World T20 qualifiers Group B guide: Zimbabwe, Scotland, Hong Kong and Afghanistan

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The World Twenty20 has arrived and here is your one-stop guide to Group B’s teams, who are fighting for a place in the main competition.

The preliminary round starts on Tuesday, with Bangladesh and Afghanistan favourites to join the big eight teams in the Super 10 group stage.

ZIMBABWE

Can Zimbabwe shake their tag as perennial underachievers?

Giant Slayers

The world’s biggest cricketing stage certainly won’t faze Zimbabwe.

The African side have presided over some of the biggest shocks in international cricket history in years gone by – think back to their Duncan Fletcher-inspired victory over Australia in the 50-over extravaganza in England in 1983, their win against England in 1992 while in the 1999 edition Zimbabwe progressed to the Super Six stage at the expense of you guessed it, hosts England.

Then in the inaugural T20 showpiece event in 2007, Zimbabwe defeated the might of Australia, with Brendan Taylor, who will be sorely missed in India weighing in with a sizeable contribution with the bat.

They seem to enjoy the challenge of facing the big boys.

And despite losing five out of six group matches in last year’s 50-over carnival Down Under, Zimbabwe came close to beating both Pakistan and West Indies; something which has been a familar trait – close but not close enough.

Zimbabwe’s form has been mixed coming into the tournament and they don’t really have that extra bit of quality to mount a serious challenge, but can, on their day, be a menacing outfit to face.

And in T20s, that is always a distinct possibility.

STRENGTHS

The return of fitagain fast bowler Tendai Chatara and experienced Tinashe Panyangara is a boost while
the appointment of South African legend Makhaya Ntini as bowling coach is a shrewd move given his status in the international game. New captain Hamilton Masakadza should give the side a new lease of life on the field and is bang in form with the bat, having blasted 162 in domestic cricket last month.

WEAKNESSES

With no real star quality with either bat or ball, they will have to rely on individual brilliance from somewhere to get past the qualifying stages. Zimbabwe tend to struggle with inconsistency and repeat performances, which was evident in their recent T20 series draw with Bangladesh. Slow pitches in India are not ready-made for their medium-paced bowling options and there is a genuine lack of depth in their 15-man squad.

STAR MAN
ELTON CHIGUMBURA

Chigumbura resigned from the Twenty20 captaincy to decrease his workload but struggled for form in three outings for the Quetta Gladiators in the Pakistan Super League recently. However, the 29-year-old has great experience having played nearly 250 international matches across formats and he can lead by example on the field.

SCOTLAND

Talking tough.

Talking tough.

Confidence, at least on the face of it, is high in the Scotland camp. Captain Preston Mommsen and New Zealand coach Grant Bradburn have been talking up their chances of progressing in the tournament and even causing a shock to one of the established nations.

Their inner-belief stems from the fact this is largely the same group of players who were at the 50-over showpiece event in New Zealand and Australia and have that international tournament experience to take
forward. The opening match against Afganistan on March 8 is of particular interest to the Scots as they admit they are seeking revenage for their defeat in Dunedin last year where they had the Afghans at 132-8 only to fall to defeat with three balls to spare.

Since Bradburn took over in April 2014, T20 results have been mixed with six wins from 10 completed matches. Among the four losses was a heavy nine-wicket defeat to group rivals Hong Kong in January and
although Scotland replied with a 37-run triumph the following day, it does show there isn’t a great deal between the sides.

There does seem to be camaraderie, experience and belief within the camp that they can make an impact. It’s time to start walking the walk.

STRENGTHS

A settled squad who all know their roles and with all 15 members capped at international level none should be daunted by the challenge that lies ahead. Bradburn has also instilled an attacking ethos in the team, both with the ball and bat that should serve them well. They have a nice blend of solidity at the crease in Kyle
Coetzer and Matt Machan mixed with some big-hitting via Matthew Cross and captain Preston Mommsen.

WEAKNESSES

With an average age of 26.1 they are the youngest Associate side in the competition which could be a help or a hindrance, only time will tell. Their seam heavy attack is perfect for conditions at home but with the turning subcontinental pitches there is considerable pressure on teenage spinner Mark Watt, who took five wickets in Dubai against the Netherlands but is largely alien to these conditions on a consistent basis.

