The bookmakers had India as favorites going into the T20 World Cup, followed by England and Australia. By Thursday, 21 of the 30 Super 12 stage matches had been completed. In this stage, teams play each other once in two groups of six, with the top two in each group progressing to the semi-finals. There have been upsets and very close finishes that almost brought upsets.
At one point towards the end of the Afghanistan vs. Pakistan match, the former looked as if it might well pull off a shock, but Asif plundered 24 in the penultimate over to propel Pakistan to victory, one that led Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, to laud the efforts of the Afghanistan team.
Two frantic finishes brought victory for South Africa and the West Indies. All looked lost for South Africa against Sri Lanka, following the loss of three wickets in three balls to one bowler. However, victory was achieved by hitting 16 runs from the final over, with one ball to spare. Bangladesh required 13 runs from the final over against the 2016 champions West Indies but could only manage nine. This result leaves the West Indies’ chances of reaching the semi-finals in the balance, while Bangladesh cannot progress.
South Africa’s thrilling victory was achieved on the back of internal strife. A directive from Cricket South Africa was issued on the morning of the match against the West Indies to say that the team must take the knee ahead of play. One player opted not to and did not play in the match, which South Africa won. The player has subsequently relented and has returned to the team.
Since being re-admitted to international cricket in 1992, when it participated in the 50-over World Cup, successive South African teams have suffered from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. In 1992, the team was denied a semi-final victory over England, courtesy of a controversial “rain-rule.” In 1999, the team tied its semi-final against Australia in dramatic fashion but were edged out because Australia had finished higher in the Super Sixes table. In 2003, as joint hosts, South Africa failed to progress in the Super Sixes as the match with Sri Lanka ended in a tie, determined by a re-fashioned rain-rule. In both 2007 and 2015, it suffered semi-final losses.
Despite having produced some of the world’s finest cricketers, South Africa is regarded as having under-performed at World Cups. In 2021, there are fewer expectations of the team but, under an impressive captain, the team is within sight of a semi-final place, which it would secure with victory over group leaders England in their final game.
When it comes to mercurial performances, Pakistan has produced its fair share. This was very much the case in 1992. After five matches out of eight, the team had only one win, plus a point from a fortunate wash-out against England. Ahead of a last-chance group match against Australia, the captain, Imran Khan, wearing a tiger shirt, allegedly inspired his team with the words “wounded tigers get angry, don’t get disappointed.” It won that match, and the next two, to win a place in the semi-finals. In the final, it defeated England in a tense contest.
Subsequently, there have been other tense matches between the two teams, tensions which have been heightened by the England and Wales Cricket Board’s decision not to tour Pakistan last month. This enraged the new Chair of the Pakistan Cricket Board, who was a member of the 1992 World Cup winning team, and he vowed that Pakistan would use it as a motivation to become the best team in the world. So far, the team has won its first four matches, including a comprehensive victory over India and has booked a semi-final place. Along with England, Pakistan have been the pace setters in this tournament and, should they meet in the final, old and new tensions will be at large.
India’s early performance has been well below par, losing to not only Pakistan but also New Zealand. After the attention the Indian team brought upon itself by deciding not to play the final Test against England in Manchester in September, coupled with the speedy retreat of players to prepare for the Indian Premier League, some observers will undoubtedly allow themselves a wry smile at its predicament. India must win its last two matches by big margins and hope that New Zealand, having beaten Scotland, falters in its matches against Afghanistan and Namibia, both of whom have displayed an ability to surprise.
Australia is another party that has brought negative attention to itself. As previously discussed in this column, this has been in the run-up to the Ashes series. The team has played very little international cricket, mostly of the T20 variety. This perceived lack of preparation has translated into three skittish performances to date, including a trouncing by England. A semi-final place is still possible in a three-way battle with South Africa and West Indies.
Since Sri Lanka’s heady days of winning the T20 World Cup in 2014 and previous runners-up positions, its team has been in constant churn. In this year’s tournament, there have been clear signs that a new generation of talent has emerged. If it had not been for displays of inexperience at critical moments, its team could have caused several upsets. Their future looks bright.
The stage is set for the concluding Super12 matches to determine which two teams will join Pakistan and, barring a sensational turnaround of fortune, England, as semi-finalists. Ultimately, net run rate may be the deciding factor. This is calculated by deducting the average runs per over scored against a team throughout the competition from the average runs per over scored by that team throughout the competition. In the last lap of Super12, the favourites, India, have much to do to catch up on run-rate, England have performed to expectation, while Pakistan have been on fire. Who can stop them?