Favourites? There are no favourites in Twenty20 cricket
Date: March 18, 2016 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell
It holds the world number one ranking; it would be playing on home soil; it entered the tournament on the back of a seven-match winning streak and it had lost just once in its previous ten T20 internationals.
M S Dhoni’s team looked destined to repeat its heroics from the 2011 50-over World Cup where it won the final over Sri Lanka in Mumbai.
It all looked great on paper … and then India played its first match of the tournament.
On a dusty strip at the VCA Stadium in Nagpur it restricted New Zealand to just 126.
On television during the innings break, former Indian star V V S Laxman was waxing lyrical about the host’s performance in the field and how it would have little trouble in attaining the victory target.
A little over an hour later, with 18.1 overs having been sent down, India lay in a crumpled heap having been blown away for a mere 79 to hand the Black Caps a stunning 47-run victory.
For Indian fans it was not at all what they expected. Yet history shows they should not have been all that surprised.
Twenty20 cricket, by its very nature, is the most wildly fluctuating form of the game and picking winners is often fraught with danger.
The inaugural World T20 was held in South Africa in 2007.
This edition is the sixth and as yet no nation has won the title twice – India (2007), Pakistan (2009), England (2010), West Indies (2012) and Sri Lanka (2014).
That is a lot of flux in the space of just eight years.
Compare that with the 50-over World Cup – West Indies won the first two tournaments in 1975 and 1979 while Australia has been crowned champions five times, including a hat-trick in 1999, 2003 and 2007.
The T20 world number one ranking has rotated wildly since the inaugural World Cup. It has been held at various times by Sri Lanka, West Indies, India, Pakistan, England and South Africa.
Much of this tumult is due to the lack of T20 internationals.
Twenty20 cricket remains very much a domestic staple with the likes of the IPL, BBL and the leagues in Bangladesh, the Caribbean and now Pakistan the main focus throughout the year.
Despite many seeing the 50-over game as having a shaky international it is still very much a staple on the ICC’s international schedule.
Last year there were a total of 167 ODIs and just 61 T20Is.
Last year New Zealand played 32 ODIs and a mere four T20s, while India played 23 one-dayers and four T20s.
No matter the sport, when it is reduced in duration, the likelihood of an unusual outcome becomes greater.
Pit the world number 100 tennis player against number one Novak Djokovic over three sets and it is unlikely you will see the outsider win. However, if you were to reduce that contest to a single set there is a far greater prospect of an upset.
Twenty20’s brevity lends itself to more surprise results and, by extension, lessens the ability of one particular team dominating the rankings.
One player – with either bat or ball – can have a massive impact on the outcome over a mere 120-ball innings, far more so than in an ODI and infinitely more than a Test match.
A T20 can often be determined by an individual innings of just a dozen deliveries.
And, as was witnessed at Nagpur in the first major game of the T20 Worlds, it can often be the lesser quality players who are the catalyst.
On a pitch that was destined to spin appreciably, New Zealand took the unusual ploy of leaving out pace spearheads Tim Southee and Trent Boult in favour of a three-prong spin attack.
In the end it was the unlikely trio of Nathan McCullum, Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi, claiming a staggering 9-44 between them off 11 overs, who reduced the world’s best players of spin to rabble.
That one defeat has the world number one on a potential knife’s edge.
The top two teams in the two five-nation groups will progress to the semi-finals.
India still has to play Pakistan, Australia and Bangladesh.
A slip-up by India in any of those matches, allied to its horrendous net run rate of -2.35 after its first match, would almost guarantee it to miss out on the last four.
That would be a bitter pill for the host nation’s fans.
Regardless of India’s future in this tournament there are likely to be considerably more ‘upsets’ before the final is decided at Kolkata on 3 April.
It is simply the nature of the beast.
First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 17 March 2016, soliciting 10 comments