STAR MAN
MATT MACHAN

The Brighton-born batsman enjoyed a fine season at the crease for Sussex last year and will be expected to anchor the Scotland innings at No4 with his stroke-playing and first-class experience. Suffered a bit of a blip with four non-descript scores at the start of the year but his measured 43 in Dubai against the Netherlands showed what the 25-year-old is capable of.

HONG KONG

High Hopes.

High Hopes.

The Associate side arrives in India on the back of a disappointing Asia Cup qualifying campaign failing to win any of their three games. But they certainly have the potential to give rivals a headache. Their recent results prove that.

Since July last year, Hong Kong have beaten stronger teams like Ireland and Scotland while also defeating Afghanistan twice in this format.

Add to that a Bangladesh triumph, their biggest victory in their history back in the 2014 edition of the Twenty20 tournament, even if it was a consolation, and it is clear Tanwir Afzal’s men will certainly be no pushovers.

Seven of those players who played against Bangladesh two years ago are named in coach Simon Cook’s squad with the Englishman keeping the core of that unit.

At his disposal is young batsman Mark Chapman, who scored a century on his ODI debut against the UAE in November, while Babar Hayat is also a potent weapon, striking a ton against Oman in the Asia Cup.

Also in the mix is former Australian batsman Ryan Campbell aged 44. With Scotland, Zimbabwe and Afganistan in their qualifying group, the odds are stacked against Hong Kong.

But with no pressure, they might cause problems.

STRENGTHS

The fact that players are used to the shortest form of the game will work in their favour and their experience of
playing in Bangladesh in the Asia Cup qualifiers, where conditions will likely be similar in India, will be no doubt useful. But most importantly, the side have individuals with the likes of Babar Hayat, Mark Chapman and Tanwir Afazal who can frustrate their opponents.

WEAKNESSES

As with any Associate team, Hong Kong come into the tournament lacking experience on the big stage. Their director of cricket, Charlie Burke feels two areas need to be addressed in particular – confidence levels and missed opportunities to put their opponents under pressure during power-play.

STAR MAN
MARK CHAPMAN

At 21, is already considered a star of tomorrow. He is one of 10 players, and first from an Associate side, to score a ODI century on his debut when his side played the UAE in November. He isn’t short on confidence either, top-scoring with 157 for Auckland in the 50-over Ford Trophy game in January. The stage is set to showcase his skills to the world.

AFGHANISTAN

A brash bunch.

A brash bunch.

For all the excitement they generate with their brand of cricket, their record in the tournament is abysmal.

With just one victory from seven games in three appearances, the Afghans have the poorest winning percentage (14.28) amongst all teams.

They appeared to have turned a corner with their two Twenty20 series victories against Zimbabwe in October and January but their failure to make the cut in the Asia Cup, losing to the UAE, has pegged back the recent gains.

It is this unpredictability that the Afghans will be wary of when they head for the first round and bid to make their maiden entry into the Super 10.

They have the luck of the draw in the preliminary round as they are drawn alongside Hong Kong, Oman and Zimbabwe, all teams they have won against in the build-up to the tournament.

The group topper will advance to the Super 10 where they will be part of Group 1 featuring the West Indies, England, Sri Lanka and South Africa.

Afghanistan cannot afford to let their guard down at least in the first round as Zimbabwe and the fast-improving Oman are potential banana skins. A good display initially will help them gain confidence to challenge the might of the bigger teams, if they progress further.

STRENGTHS

The pace pack of Shapoor Zadran, Dawlat Zadran and Hameed Hassan has the potential to create havoc on any surface. All three can clock speeds in excess of 140kph, adding potency to their bowling. Wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad, who opens the innings, is dynamite at the top of the order. Spin bowling all-rounders, Karim Sadiq, Samiullah Shenwari and Mohammad Nabi complete their strong batting line-up.

WEAKNESSES

Their inability to maintain a cool head in crunch situations makes them vulnerable when pitted against bigger teams. It is often the batsmen who lose their composure, especially against the spinners. It puts additional burden on captain Ashgar Stanikzai, who unlike his teammates, adopts a patient approach while accumulating the runs. Fielding is another cause for concern with their sloppiness often costing them dear.

STAR MAN
MOHAMMAD NABI

The 31-year-old has been central to Afghanistan’s rise in international cricket. A useful middle-order batsman, Nabi is equally an effective off-spinner. He is one of the most experienced cricketers in the line-up having plied his trade in Twenty20 leagues around the world. His recent showing in the Pakistan Super League when he smashed 30 runs off 12 balls to help Quetta Gladiators script a stunning victory against Lahore Qalandars should give him the confidence to pull off similar feats in India.

