Cup has been switched to the Middle East, starting on 17th of this month, with the final due to be played on 14th November.
T20 cricket, by far and away the most exciting version of the sport, came into being in 2003 and the inaugural T20 World Cup was played in South Africa in 2007 when India claimed the cup by beating bitter rivals Pakistan by just 5 runs in an exhilarating final in Johannesburg. Of the six T20 World Cup finals played so far, West Indies boast the most successful record with two victories, with one each for England, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Surprisingly, Australia and New Zealand still await a maiden World T20 cup final win – something the southern hemisphere heavyweights will be pumped to put right this time round. England have contested two finals, beating Australia in 2010, and losing to the West Indies in the last tournament, played in Eden Gardens Kolkata in 2016.
This year’s tournament sees the sport’s top eight qualified nations – England, India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, West Indies and, miraculously, Afghanistan, being joined by four qualifiers, two of which could be Scotland and Ireland, to form the Super 12, which is split into two groups of six. England face defending champions West Indies, Australia and South Africa in Group 1 which has already been labelled the Group of Death. Should Ireland qualify to join the group we could see a possible clash with England, an English side captained by Dubliner Eoin Morgan – not content with stealing football stars Jack Grealish and Declan Rice from Ireland’s international youth teams, the “Auld Enemy” has gone and pinched their best cricketer as well!
Ranked T20 number one in the world, England are among the favourites to lift the trophy for the second time, the Red Rose having gained the sweetest of victories when bashing the Aussies in the final in Barbados eleven years ago. Shorn through injury of the services of the world’s fastest bowler Jofra Archer and top all-rounder Ben Stokes, who is taking indefinite leave to rekindle his mental wellbeing, their first opponents are defending champions West Indies, whose light has dimmed somewhat from the stellar days of Lara, Lloyd, Marshall and Richards, but on their day the Windies are capable of scalping any side. Faltering giants Australia and South Africa follow, along with two qualifiers yet to be determined, all in all a teak-tough group, and should England qualify for the semis, Morgan’s men should not fear whichever teams emerge from the other group. The entire world, not just the world of cricket, will hope that the courageous band of men representing Afghanistan prosper in the heat of battle in Oman, but will the Taliban be watching and dancing in the streets!
My first recollection of cricket was when accidentally wandering through an open gate after a liquid lunch in Tunbtidge Wells and finding myself among a sparse scattering of spectators at a county cricket match, where nobody appeared to be watching the on-field action and quite a few appeared to be having a nap. I noticed one elderly lady nearby who was busily knitting, while a Yorkshire terrier lay sleeping at her feet. In the distance I could see the players, all immaculately attired in brilliant whites, top and tails, I could hear the odd shout carried on the breeze, and thought to myself, how nice, how posh, how totally different to the shouts of abuse I endured while playing footy on Hackney Marshes every Sunday morning, and then I fell asleep, coming to two hours later.
At that time i thought cricket should be sponsored by Ovaltine as a bedtime drink to cure insomnia, but with the advent of T20 all that changed forever. Now, every ball bowled, every run scored, every target set is vital, tension-filled and often breathtakingly exciting – no chance of a nap now as the result is often in doubt until the final ball is bowled or the winning run secured. We’re blessed to have four weeks of exhilarating action to come, every match covered on TV, pub-friendly start times – lunch times and evenings. Howzat! I can’t wait!
India 13/5, England 7/2, Australia 6/1, West Indies 7/1, New Zealand 8/1, Pakistan 10/1, South Africa 12/1, Bangladesh 50/1, Sri Lanka 66/1, Afghanistan 80/1, Ireland 500/1, Scotland 1000/1, Netherlands 1000/1, Papua New Guinea 1500/1, Oman 1500/1, Namibia 2000/1.
TV Coverage: Sky Sports / Highlights BBC1
Radio Coverage: BBC Radio 5 Live
Selected Group Matches (all times CET)
Bangladesh v Scotland – 15:00
Ireland v Netherlands – 11:00
Scotland v Papua New Guinea – 11:00
Sri Lanka v Ireland – 15:00
Oman v Scotland – 15:00
Namibia v Ireland – 11:00
England vs West Indies – 16:00
England vs Qualifier – 12:00
England vs Australia – 16:00
England vs Qualifier – 15:00
England vs South Africa – 15:00