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World Twenty20 Group A team guide: Bangladesh, Netherlands, Ireland, Oman

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The World Twenty20 is just one day away and this is your one-stop guide to the teams from Group A fighting for a place in the main competition.

The preliminary round starts on Tuesday, with Bangladesh and Afghanistan favourites to join the big eight teams in the Super 10 group stage.

BANGLADESH

Tigers on the prowl.

Tigers on the prowl.

There was a general sense of disbelief at the kind of wickets Bangladesh prepared for the Asia Cup, which they hosted just before the World Cup. The pitches had a green tinge and enough pace and bounce to not just keep the batsmen hopping, but also the wicketkeepers.

Critics thought it wasn’t the best preparation for the slowerpaced and turning pitches that India is almost guaranteed to opt for. But from Bangladesh’s perspective, it really was a smart move. They wanted to win the tournament in front of their home crowd, and pacy wickets were their best bet.

Mashrafe Mortaza’s team regularly challenge top teams now and there is a genuine feeling among the fans that their days of apprenticeship are over.

They may be ranked 10th in the T20 Rankings, but a win over much more heralded teams is no longer considered a fluke.

Their fast bowling is top class now, especially in limited overs cricket. The batting needs to be more consistent at the top, although players like Tamim Iqbal and Sabbir Rehman are showing signs of maturity.

The good thing about the team is that apart from Mortaza, every other player is in his 20s.

This tournament may not go their way, but watch out for them in the future.

STRENGTHS

Bangladesh are no longer the favourite whipping boys of world cricket. They are showing excellent attitude on the field and fighting until the end of their matches. They have also benefited from the emergence of two classy fast bowlers – the wily Mustafizur Rahman and the pacy Taksin Ahmed. The fact that both are just 20, augurs very well for the cricket-crazy nation.

WEAKNESSES

While their bowling has improved by leaps and bounds, Bangladesh’s batting still has a lot to catch up. There is a lot of inconsistency and the bowlers do need runs to bowl against if Mashrafe Mortaza’s men want to create an impact in the tournament. A quick look at rankings, and it is easy to understand why they are still faltering – only Shakib Al Hasan’s name features in the list of top-35 batsmen, coming in at No22.

STAR MAN
SHAKIB AL HASAN

The talismanic all-rounder will be Bangladesh’s biggest trump card, not only because of his vast experience, which includes playing several seasons of the IPL, but also because his spin bowling could prove much more effective than some of the quality medium pacers they have got in recent times.

NETHERLANDS

Daring Dutch.

Daring Dutch.

The Dutch have a long association with global events, making their first appearance at the 1996 50-over event. Thereafter, they became more or less regular participants at world tournaments. They failed to make the cut in the 50- over qualifiers in 2014 to go with similar failures in the previous two editions of the T20 competition, which raised concerns over the health of their game.

But they have bounced back well and are now in contention for a spot in the main leg of the T20 tournament. They beat Namibia in the qualifying rounds last year and now travel to India with renewed hopes.

The Netherlands will be led by Peter Borren, a familiar face for fans. The middle order batsman will provide the main thrust with the bat and hold the innings together. On the bowling front, medium pacer Mudassar Bukhari is the experienced campaigner and will look to continue the good form that has seen him pick up 18 wickets from 15 matches over the last two years.

The biggest weapon in their attack, however, is former South  Africa international Roelof van der Merwe, who will provide control with his left-arm spin and swing the bat lower down the order. All in all, the Dutch have a balanced side ready to spring a surprise or two.

STRENGTHS
They have played in six world events in all, four World Cups and two World T20s, and this experience will help them get rid of any nerves quickly.

Veteran players like Peter Borren, Wesley Barresi and Mudassar Bukhari can use their experience to guide the youngsters. Plus, the presence of Roelof van der Merwe will be a big plus as he brings international experience with the South Africans to the table.

WEAKNESSES

They were a bit inconsistent during the qualifiers. While they beat Scotland, UAE and Ireland, they also suffered defeats against Afghanistan and Oman. Another issue they will face is the effectiveness of medium pacer Ahsan Malik, who is back after remodeling his action. Whether

or not he will be effective remains to be seen. Also, their batsmen will have their task cut out against spin, which will be a headache for the bigger teams too.

STAR MAN

ROELOF VAN DER MERWE

Roelof van der Merwe.

Roelof van der Merwe.

The left-arm spinner brings with him a vast amount of international experience, not necessarily in the number of matches played but from representing the South Africans. He knows what it takes to compete at the highest level and that knowledge alone will help the team immensely.

IRELAND

Pluck of the Irish.

Pluck of the Irish.

To say that Ireland have been dealt an unfavourable draw in the tournament would be an understatement. They will first play Oman, Netherlands and Bangladesh in a mini roundrobin where the winner will be rewarded with a spot in Group B alongside cricketing giants India, New Zealand, Pakistan and Australia.

However, Ireland have given themselves the best possible chance by selecting a well balanced squad. With five players taking part in their fifth World T20, captain William Porterfield should have plenty of experienced heads to turn to when things get tough. Porterfield will look to set the tone with the bat while the O’Brien brothers Niall and Kevin will hope provide stability in the middle order.

Former England internationals Boyd Rankin and Tim Murtagh will spearhead Ireland’s bowling attack, which should be potent given Ireland’s recent recruitment of Chaminda Vaas as their bowling coach. Not only will the duo look to take the lion’s share of wickets but will also be key figures in guiding their less experienced colleagues.

Ireland’s pre tournament form has been mixed with some solid wins against Papua New Guinea and UAE subsequently undermined by two bad losses to the same opposition.

STRENGTHS

Ireland have a tendency to produce their best cricket in international tournaments and this big match temperament will be their most useful attribute again.

Boyd Rankin and Tim Murtagh are a quality opening pair of bowlers who will be ably supported by the devilish swing bowling of Kevin O’Brien.

With the bat, William Porterfield has some decent scores under his belt and should be able to lead with confidence.

WEAKNESSES

Unfortunately, Ireland have won only nine of their last 17 T20 matches.

What will be of greater concern is the fact that in the lead-up to the World T20, they lost to Papua New Guinea and the UAE – two teams that didn’t qualify for the showpiece event. Their recent batting performances is also an issue, with totals of 105 against PNG and 128 against UAE putting some big question marks over the form of their experienced line-up.

STAR MAN

KEVIN O’BRIEN

Kevin O'Brien.

Kevin O’Brien.



All-rounder Kevin O’Brien is Ireland’s heartbeat. While many would point to his precision medium pacebowling as his most valuable asset, it is his mature middle-order batting that has often come to the rescue of Ireland’s misfiring top order.

OMAN

Gulf gladiators (photo courtesy of Sportsfile).

Gulf gladiators (photo courtesy of Sportsfile).

Considering they played their first T20 international less than four years ago, it’s quite an achievement for Oman to even qualify for their first big Twenty20 event.

Their qualifying campaign saw victories over Afghanistan, Netherlands and Canada, enough to see them pip Kenya on run-rate for the fourth and last position in the group.

That earned them a winner takes-all against Namibia with Oman prevailing by five wickets in the play-offs to seal an historic triumph.

Since then, the Asian outfit have won three of their last nine games in this format, with all wins coming against Hong Kong. Their latest came in the Asia Cup and that along with a 10-day training camp in Dharamsala in India back in February, will help them get used to the conditions.

The Gulf nation will relish the opportunity of playing on the world stage but first must overcome Ireland, Netherlands and Bangladesh before they even think about the heavyweights.

For coach Duleep Mendis, his immediate aim is to make an impact. While victory is a difficult task, he has a squad mixed with youth and experience, who play a lot of limited-over domestic cricket.

It will be a test of character for his players in their biggest tournament to date but as underdogs there is nothing to lose.

STRENGTHS
All but 14 of the squad is of Pakistani or Indian background and having played in Asian conditions before moving to Muscat is surely a big advantage for coach Duleep Mendis.

The former Sri Lankan captain can take even more confidence from his bowlers with a good combination of pacers and spinners.

At 34, left-arm orthodox spinner Aamir Kaleem is one of his most effective, taking figures of 4-31 against the UAE in the Asia Cup.

WEAKNESSES
None of the players have experienced this kind of tournament so this could play a part in their minds when it comes to playing on the field.

Batting has been a concern for Mendis and his coaching staff but he can be encouraged by scores of 180 and 165 against Hong Kong and Afghanistan.

However, they often lose concentration at crucial times, as shown against the UAE where they only managed 101 in the Asia Cup.

STAR MAN

JATINDER SINGH
The right-handed batsman only began playing cricket when he moved to Muscat in 2003 but has vastly improved to be considered one of Oman’s dangerous players. In the T20 qualifiers, the 26-year-old impressed at number three, finishing third top run-scorer with 213. Given his ability of adjusting to conditions quickly and dealing with different variations of bowling, he looks set to open the innings and do damage from the very first ball.

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Cricket Xtra: Pakistan can challenge at ICC World T20

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Real contenders: Pakistan T20 side.

Pakistan are in a tough spot going into the World T20. While they will be glad that the tournament is being played in conditions pretty close to home and that strategies can be formulated according to their strengths, their recent setbacks in the Asia Cup will be a cause for concern.

On the face of it, Pakistan have a decent, if not top-class, Twenty20 side. Shahid Afridi is their inspirational leader and even though his bat rarely makes its presence felt in international cricket, his leg-spin is as deadly as anything else out there in T20 cricket.

Their left-arm pacers are probably the most menacing in operation, with Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz all seriously quick and capable of generating conventional and reverse swing.

They have experienced batsmen in Mohammad Hafeez at the top of the order and Shoaib Malik in the middle. Umar Akmal and Sarfaraz Ahmed can provide the late-order fireworks. So why did Pakistan lose to India and Bangladesh in the Asia Cup?

Yes, they did beat Sri Lanka but that was an inconsequential match. The reasons behind those losses were pretty straightforward and there is still time for them to make the necessary changes ahead of the World T20.

The first they have made. Ahmed Shehzad was the big name missing at the top of the order and Pakistan’s decision to keep him out and instead play the untested Khurram Manzoor and the unfit Sharjeel Khan defied logic.

Pakistan could not have afforded for both Manzoor and Sharjeel to feature in the playing eleven and so it made sense that on Monday they opted to drop Manzoor to make way for Shehzad. The right-handed batsman is by far the most dynamic top-order player in the country.

The next step Pakistan need to take is move Sarfaraz Ahmed permanently up the order.

The wicketkeeper is a fearless batsman and regularly anchors the innings whenever the top order fails to do its job. Now if he gets to bat earlier, he can still play that innings which will allow the rest of the batsmen to play more freely as they will have a stable batsman at the other end.

Ahmed batted at No. 6 against India and top scored with 25, out of a total of 83. Against Bangladesh, he came in at No4 and was again the top-scorer – 58. He batted at No. 3 during the chase against Sri Lanka and held the innings together with a run-a-ball 38.

It’s a move that makes perfect sense and allows power hitters like Afridi and Akmal the license to go after the bowlers.

On the bowling front, they don’t have many issues as their pace attack is firing and spinners Afridi and Malik will definitely have their say with the ball in India. However, the one area where Afridi’s captaincy came up short was his handling of the bowlers.

Invariably, he ended up using the full quota of overs of his frontline bowlers before the death and that meant a bowler like Anwar Ali bowling the crucial final overs.

Afridi made that correction in the match against Sri Lanka, where the final overs were bowled by Amir, Irfan and Riaz. He should stick to that strategy at the World T20.

While many fans and commentators are expecting the worst from Pakistan in India, in reality they have a decent squad that can challenge any team, especially on Asian tracks. It’s just a matter of tweaking a few things here and there.

The Pakistan Cricket Board is ready to crack the whip and said it will make changes in the team set-up. While the idea is good, they should not uproot the entire structure in haste and instead look to get the maximum out of the resources they have.

They do have the talent and experience in the batting and bowling departments to succeed in the T20 format. They only need to make a couple of personnel changes and shuffle the batting order for a better shot at the title.

A faster Bhuvi

India seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar got a game against the UAE in the Asia Cup. He lost his spot in the team after that trademark swing deserted him and his pace became none too threatening on placid surfaces.

With India having unearthed the talented Jasprit Bumrah and Ashish Nehra enjoying a much-deserved recall, Kumar fell a few rungs down the pecking order. However, against the UAE, Kumar showed that he has not let the setback slow him down.

The 26-year-old generated appreciable movement and was consistently clocked close to the 140kmph mark. Pace on its own isn’t scary but add swing to the equation and that game changes.

India captain MS Dhoni said that he was pleased with the new-look Kumar. There was a lot more energy in his bowling and while a regular Test spot might not be his for some time, Kumar can certainly hope to win back his spot in the limited overs side. It’s amazing what competition for a spot in the team does to quick bowlers.

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